I May as Well Admit It…I’m a House-Churcher

So Andrew’s posts really got some articulation-juices flowing in me, and I thought I’d write a little about something that I don’t think I have yet, directly, in this blog: I am an Ordinary Somebody in a house church.                     

I have a hard time owning up to this sometimes outside of my local community, because I have an uneasy relationship with the ‘house church movement’ in North America. We (I’ll take some ownership and say ‘we’) have a lot of fundamentalists who insist ours is the only legitimate way to ‘do’ church, and we have a lot of hurt people who are de-toxing from religion. Sometimes things can get insular, and other times things can devolve into their own arcane language just as specialized and ‘insider’ as any other tradition or denomination. Because I love the entire Church (and beyond that, the entire humanity and creation-kosmos) I tend to kind of lay low with my house church affiliation in my public writing and sharing.

Nonetheless, there is a time to speak about it. Because most people involved in house churching are wonderful people, and I love them. And because I’ve spent about a decade sharing life with people whom–whether I like them or not–I’d take a bullet for. And that, my friends, is some powerful (albeit largely involuntary) spiritual formation. And this way of conceiving the community of faith is worth articulating because the decentralized, clergy-free house church lens is such a minority perspective, even in the emerging church conversation, and it easily gets drowned out in what I call The Clerical Assumption: the assumption that if the Church is to really change, and if we are really going to experience fullness of life in the Spirit, it’s going to come through professionally-trained ministerial leadership. I’d like to say that this isn’t necessarily the main agent of change, and may not even often be the vehicle of change. I say this respectfully, not as a fighting fundie, but as someone who sees a multi-layered enigma before us and would love to engage in some conversation.

There is much I can write about this, and it’s my blog so I suppose I shall over the next days/weeks/months/aeons. But for now I just wanted to sit on my stool and say “Hi, my name is Mike Morrell…and I’m a house-churcher.”

16 Responses to “I May as Well Admit It…I’m a House-Churcher”


  1. 1 Brother Johnny October 18, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM.

    ‘House Church’ can mean many different things to many different people (as you well know).
    For me, it has been just one more step in that path of liberty that God has ordained us to walk in…with, hopefully, more steps in that direction to tread.

    Sometimes ‘house church’ can be more confining than going to hear a good message at the local pulpit!

    When the Lords people are free to function, without the restraints of mans religion bearing down on them, wonderful things can happen…
    but when the Lords people take that freedom ‘for granted’ and, out of laziness or apathy, decide to just come up with a formula to pacify their ‘old’ nature….
    well….

    I can think of better things to do…
    Maybe crash a funeral or something….

  2. 2 zoecarnate October 18, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    And of course you’re right, Johnny…absolutely and completely. The downside of the fundamentalist house church mindset can be as rigid and conformist as any of the most stringent denomination; hardly my idea of a good time. But ‘house church’ as a metaphor of spiritual playfulness–openness and expansiveness–has a lot of of potential.

    I hope you caught the ambivalence in my above confession; I imagine its not unlike many progressive Catholics or Presbyterians or what have you–not quite “My country, right or wrong” (’cause I find that kind of thinking abhorrent) but “my family, warts and all.”

    Does that make any sense?

  3. 3 Brother Johnny October 18, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Totally.
    Family is family!

  4. 4 Peter K Bell October 18, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks, Mike, for “coming out of the closet.”

    Hee hee.

    I knew it all along!

    Well, for the record I should admit that I have been to your house-church (exactly once as I recall) and that my family and I felt very welcome there and free to use our gifts and offer our input and receive the generous, boundary-free hospitality that the lovely saints there offered us.

    I look forward to the continuing conversation based on your confession of this!

    Love in Jesus (unconditionally),
    Peter

  5. 5 Steph October 18, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Question, as I am new to the house church movement – how is a house church different from say a fellowship or cell group? Is it a question of labeling, or really something different?

  6. 6 Peter K Bell October 18, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    By the way, in case there is any danger of my smooth words covering up the reality of this, I am most definitely in the camp of (to use Mike’s categories) “hurt people who are de-toxing from religion.” I have been in that category for more than 11 years now [is there anybody around to say to me, “Get over it and get back on track!”?].

    I have barfed out “The Clerical Assumption” years ago and am wholly committed to the Starfish Holarchization of our spiritual relationships in Christ, as are many of your readers (but not all!).

    There is no doubt whatever that God is purging His church, and this includes the leaders first, and it could well include the way we see and appoint and recognize and pay and feel free to attack our leaders according to The Clerical Assumption.

    Enough words. God passionately wants to bless His church and will succeed in doing it, every way we will let Him, and sometimes even when we don’t want Him to!

    Grace, peace, and love,
    Peter

  7. 7 Peter K Bell October 18, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Steph,

    I’ll jump in here and answer this from my experience, leaving room for others to disagree or add or clarify:

    The biggest difference between most house churches and, say, fellowships or cell groups, is that most of these other groups are connected to and extensions of more traditional churches. For example, in the church we attended before moving to where we are now (about 2 years ago), the pastor had a thing about small groups or cell groups, and he vigorously backed up the organization and planning of these, to meet on weekday evenings. But they were totally an extension of the church structure, and for this reason they were expendable: when the pastor moved on to another church, the cell groups dissolved and the church kept right on going.

    A house church, on the other hand, sees itself as the sum total of the relationships between its members, and is usually not a part or extension of another church group. There are a number of networks or umbrella groups of house churches, groups in different cities who hang together in whatever ways they find to work for them, but the house church in a city is usually not connected with a local denominational church of some kind but in that sense could be called “independent.”

    There are other differences too. Maybe the biggest is that most house churches are not big on clergy (some folks being professional ministers and others not). They like to stress the function of each member developing his/her gifts to contribute to the whole, and so they usually insist on a greater degree of liberty in Christ than many other folks enjoy. Etc. etc.

    Does this help?

    Mike, I hope you can help answer this from your experience too.

    Peter

  8. 8 zoecarnate October 18, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Peter, thank you for your thoughts here.

    And Steph, house churches do tend to be different than “cell” or ‘small’ groups in more than semantic ways. Namely, the latter tend to be associated with a “mother church” to whom they are finally accountable in a way that is thought to give them spiritual ‘covering.’ This ultimately tends to have the effect of the ‘small’ group being something less than a subset of the mother church; they can gather according to a ministerially-approved curriculum or format, but if they deviate, they will likely get the plug pulled on them. In other words, there’s a good deal of ‘control’ present, though this power may be exercised in ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ ways.

    House churches, by contrast, are churches, period. We can marry, bury, baptize and eucharize (for those of us who are into this) just like any other church that might be ten times our size. We see ourselves as a church-in-and-of-ourselves. Our accountability comes from one another, as well as networked relationships with other house churches and church planters. But it’s not top-down, ‘power-over.’ We try to take seriously the idea of the leadership of the Spirit and the headship of Christ in our midst in a practical, concrete way.

    Please understand that I’m not saying that one is inherently better than the other, though I’m sure my biases are obvious. Both paradigms can and do have problems!

  9. 9 kevin beck October 18, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Right on, bro.

    Wherever 2 or 3 re gathered…

    Didn’t Paul write about the household of God?

  10. 10 andrewtatum October 18, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Mike, glad to see you being honest with who you really are…lol. Seriously, I am glad to be in contact (and hope to be so more frequently) with folks like you and the rest of the Raleigh-Durham Saints community who practice a decentralized, spirit-lead kind of Church-life. I hope Lydia and I can become more a part of the community as we continue to discern our vocations in light the working of God’s spirit and our reading of Scripture.

    Grace & Peace,
    Andrew

  11. 11 zoecarnate October 18, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    Yeah, Kev., the household of God. I’d love it if you wrote or blogged about your perspective on what this can mean…

    And yeah, Andrew, we’re a mess, but you and Lydia are welcome here! In whatever capacity you’d like to be around, we’d be honored…

  12. 12 Peter K Bell October 18, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Amazing, Mike:

    If you look at the above, specifically our answers to Steph’s question, you will notice that you and I answered her within 5 minutes of each other, and we said essentially the same thing (taking into account our differences in personality and expression and our particular biases). I trust that Steph is getting a well-rounded and accurate picture of the differences between the forms of church expression!

    Also I am glad to hear that Andrew (whom I don’t know but whose Scriptural anti-clerical essay I read and devoured recently) is wanting to hang with you guys on a more regular basis. I can see a lot of good fruit from that–for him and Lydia, and for those he is destined to influence in the future.

    Blessings,
    Peter

  13. 13 joseph the antiochian October 18, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    hey Mike

    i appreciate hearing your personal story – i found the posts on The Priesthood Of All Believers thought provoking & raised some complex questions that you did begin to address

    i come from the completely opposite end of the church spectrum, about 2 years ago i joined the Antiochian Orthodox Church, possibly one of the oldest continuous churches on the planet, that practices a 1500 year old liturgy & is based on the traditional hierarchy of bishop, priest, & deacon – i also live with some ambivalence with my church (but not as much as i would have with the Roman Catholic or Episcopal churches) – i attend a small ethnic arab mission, the priest, his wife & family, & most of the members are Palestinian refugees – our priest is an elderly (but quite healthy) man who served 2 churches in Lebanon during the civil war in the late 70s & early 80s, often at great personal peril – he & his family extended nothing but kindness to my wife & i as we explored & joined the church – i receive true spiritual nourishment from participating in the liturgy & eucharist, but i see that most of the young people raised in the church stop participating once they come of age

    i think there has always been a creative tension in the church between radical egalitarianism and natural hierarchy, that each position taken to extremes leads to unique problems – the church as institution is prone to corruption by politics and wealth – this is as much a problem for Evangelical megachurches as it is for the Catholic hierarchy – however, those who go off to form their own self-sufficient antihierarchical groups can become insular, self rightous & cultic

    modern western christianity has tended to be ahistoric, with little appreciation of the history, practice, & theology of the church (eastern & western) before the 15th century – one of the strengths i see in the emergent scene is an appreciation of the history & practices of the whole church & an attempt to embody them in creative ways

    the pre-Constantine churches were often house churches, but they were led & served by bishops, presbyters, & deacons – the early church was liturgical, praying the psalms at the hours of jewish prayer, & sacramental with baptism, the agape meal & the eucharist at the heart of their spiritual life

    peace
    joseph

  14. 14 Philip November 26, 2007 at 11:47 am

    hehehe, yes House Church seems to lean towards having a fair few fundermentalists. I 2 find this a bit difficult as I certainly am not. Yet I do love the simplicity of being organic and the freedom it brings and it is worth the disagreements i have with my dear brothers when i am accused of not being as fundermentalist as I should be!

  15. 15 zoecarnate November 26, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Amen, Philip! I totally agree. May our tribe increase. ; )


  1. 1 House Churching: Where I’m at Now « zoecarnate Trackback on December 10, 2008 at 4:30 am

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