If our righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisees, how does that affect the way we “do church?” Or does it? What about ministry and evangelism and discipleship?
A friend of mine, J. Guy Muse, wrote an interesting blog recently that got me thinking. Guy’s recent post dealt with whether house churches, and to a degree churches in general, were meant to be permanent. Here’s a link to his post: http://bit.ly/1cJSEGY. I tried to respond in the comments on his blog, and for some reason, probably because I’m not really good at posting things through my cell phone, it didn’t go through. It gave me a few more days to mull it over, and here are the results.
In the American church culture, most believers are involved in missions by going to church and giving their money to support the professional Christians – the church staff and missionaries, either sent by that church or by their denomination – to do ministry. Their own involvement is generally limited to teaching a class at church, participating in a church sponsored “visitation” program, and maybe a mission trip to another country.
Guy is a missionary in Ecuador. His ministry took an unexpected turn about 15 years ago when the mission board encouraged missionaries to look at alternative methods of church planting. Guy and some other missionaries in Guayaquil found themselves facilitating a burgeoning house church ministry. Someone is led to the Lord, is excited about it, and wants their friends and family to hear the gospel. Rather than invite them to church, the new believers invite their friends and family to their home and share their new-found joy. Others come to the Lord, and the process is repeated. After an explosive beginning, from a couple of house churches to 60 to nearly 300 in a matter of months, the number of churches began to level out. The ministry continues, but the number of “churches” is not increasing. New house churches start. Some older ones cease. In his blog, Guy referenced a 2009 article by Felicity Dale that suggested that maybe house churches should be debriefing and sending centers. Guy suggested that maybe it’s okay if a church is not permanent.
House church in the United States is different from what missionaries have seen in many “Third World” countries. Here, people drive 30 miles and more to participate in a house church. They may meet in different members’ homes each week, or in the same home every week. They sing some songs, pray together, and have a teaching/Bible study/devotional. The worship may be much more free and open, the praying more personal and intense, and the devotional more of a mutual sharing than a one person lecture than what they ever knew in the institutional church. But, it’s still pretty much church meeting on a smaller scale. It’s having church in a home – kind of mini-church, or “church lite.” There is rarely any evangelistic outreach. People still tend to shop around and find a house church that fits their idea of what it should be or which ministers more to their family’s needs or fits their personality and/or understanding of the Bible….
The increasing numbers of people “doing home church” is more because of dissatisfaction with the institutional church and not a result of reaching the lost or unchurched. The numbers of people leaving the institutional church for home church and the popularity of “cell” churches in the 1980’s-90’s, has caused many churches to modify their traditional programs and at least rename them as “small group ministry.” Usually, it’s still just Sunday School, or children’s ministry, or youth ministry under another name. Sometimes they add a few cell groups – maybe specific to particular occupations or other shared interests or a local community. The emphasis is still on meeting and teaching through the traditional methods.
Extreme righteousness, that which exceeds, demands that we take another look. I can speculate and come up with a number of reasons why we are willing to drive so far to go to church, why both institutional and house churches are growing or shrinking because of members moving from one church to another rather than because we are being evangelistic. Over the years I have become convinced that the biggest failing of the church is in failing to truly equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. We are still engineering some version of the Christian life primarily expressed in and through the institution, rather than equipping the saints to live and be the church and do ministry.
If the church is going to have an impact in an increasingly secular world, we may have to let go of the idea of being permanent. Jesus said to find your life, you have to lose it. We understand this in regards to salvation. To some degree, we apply it to discipleship. Maybe what’s true of the individual is true of Church as a whole. I’m not suggesting we need to shut down our local churches, abandon our buildings, etc. Even if that were the ideal solution, it isn’t going to happen. We do, however, have an opportunity to become more effective at what we do if we will equip individual Christians to be the church. We should send them forth to minister in every way possible in their day-to-day lives. Release them to miss a few “services” at the church building in order to serve their family, friends, and neighbors. On their jobs, in their neighborhoods – as they go, make disciples. Then they can come back together with other believers – the church, whether it’s in a traditional building or a home – to debrief, to enjoy corporate worship, to be encouraged, nurtured and nourished, and to be sent forth again.
It fits with the Great Commission. The word “go” is not an imperative. Jesus didn’t command His disciples to “go!” in Matthew 28:19-20. It’s a participle, an “ing” word that suggests an assumed action. He says, “Therefore, going…” or “As you go….” He didn’t have to tell them to go. He knew they would be going. The command is “make disciples.” It should be a part of our daily going and doing.