In participating in Glenn’s synchroblog a couple of days ago, Tera Rose left a comment on my post sharing a negative experience she’d had in trying to do a home fellowship, and asked some excellent questions about house church. They were so good that I felt it was worth writing a post to respond to her. Below is an excerpt of what she wrote:
We thought about 5 years ago we would open our home to worship, read the Bible and serve one to another….We had a worship band in our back yard, we cooked food on the grill- honestly we had a great time of fellowshipping UNTIL…..the discussion came about what we would study in the Bible, who was “mature enough” to teach…..oh good lord, you would think it was like the book Lord of the Flies. Almost like a bunch of kids that left the church because they wanted the annointed position of pastor/ worship leader or prophet. It made me sick. So we ended it. What we had intended to be a time to lift up one for another became a micro-organism of the very church that we had left.
…How does one have a small group fellowship while not reproducing the dysfunction of the large church? How does one allow for the individuals to seek Christ for their own lives- and does one do this? I guess I think I would be interested in being part of a small group- but the few that we visited felt “off” to me and like I said, our experiment went sour quick. I don’t want my hands to create anything that brings harm to anyone. period. Just curious.
If there’s one thing I have learned in this journey, it’s not to give pat answers or formulas. If the church really is changing from a solid to a fluid, then we have to be adaptable, and what works for one might not work for another. All I can do here is share what I believe has worked for us. That said…let me do my best to touch on a few of these points…
How does one have a small group fellowship while not reproducing the dysfunction of the large church?
I think it’s first important to admit that leaving the dysfunction of institutional church will not eliminate the dysfunction in individuals. We who come out of those structures will have to de-construct a lot of that, plus we come with our own personal baggage. People act up, in or out of church buildings. Even with the early church…entire epistles were written to deal with dysfunction in the churches–ALL of which were house churches, by the way. It is possible, however, to avoid the “large-church micro-organism” you encountered, but I think that in itself requires a process of re-thinking. It sounds to me like the reason things turned that way is everyone was still thinking that way.
I think one reason our particular group has weathered the storms without imploding is that we have always had recognized leadership. My wife and I started this, and are still considered the pastors of the group. This was partly incidental, because as I said before, we began as a traditional church and morphed into a house church. And by the way, it took a long time to stop thinking like institutional pastors. But during that transition we never gave up our authority. This might rub some the wrong way who have had negative experiences with leaders, but leadership is still Biblical. Only BAD leadership is wrong. In this process, we have learned a lot about being servant-leaders, and we haven’t always been good at it. At times, we’ve sucked. But we’ve been willing to adapt and change, been willing to humble ourselves and apologize, been willing to be vulnerable and weep openly before people, even been willing to admit when we didn’t know what to do. And in that way, I think we’ve earned the respect of the people who are gathering with us.
I do not believe every small group has to have someone they call “pastor.” And a small-group leader can act more as a moderator and facilitator than be the teacher/prophet. But in my experience, things probably go better if there is some sort of point person, and often that works better if the question of who will lead is answered before the thing even starts.
How does one allow for the individuals to seek Christ for their own lives- and does one do this?
Yes, one does, and one should. Jesus is the Head of the Church, and He shepherds us all. It has never been the role of any pastor, apostolic leader, or otherwise to control the spiritual growth of others–and that’s been a lot of the problem with institutional church throughout the centuries. That wrong attitude has caused a huge amount of co-dependency between church leaders and the people they lead. The Biblical example of leadership always strives to encourage people to seek God for themselves, and learn to hear His voice. It can be messy at times, but in the long run, it is better.
Part of re-thinking for small groups involves changing the way we think about leadership and personal responsibility before God–and what a godly leader actually does. I think people tend to see two extremes–spiritual leaders on one end, and personal discipleship on the other–and feel you cannot have both. In my experience, that’s not true. If a leader isn’t focused on taking personal responsibility for feeding his/her flock, and instead sees their role as a facilitator…leadership can take on a whole different look. It just takes re-thinking leadership, not doing away with it entirely.
We try to encourage active group participation and discussion in our meetings, and we allow for others to teach. One thing we’re exploring now is sometimes to shift away from just doing a teaching/lecture to taking more of a moderator-type position while the group discusses a passage of Scripture, or a topic. In this case, the leader stops spoon-feeding people and enables the body to encourage one another. So far, I’m loving it. I leave the discussion feeling like I’ve been fed by the comments of the others. Just one example of how it can look.
I don’t want my hands to create anything that brings harm to anyone.
That’s a wonderful attitude, but I’m afraid the only way to do that successfully is to isolate yourself from everybody, and that would not be healthy for you–and think of what everyone else would be missing. 🙂 None of us (hopefully) wants to harm anyone, but we are all broken people. If you interact with people, whether as a leader of a group or otherwise…you will get hurt, and you will hurt others. Not getting hurt is not the point. Learning together to repent and to forgive is more the point. If you don’t do anything just because someone might get hurt…you’ll never do anything. So don’t be afraid of the risk of harm to others or yourself, because the risk will be there. The best way to deal with that risk is always to encourage quick forgiveness and repentance, and trust Jesus as the healer when you do get hurt.
Just for the record…I stand with you in shutting down the group in the story you described. The thing about Jesus being the Head of the Church cuts both ways. When people go Lord-of-the-Flies clamoring for leadership, it typcially means they themselves haven’t submitted to Jesus’ headship. I do not trust anyone who acts like that with any form of leadership, because they want it too badly, and are more likely to hurt people. So, good call. But that doesn’t mean at some point you couldn’t try again, with different parameters (and only if you wanted to). And there are many forms it can take, and doesn’t have to be formal–occasional meetings instead of regular ones, or meeting in neutral place like a park or coffee shop. Good, healthy small-groups can and do happen. Beyond any of the stuff I’ve said so far…it just becomes a matter of what works best for you and your community, and sometimes that can be as simple as trial and error.
Hope it helps, and thanks for raising these questions.