Dec 10th, 2015 Edit:
This post is one of the most popular on my site. Most people land here doing a Google search about the house church movement or house churches in general. Despite the preface that I ALSO wrote a post the day before about what the house church movement is getting RIGHT, people seem to read this post as bashing house churches, and send me their emails, comments and Facebook messages telling me how wrong I’ve got it and how they have been extremely blessed in a house church.
PLEASE read that post, whether before or after reading this one. You have been warned, and now have NO excuse for reading this post and thinking I’m against house churches just because I also talked about the disadvantages of them in this post.
Today’s post is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on “5 Things The House Church Movement Is Getting Right“. It was loosely inspired by a recording I did recently for the Fire On Your Head Podcast with Mark Burgess and Shaun Wissmann, both missionaries to Peru, regarding the subject of “missional community”.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I was going to try writing a balanced approach, but when I sat down and wrote a list of pros and cons, the list of negatives came much more easily for me. Not because I’m against house churches, but this is more of a reflection of my own tendencies to find fault with things than I am at finding the good in things.
So, before commenting that I’ve missed a point or house churches are good, remember this is the second post out of two.
In many ways, the house church movement is taking the same path as those in previous movements. The movement has accurately pointed out the significant faults and flaws in the institutional church: pastor, pews, programs, buildings, indifference, hierarchy — and so on.
We all agree that this institutional system of church is absolutely different from what we read about in the early church. However, there is some cause for concern and some extremes we’ve reached in overcompensation to correct errors in ‘institutional church’
So, without necessarily any order, here are some thoughts on where it gets off track a little:
1) Meeting in houses does not necessarily solve the problem that being institutional allegedly creates
For one thing, often times I hear people tell me they don’t believe in having fellowship in a “building”, but the irony almost never seems to dawn on them that a house IS a building, also! Merely moving from one large building to a smaller one does not necessarily change anything but the atmosphere and quantity of people who can be comfortably accommodated. We’ll always need a location to have our meetings, so this point is inescapable.
However, nothing is changed, just the location and its size. Neither location is inherently more spiritual than the other.Do people who denounce meeting in large church buildings realize houses are buildings too? Click To Tweet
In the New Testament we see Jesus, and his disciples — and the early church for that matter — continuing to meet in temples remember that on the way in, Peter and John saw a crippled man and healed him in Acts 3? But they ALSO met in homes out of necessity in that they were regularly spending time together and with each other.
2) Inward focused
This may contradict how in my post about what the movement gets right, I said outward focus as one of my points. I’ve talked to many friends of mine who find themselves in house churches, and some of my following thoughts are gleaned from emails and personal comments they’ve made to me.
Because they are meeting in the shelter of a house, some turn inward in believing that somehow they are inherently different — even New Testament! However, some of these same friends of mine either lament the fact or sheepishly admit to me they are having little or no impact on their community, the poor, those in prisons, those in need — and certainly little towards missions. They have forgotten the responsibility of being connected and functioning locally in the city, and have evolved, whether intentionally or not, into a social club for those tired of traditional church.
One friend of mine recently even told me he is all for house churches as opposed to the institutional church, but his particular fellowship only sits around and talks about how much they’re not like the system.
3) Not making disciples
This is the point I often ask people now — are you making disciples? If so, who? And I don’t hold back when someone tells me they meet in a home church or cell-based setting, and believe that somehow magically by osmosis they are making disciples by inviting them to a group. Just because you’re not doing something the institutional church does, or doing something the mega churches don’t do, doesn’t ipso de facto mean you’re immune from some of the same problems a large church faces.
When we think of three core things any group — small or big are doing — things that are inward (with our relationships), things that are outward (in the area of evangelism) and things that are upward (toward God), the house church situation provides several advantages over the larger church. Notably, one of them is that it’s not a cultural shift for an unbelieving neighbour or friend of yours to accept your invitation to a gathering that meets in your home, unlike the culture shock of stepping into many of our church buildings for a Sunday morning meeting.
4) Not evangelizing
This obviously is very similar to the last point, since, if you’re not bringing new fresh blood into the fold, you certainly won’t be making any new disciples either. Then, all you have is a social club thinly disguised as a home group but really just made up of people who’ve left the “institutional church” and do things the way they like.
5) Arrogance of ‘doing church the Biblical way’
As with any doctrine when some believers get a new-found excitement over a long-forgotten truth, there’s a temptation to become frustrated with others for not seeing it the same way as we do. Likewise, it’s very easy to let that turn into an arrogance that our way is the only way of doing something or way of seeing a truth.
Several years ago (actually, almost a decade now that I face reality) I attended Bible school in Pensacola, Florida. I was pretty good friends with a group of people who were forming a ‘team’ and spending a tremendous amount of time together, praying, fellowshipping, eating together, and evangelizing in the streets. The school and church I was a part of was planning a move to North Carolina that next summer, and shortly after that move, left behind a church plant that mostly revolved around this group of people, or ‘team’. It should be mentioned, they were very house church-focused. Very.
At the same time as this, a group of people from the church moved up to North Carolina months before the rest of us did, and almost simultaneously were forming a core group of individuals who gravitated towards house churches, as well. Not long after, both groups went further and further down a path that any involvement with ‘institutional’ church or ‘organized religion’ would contaminate them.
Eventually involvement with people outside of these small house churches became heavily discouraged. Preached against, even. I had less communication with friends of mine in these groups now because ‘I was part of the system’. This hurt tremendously.
About a year later I had really lost touch with all of these individuals, and heard innuendo and rumours about different things, but ultimately, that each group in their own set of circumstances had “gone off the deep end”. A few years ago when I first visited Peru, one of my friends who had gotten caught up in the one that stayed behind in Pensacola, friended me on Facebook and we got chatting one night and he proceeded to tell me how he got out of it and other wacky things that transpired in the years following.
I’m not trying to imply that had they not been so inward focused, they never would have gone off the deep end, but this is an extreme example of what the isolation can do when you feel you’re right and everybody else wrong. With regards to the group in Pensacola, I initially never would have suspected them to turn into something so cultish, but it still happened, despite a desire to be “biblical” church.
This is an extreme case, to be sure, but it’s still worth noting there’s danger when we become arrogant and think we’re the only ones right.We easily fall into error and even danger when we think we're the only ones right... Click To Tweet
There’s pros and cons to this movement, and by and large I think something along the lines of a missional community — a community on mission together — is far more productive to the cause of the Gospel being spread AND resembling a system similar to what the early Church was likely to have looked like.
Related Podcasts on House Churches, Missional Communities and being “done with church” (Edited & Updated April 16th/16)
The Called Out Ones: Rethinking the Unthinkable Discussion with Chad Kidd (Download MP3)
Done with Church — Now What? Discussion with Dan Dailey (Download MP3)
Come Up Out of Babylon & Build God’s Temple – A Prophetic Challenge (Download MP3)
Is It Necessary For Christians To Attend Church Meetings? Interview with Dr Stephen Crosby (Download MP3)
What Is Missional Community? with Mark Burgess and Shaun Wissmann (Download MP3)
Church As Community & Disciple Multiplication Hub – Interview with Michael Dow (Download MP3)