Réveille… (Part 9)
THE STRATEGICAL SOUNDNESS OF HOUSE CHURCH…
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32, ESV)
Church has never been a popular item. There are lots of places where we’re not welcome. Often, we’re not even legal.
In Mexico until the mid-1990’s, legalizing a church meant nationalizing it. The government could use your building for its own purposes if and when deemed necessary. It was no longer your property. It was theirs. It usually felt less risky to fly under the radar and try not to garner too much attention. Accommodations for anything non-Catholic were always slow in coming. Ask around and this is the reaction you might get: “Mexico is a Roman Catholic country. You have no business here.”
The book I published in 2020 (Assertively Apolitical, “Resilience”, p. 126) included thoughts on how preparedness for any contingency and resilience have been basic necessities for Jesus followers since not too long after he gathered his first disciples.
To quote a famous philosopher—well, actually, he was the bad guy in a cops-and-robbers movie:
If before next Sunday we were stripped of everything we assumed to be needed for church… what would be our next move? How long would it take for us to adjust?
Our gut reaction might be: “But we have the right to assemble and own property and worship in the church of our choice. We’re going to fight this!” We might have to accept a major shift in how we thought about such things. It might be time to rip our sense of entitlement off the wall and run it through the shredder.
The Bible doesn’t guarantee any Christian any of those so-called “inalienable rights” we like to talk about. It’s a nice dream—maybe even a worthy goal—but ask a family of believers cowering in a root cellar in the dark, singing hymns and praying they’ll be spared a direct hit from the rockets exploding around them… ask them what our inalienable rights are.
Just like any other, God’s army needs to be prepared. We won’t have a lot of time to deal with the mental gymnastics we usually require to get from prosperity-Gospel-ness to survival mode in the rubble… nor time to grieve our losses. We’re supposed to be ready to make necessary adjustments on the fly.
Here’s another profound statement. I made this one up myself: “The less we have, the less we will lose in an unexpected calamity.” Who had the harder time adjusting to the pandemic: a house church family or the larger church building family?
House churches will be better prepared, more flexible, more readily adaptable to sudden—even cataclysmic—changes around them.
Samizdat (Russian: самиздат, lit. 'self-publishing') was a form of dissident activity across the socialist Eastern Bloc in which individuals reproduced censored and underground makeshift publications, often by hand, and passed the documents from reader to reader. - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samizdat
All kinds of writing were widely disseminated this way. People refused to let the light die… the hell on earth that was Stalin and his concentration camps would not kill truth or artistic creativity.
But wait… Bible translation and Gospel witness have always been carried out in much the same spirit. Consequences for getting caught have been equally grim. Yet, nothing has stopped truth from spreading.
We will always find ways to maintain open communication lines among ourselves… and to spread the good news of what God the Son accomplished by his crucifixion and resurrection. We will continue kingdom work! Even where it’s illegal… in war zones… without internet… without electricity. Sorta like it’s always been done.
It may be the first time for Jesus followers in the US, but it’s not without precedent in Christian history. We should watch and learn from brothers and sisters in Christ who have already been forged in the fires of repression, brutality, persecution, imprisonment and death. They are way ahead of the curve compared to us.
Whatever will most of us do without an unhindered, unchallenged place to sit in a cozy building with “our people” as we “serve God” by singing and listening to a sermon?
“make an exact copy of; reproduce:”
What I’m proposing goes against the church-growing mentality so ingrained in US culture. They talk about gathering and consolidating under one central vision and leadership. I’m talking about keeping churches smaller on purpose.
I’m not proposing stagnation. I’m proposing a more effective way to grow. One church of 1,000 people with one set of leaders will not be as effective as 20 churches of 50 people—each with capable shepherds and teachers.
Does it sound too simplistic to state the dilemma this way: consolidate and stagnate vs. divide and conquer?
An overlooked strategical advantage to house church is its inbuilt urgency for indigenous leadership. The need for faithful expositors of the Word, truly pastoral hearts and prayer warriors will be pretty much in our face. No one get’s to hide in the crowd because there’s no crowd to hide in.
Fresh, new, small church plants feel the need to mature in Christ and face the outside world with the same vision and passion they were exposed to when they found Christ themselves. It’s about survival. The alternative is what we have to live with today: Christianity becomes a spectator sport… couch potatoes at home, pew potatoes on Sunday.
With the right vision, house churches will have more potential to nurture and mature the kind of disciple-making and shepherding needed everywhere in the world… regardless of what’s happening around us.
Today, we have the luxury of sending off our potential leaders to seminaries and Bible colleges. We assume they will somehow find what they need elsewhere to complete their maturation. I fear we have relinquished the fine art of disciple-making… the kind that should have been an integral part of the local church family… the kind that will be needed in survival mode, when “clandestine” will be the new word of the day.
By the time we get to 100 people, let’s test the waters. Yes, there will likely be resistance to dividing up. But where’s the militancy with the Gospel? Where’s the love for a world in flames? It pushes everyone out of pew-potato mode into doing our part to help others to find Christ and grow up, too.
Genuine growing will more likely happen when we are exposed to the immediate needs of our own little flock. Sadly, my suggested model for advancing God’s kingdom may not spark much interest until it’s the only option available. Urgency and survival are the strongest catalysts for engagement and commitment.
Maybe the remorseless barbarity on display in world affairs today will upend our sheltered existence. Maybe it’s about time.
Next: The Strategical Vulnerability of House Church