175. home church
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to blog about it, but I’ve been attending a house church for the past five months. And it’s been so good for me for so many reasons. Let me count the ways:
1. No sign dancing.
Huge, HUGE pet peeve of mine. I really don’t get sign dancing. Look, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings here (and I mainly want to talk about the house church) so I’ll just leave it at that.
2. It’s interactive.
At any point in the “service,” people can ask questions. The sermon is more of a guided discussion than a sermon because the person speaking not only allows for questions, but encourages them. I mean how many times have you listened to a preacher and he drops some bomb that you need clarification on or that you disagree with or that you think is inaccurate, but you can’t just raise your hand and ask about it and so you just sit there and stew while the rest of the message breezes by you.
At this church, we usually don’t even bother to raise our hand, we just blurt out a question or objection or observation. In my case, I just furrow my brow and purse my lips and the speaker gets the hint and asks, “what now, Randall?”
3. It’s real.
For better or for worse, this church was started by (and has attracted) Christians who were fed up with bigger, more organized (aka politicized) churches. See, a lot of Christians (and even more so their church leaders) don’t realize that there is a conformist church culture that runs through most congregations. Now I have no problem with the church having a culture – almost by definition, any group that gathers regularly will develop common, cultural features. It’s the conformist part of church culture that I (and many of the others at the house church) despise.
We have one guy who comes to church in pajama pants because he feels comfortable in them (he also wears them to nightclubs and while grocery shopping, so it’s not just something he does for church). We have a guy who brings a cooler of beer with him. We have non-christians who would never set foot in any other church. And for the most part, everybody just comes as they are. Of course the hope is that they leave a bit more like Jesus, but they’ll never get that way if they don’t feel welcome in the first place.
4. It’s unscripted.
This is not a church for control junkies or for people who get edgy and uncomfortable when there’s no schedule to follow. I don’t mean to say that it’s chaos, it’s more like a casual family kind of a thing where we have a list of things that need to get done but it’s not timed to the micro-second. Fellowship flows into worship which naturally leads into prayer which brings us to the message. And then we close. And then some hang out and talk, some pray, some just go home or to work. And then we’re done.
5. It’s intimate.
Not in an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog photo kind of way, but in a communal, family kind of way. Because it’s a small group, we can actually get to know the people that attend. And we’re too small for cliques to form. Instead of investing into some anonymous church mission statement, we’re investing in one another.
I’m sure if you were to ask some of the other people at the home church, you’d get other examples of why they love what’s happening, but that’s my list off the top of my head in no particular order.
And here’s the really cool bit. Turns out this house church phenomenon is happening all over. Here’s an article in Time magazine about it. But we didn’t know this movement or this trend was occurring when we started the church. I mean the guy who started this church got the idea from a friend visiting from Sweden who has a house church there, but it’s not like he started this home church just to be trendy or because it’s the new in-thing in Christianity. He started it because he didn’t know what else to do and then we find out that it’s something that’s happening nationwide. That makes it feel like we’ve stumbled onto something that God’s kind of unleashing right now.
There’s definitely a new wineskin kind of vibe happening. And that wineskin metaphor is an interesting one. See, last Sunday, some of the people who attend this home church went to the monthly corporate service at Hope Chapel Manoa – Hope Manoa adopted a home church format about a year ago and their individual home churches (about eleven of them) get together once per month to celebrate together. At this service, Mark Hsi (senior pastor) shared a brief message about some of the potential dangers he sees as the house church movement grows. One of them was the temptation to diss more traditional forms of church. He talked about the need for respect on both sides, and here’s where I want to kind of break open the wineskin metaphor a little bit.
Basically, the idea is that change is a part of life and expressions of faith are not exempted from this cycle. And when change happens, it’s got to find new receptacles to contain it because it’s not going to fit in the old forms. It’s a beautiful image, really because even though the old wine is, well, old, it’s also mature and rich and complex and stable. On the other hand, younger wine is more direct, the flavors are more fruity, and it changes quite a bit as time goes by. And the discerning wine lover can appreciate both.
The same thing happens with churches. A new stylistic change comes along or a shift in doctrinal emphasis occurs (within reason, we’re not talking about heresies here) or technology brings about new ways of spreading the gospel. Change happens and it has a hard time fitting in with what’s already established and so it breaks away and finds new containers. And everything is cool and fruity and fun until this new wine starts to mature and another shift occurs and all of a sudden what was hip and new has become established and stable and is not flexible enough to accommodate this new shift.
But here’s what ties the old and the new together – tradition. Changing environmental factors guarantee that every year’s harvest of grapes will be different from the last but the methods of making wine, those stay the same. In the case of the church, creeds and theology and orthodoxy represent the tradition of winemaking, the mechanics that makes it all work. Any new form of church ignores these at their own peril.