House Churching: Where I’m at Now

https://i0.wp.com/web.ku.edu/%7Erusscult/visual_index/images/orthodoxy/rublev_trinity.jpgUpdate: I’ve written more, in response to some thoughtful comments below. If you’ve already read my original post, scroll down…

So: I’ve been house-churching for a decade now. I thought I’d share a little bit about how I’ve gone from being an ardent member of the house church’s self-described ‘radical wing’ to something of a house church moderate. I’ll begin with a comment I left on Late Emerger’s blog:

I agree with the Stuart Murray book recommendation. I’d like to see you blog more about Reimagining Church – if the ideas aren’t ‘new’ to you due to your Brethren background, what do you find helpful (or not) about them, regardless of their relative novelty?

As a decade-long house-churcher, I wrestle with these questions a lot. (I blogged about Reimagining a bit here). In light of my recent posts, I should share where I’m headed today, albeit briefly: I still enjoy the house church emphases of the direct leadership of the Trinity in our gatherings (‘direct’ being a rather tricky word; I fully acknowledge the problem with language, immediacy, and analogy that postmodern theologians grapple with) and the priesthood of all believers for the ‘open-sourcing‘ of the Church. That said, I like the anabaptist emphasis on the political and social dimensions of the gospel, and I’ve gotta say, I’m more and more drawn to High Church smells & bells too – what’s a 21st-century friend of Jesus to do? For now, I think ‘what to do’ in my decidely low-church (basement church!) expression is to compost church expressions, give expiring institutional models the dignity to die well, and let something organic grow from its decay; liturgy is ‘the work of the people‘ after all and can work, even thrive, in an open-source setting.

Update Starts Here

Thanks for the feedback, all!

Monasticism Old & New

https://i0.wp.com/www.geocities.com/tjbd/Waldenser-Wappen.jpgKevin, you’re absolutely right. Had I written A Somewhat Less Brief Post on House Churching: Where I’m at Now, (Oops! It looks like I am!) I would have certainly included the insights from both monasticism and the new monasticism as key influencers in my sensibilities-shift. One thing I like about the ‘wing’ of the house church movement we come from is the attempt to locate ourselves historically beyond ‘the first century church.’ Through the influence of books like The Torch of the Testimony and The Pilgrim Church, hagiographies though they may be, we were  able to see (an amusing little essay I wrote ages ago) lines of spiritual continuity with many minority movements that went before us, some of them heterodox. These included Montanists, Donatists, Waldensians, Lollards, Anabaptists, Quakers, and ‘post-Brethren’ movements like the Little Flock in China. Similarly, the New Monastic folks, coming from more ‘mainstream’ evangelical backgrounds, took a look at our equally-neglected heritage of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, Catholic mystics and activists (including Oscar Romero, Liberation theologians, African and Latin American base communities, Catholic Worker houses), the rich tapestry of monastic movements, and again the Anabaptists – our two streams share them in common inspiration! So they take all of these groups and personalities for inspiration, but also feel free to retain the best of their evangelical backgrounds too, remix, and stir with a sensitivity to contemporary culture – both where it needs to be affirmed and prophetically critiqued. Hence they move the monastery back to the city, ‘relocating to the abandoned places of empire.’ I love it.

Ten-Year Itch

Marion, I understand where you’re coming from. Why, in you perception, exchange the Substance for mere types and shadows? I get it. First off, a question: How long have you been actively involved in house-churching? I only ask because a wise older brother, who had been living in an intentional house church community that I began gathering with early on, said to me – a young buck house church zealot – “Before you commit to anything for life, give it ten years. Let’s talk in ten years.” At the time I thought he was trying to be a downer, but you know what? It’s been ten years. And my perspective has changed.

Leadership: What Is It?

As to your thoughts on hierarchical leadership: I’m no fan of hierarchy per se. And in case I was unclear, what I meant by

I still enjoy the house church emphases of the direct leadership of the Trinity in our gatherings and the priesthood of all believers for the ‘open-sourcing‘ of the Church

sermons

…is that I’m still a huge supporter of participatory gatherings open to all to share. But I’ve also come to realize that leadership is not a dirty word. It’s certainly been misused and abused in some bricks-and-mortar church settings, but I think we house church folk can sometimes romanticize what ‘the headship of Jesus Christ in our midst’ means in actual practice. To be specific: I think we’ve sometimes sold ourselves a bill of goods in the idea that New Testament churches just kind of magically got together without direction or leadership, and their gatherings just ‘came together,’ magically and marvelously. In my experience, some people are just naturally more gifted at motivating the rest of us to practice our own priesthood in a variety of ways. These people either arise after awhile in a house church setting, or the overall house church experience ends up being pretty sub-par. Don’t get me wrong: I still bristle when I visit house churches that are trying to re-create Big Church Sunday Morning Worship in a living room; they’re just getting started and they seem to already have a Pastor, Worship Leader, and Greeter all picked out! It’s annoying. At the same time, I can’t throw stones. I’m way less judgmental as to how that occurs in each particular group, fellowship, or congregation.

The Work of the People

Regarding liturgy: Believe it or not, there is a growing segment of people who are now ‘doing’ liturgy without hierarchy. Many of them are on your side of the pond, in the UK. (See this section of zoecarnate.com for some extensive links, photos, videos and stories) It’s known as ‘alternative worship’ or ‘fresh expressions.’ For some, it’s following more or less a traditional liturgy, though sometimes simplified for smaller groups or acapella singing – creating a rhythm of regularity around which spontaneity can be supported. For others – like the Ikon community in Belfast, Grace in London, or the late, lamented Vaux (it’s really worth going here and here and here to see all that the Spirit wrought with the Zeitgeist in their day) – it’s a bit more community-created from the ground up, more creative and elaborate…though these groups typically meet on a monthly, rather than weekly, basis, their worship takes so much time and energy. And I don’t think most of ’em wear robes! Though I’ve gotta say, I’ve lightened up on this count too. I’ll never forget earlier this year when Jasmin and I met up with our friend Sara Miles (and Paul Fromberg) at St. Luke’s Episcopal in Atlanta. Sara and Paul were talking about various aspects of their life together at St. Gregory’s in San Francisco, including the food pantry they started from their altar. It was an informal chat with about 40 people present, and lots of interaction. Then came a transition point where they were teaching us St. Gregory’s uniquely homegrown style of alt.worship liturgy, which is a blend of Anglican and Byzantine sensibilities, open-sourced so the whole congregation can genuinely participate. It’s all a capella, with just some hand chimes and a Tibetan prayer bowl for accompaniment. But the part I won’t forget is how I was chatting with Sara and then she nonchalantly said “Excuse me a sec while I slip into something less comfortable,” and voila! Five minutes later, Sara had donned a – I don’t even know what you call it, a robe with some a tie-dyed stole. It’s wasn’t pompous, it was festive! And then we all began dancing around a table, arm in arm, hugging and kissing, and eating holy bread and wine. It was one of the most open, participatory gatherings I had been to in awhile – all in an ornate downtown Atlanta cathedral. While the setting was unfamiliar to me, I sensed the unmistakable aroma of Jesus.

I don’t know if this responds to all of your (very well-stated) concerns. I’m particularly curious to hear others weigh in on what ‘poor and ordinary’ people think of liturgies versus house church gatherings. I’ve heard anecdotal corroboration that both people from more ‘roughneck’ backgrounds appreciate the beauty and poetry of good liturgy, and that sometimes seekers feel more at home in cathedrals than in living rooms. Of course I’ve heard/seen the reverse to be true as well. Jesus was certainly ‘everyday’ in many respects, but he was also seen as a sage. His parables involved everyday objects and concepts, but turned them on their heads. Paul was a master of rhetoric (despite his protests to the contrary) and the prophets, not to mention authors in apocalyptic and Wisdom genres, were skilled poets. So I think we see every level of discourse in the Bible as well as everyday life. I agree with you, though, that sisters and brothers in Christ don’t need to be eloquent or profound to share real spiritual depth. But they also don’t have to not be those things.

Where Do We Go from Here?

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this on my blog before, but Jasmin and I are leaving our beloved house church community here in Raleigh in late March 2009. We’re moving back to the Atlanta area to be closer to family – our little girl’s grandparents in particular. What does this mean for us spiritually, and church-wise? I honestly have no idea.  We’re not quitting ‘house church’ – or as its increasingly referred to nowadays, ‘organic church’ – per se. At the same time, I’m not sure if that’s where we’re headed again immediately when we return. My wife and I are amazed by what we see the Spirit working in the ATL; it really seems like Kingdom movement if afoot in many streams and tributaries of the household of God – ‘house church’ included. I’ve told Jasmin that I’m wide open to whatever – house church, Episcopal Church, Mennonites, Quakers, Vineyard or East Orthodox or one of those start-up emerging churches – Oh my! It might just be the season of life I’m in, looking at age 30 – but I’m more concerned about our rhythms of everyday life than where and how we worship. I’m learning to see my house church heritage, like any other set of cousins in the family of God, as a particular tradition. And insofar as I continue gathering for fellowship, action, and encouragement in homes, I’m committed to seeing her as a living tradition, for her own health and well-being.

Related posts:

Open Gatherings and Life’s Wisdom

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

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Pt. 1

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Pt. 2

29 Responses to “House Churching: Where I’m at Now”


  1. 1 outofthedesert December 8, 2008 at 6:11 am

    Great super-brief-summary-post Mike. As far as some compost that I would throw on the pile is the practice of rhythms of Life done together in a more monastic sense (i.e. ordered sense). This is something that I hope to see more lived out experience of in my life and those around me.

    One thing I will take away from my past house church experience is the need to be involved in a greater narrative and story. That greater narrative and historical story will always be cherished.

    Kevin

  2. 2 smudge December 8, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I admit I am confused by some [a few, usually under 30 or 40 for some reason] who see the simplicity of simple gatherings and have experienced the reality of God the Spirit leading and the fruit of authentic fellowship leading to real impact on the world around…
    who also are attracted by the High Church smells and bells thing…
    and that is, to me, confusing because it means receiving all the hierarchical stuff in those churches
    I just cannot go back, whether it’s to ‘evangelical’ hierarchies, or any others.
    It’s not that I don’t value the unity of the One Church, but I think it’s because I fear that some things can be at the expense of the Kingdom becoming [being made] real to those currentlyoutside fo the Church
    they have good instincts for what is real to today’s world…
    especially those who aren’t ‘middle-class’ and have to deal with the nitty gritty of life, and have no time for asceticism and etereal stuff that is not earthed.

    at this time we are reminded ‘the Word became flesh…
    He did not abbhor humanity…
    what makes Him flesh the most?
    high church bells and smells and ritual and hierarchy, or simple gatherings with people dressed normally [as they do], who speak normally [as they do], who translate thinsg not into some religiosu jargon and set words as in poems, but in ordinary [as Jesus] words of the day.

    I would suggest, and this is not meant to be insult, to anyone, that something in us longs for security, in the sense of a Parental security…
    we will not find that, fully, in any earthly organisation or set-up, only in the Parenthood of God, Himself, mediated by the Holy Spirit…
    and yes, we do not have the full security of seeing Jesus yet, for those who need to see something [in the sense of what people have said to me about needing/wanting non-human icons]…
    but one day we will.

  3. 3 J.G.L. December 8, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks for the post. I am wrestling with my ideas of the church. I also appreciate the house church approach but I connect with the liturgy with all the bells and smells. Good to know that others out there are talking about the same things. Blessings to you on your journey!

  4. 4 1ozmom December 8, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I’m the same way. I walk into a cathedral (the extended family is devoutly RC) and all of my bells and smells love comes rushing back becuase of the devotion sunk into those walls. I swear it seeps out while I’m kneeling in the pew. But then I start hearing the rules and regs and I go, “Oh yeah.” and saunter out. I love it, but I can’t live under it.

    I think we, as humans, love ritual. I think there is a elemental hunger for ritual in us and I see it in so many ways. I can’t tell you how badly I want to go to midnight mass on Christmas eve. I want to genuflect at the pew, and make the sign of the cross and soak in the awsomeness of the ritual going on around me. I love the canting of the benediction. I feel GOD in those places, so maybe it’s the searching for what I experience as a tangible touch? *shrug* I have no idea. Walking by faith out there is so much harder.

    But then they tell me my marriage isn’t valid becuase I was not married in ‘the church’ and that God woiuld rejct my children becuase they were not baptized and once again I become that teenager that flees the house under their parents strict rules.

    I dunno. I have no answers, only more questions.

  5. 5 Adam December 8, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    I’ve been thinking more and more about how house church ideas and more liturgical church expressions can come together. I’ve been thinking of this in the term you use here – the work of the people. I’m interested in a more liturgical church service that is truly the work of the people. Taking the ancient and setting it free – doing what we want with it – making it the work of the people for today. And the real distinction here is that it wouldn’t be the work of the paid staff. Maybe there would be paid staff, but their job would be to bring out the work of the people. I’m also thinking here of Bob Carlton’s recent post about sermons (here) – I’m happy to get rid of the sermon and replace it with the work of the people.

    Anyways, I’m just thinking…

  6. 6 J.A. December 8, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Nice blog Mike…makes me wonder where I’d be if I had moved 4 years ago.

  7. 7 dougfloyd December 8, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story Mike, and your willingness to grow and explore and encounter God and His people in different ways. Our house church found the liturgy deeply enriching (at least some of us did).

    Last spring I had a friend complain about her struggles with organized church, so I decided to pen a few thoughts in response. (see http://dougfloyd.wordpress.com/category/church/house-church/).

    At one time, i would have written about all the problems of organized church and why it was the cause of all our problems. Now I’m slower to point fingers. Other than looking at my own fallenness.

    In 1991, I left organized church and spent years railing against it. But then I discovered the riches in the Catholic tradition. I sat among the Quakers and enjoyed the silence. I encountered the aesthetic depth of the Orthodoxy tradition. I immersed myself in the brilliance of the Reformed tradition (particularly the Dutch). In each place, I discovered precious jewels and flawed people. In every group (including the home churches), I’ve found people willing to sacrifice their lives for one another, and I’ve seen people ready to stab their neighbor in a moment of provocation. And sometimes the same person could both sacrifice or stab depending on the situation.

    Blessings in your move and your search for a new community.

  8. 8 Pat Henshaw December 8, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Now you ASKED for a comment. Here it is:

    Let’s talk in ten years!

    I am making a feeble joke regarding the advice from your *older brother.*

    Those things you seem to be wrestling with must be settled in our own hearts individually. In other words, you could be wrong about a lot of those things, but it wouldn’t do you a bit of good for me to wrestle with you.

    Rule # 4 and 5 of Fight Club:
    Only two guys to a fight,
    Only one fight at a time.

    pat henshaw

  9. 9 Cliff December 8, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    Home church can be both enlightening and constricting at the same time. Folks get caught up in the mundane day to day existance and the same things over and over again. Comfort it seems is alureing to most who do not like the challenges of an ever changing enviroment be it church or work or home.

    Having done both the Corporate church thing for 20 plus years then home church for another 10 and not having been out of home church for now running on 20 years my perspective has changed alot over the years.

    God it seems to me likes to Mold us to use us as he see’s fit and that does not always agree with what WE think we ought to be doing!

    The reality of it all is are we open to the changes and will we walk through the door if God Opens it and are we confident that it is God Opening the door and not our own selfish desires which is actually opening the door before us. It takes some prayer and prospective I believe to be able to decern the difference.

    One of my long time friends talks about the comfortable Bondage of Life which is to say that thing we know is better than that thing we do not know or understand and we lean towards those things we can understand or that agree with us in general and tend to stay within the ComfortaBLE bONDAGE WE KNOW AND UNDERSTAND rather than explore those things we do not understand well due to our ignorance or lack of Faith in simply stepping out of our comfort zones if you will allow me the anology!

    I long back broke through my comfort zone and rejected many of the teachings I was raised with in church. Having studied my way out of my paticular religous organization while I was in preacher school no less a most reveling experience for me having wanted to spend my life in the Ministry I discovered that that Life was not what I truly wanted at all!

    I was seeking answers to questions I had not been allowed to ask while inside that religious organization and was soon discovering that what I had thought to be Biblical truth was in fact only Mans Truth and not Gods and that caused me a great deal of anguish to come to that determination and to discover I had in essence denied many brothers and sisters in Christ based on my own poor limited understanding of the scriptures and resolved to never again be so Ignorant of my own beliefs so a life long persuit began as I moved o0ut of corporate religion and into the arms of Jesus a long walk indeed for me and a scary one as well.

    There is so much to say and so little time for me to say it but if you will trust in God and in Christ, if you place them first and allow them to be in control and to deny your own selfish interests ( not a reflection of what I think but a generality) I think you will have made a grand decision to walk with Christ respective of anything else in your lives what ever they may be. You will do well.

    I have been alone for many years, Away from those I care for and Love and unable to touch personally and only through email can I let them know my feelings and concerns and show my love and care and concern and it has been fulfilling these past 20 years and continues to be.

    Learning to walk through those doors as they are opened is a tough thing. to be able to have the faith that God and Christ will guide you and direct you is a most fulfilling feeling one can have to walk hand and hand with them daily beats anything else you can do as a Father, as a Man as a guide for your wife and family nothing truly matters except Jesus and God the rest is just something before us on a daily basis and reliance of them to be with us and to guide us through the certain turmoils we will have is rewarding and a comfort in and of itself.

    There is so much more out there for us and Yet this is not our home we are only here for a short while and we must impart upon our children the real imoortance of God and Christ in their lives and what truly matters is that relationship the rest is meaningless in truth.

    I wish you will in your walk and know that there are many before you who have made the same decision and are here to share with you that it is but One way among many yet we each must walk our own paths no matetr what others may say or do our walk with the Lord and his Father is of critical importance for us and our families.

    Our First Duty is to our God and Christ, them family and friends then others as they are placed in our Path by the lord and I believe that he places folks in our paths on a daily basis I see so much and feel so much and there is not enough hours in the day to act so we must do as we are lead and aS WE CAN and must allow our Hearts to over ride our head sometimes.

    It is a life long walk… it is the walk of a life time–It is the only walk which matters..

    Best wishs

  10. 10 Marla Abe December 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Great thoughts to ponder. I grew up in the supposedly non-liturgical Church of the Brethren (Anabaptist). I slowly started changing what happened in the gathering time, by offering new music, or drama, or visuals. At the time, I really disliked liturgy. When I retired from pastoring a church, I went to a Dutch Reformed church, with mainly young adults. I loved the changing art work, and the openness of the minister, but oh, that liturgy. My pastor kept telling me it was like the soft rain that sinks in, rather than the thunderstorms that are lightning and thunder. I realized that my charismatic background pre-disposed me to thunderstorms. I continued to put myself under the discipline of liturgy and found that in my very difficult and changing circumstances, the ritual brought comfort. When I wasn’t there, I still knew that my congregation was saying together the things said and sung last week. Rituals have value.
    I also have enjoyed worship at the Vineyard, in a Lebanese Catholic church, with the Lutheran, Episcopalian, inter-denominational, etc. I have explored some of the thoughts and theology of the Celts. I got to visit Taize. Our traditions are rich and old. I see how you pull together monasticism as community and a house church.
    Rituals that are familiar can reach a depth inside that new things don’t have. I remember one Sunday when we had a silent drama, set to a song. The next Sunday, they did the exact same drama. I was totally shocked. Like most Americans, I expect something new! But each week, the drama had different dimensions and the meaning seemed to come for me from new places in my spirit. I found the same thing in the artwork that was hung for an entire liturgical season. I remember reading a book by Madeline L’Engle in which she suggests that a family go to the same vacation spot each year. When one gets there, it is familiar and comforting, and the family relaxes much more quickly. Doesn’t ritual have the same quality?
    But I think you have the key, Mike..as the work of the people. It has more value if someone in the group is exploring a new tradition or history and brings it back to the group to experience. I have found some traditions that never brought me to a sense of the Presence of Jesus. Explanations remain helpful, especially when new people are present. I would want good theological reasons for what was being done. Even our furniture arrangement is theological.
    Another personal observation. After I stopped being so much in my own tradition, and then returned to it, I found that subconsciously my first instinct to that worship style was “boring, tune it out.” My bored years as a teen and child had left a deep impression. What I did miss was the music.
    Maybe there is a reason why there is a phrase, “practicing the Presence of God”. It takes different practices of various traditions, as well as practice to enter into a different tradition.

  11. 11 Jessop December 8, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    For what it’s worth, I have just written this too a friend in the Philippines who is looking into the home-church model to implement in poor area where congregational support for buildings and staffing is essentially not affordable:-

    +++++++++++++
    Unlike a lot of Christians who are in home churches, I fancy a little more structure and a more recognisable leadership. The idea of ‘no-leadership’ is one thing when the fellowship consists mainly of equally experienced Christians who have been believers for a longer time and really know all the teaching and have the confidence to speak up. But that is rare — the usual group consists largely of people who need teaching and guidance and prefer to be led rather than to lead.

    A different sort of situation is the open meeting of mainly Spirit-filled believers as in 1 Corinthians, chapters 11 to 14 where there is more than one person with a gift of the Spirit and eager to minister what the Spirit gives in a meeting:-
    “7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also isChrist. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

    I have been part of such assemblies and they are wonderful with variety of manifestations to encourage and minister to the needs of of the group generally or to individual persons in the meeting. But such local churches are rare today, and will be until the Sovereign Lord moves mightily in a new burst of revival accompanied by believers receiving the Holy Spirit in that baptism of power:- “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
    ++++++++++++++

    To me, the preference for the home-church model is not so much to do with the form of meeting and worship as it is to do with not pushing the congregation for money to spend on buildings and staff, things which lead to other unfortunate practices such as working as in any business to maintain size (and growth) in the constituency in order to keep it operating.

  12. 12 Darrell December 8, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    We’ve been doing kind of a low-brow liturgy in a house church context for nearly three years in the nashville, tennessee, area. It has been both a powerful and precious chapter in our worship life!

  13. 13 Adam December 8, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    I appreciate your update Mike. Concerning your comments about alternative worship and fresh expressions, my impression of these movements is that they are more focused on events, rather than a weekly worship service. Would you agree? And in many cases they seem to be heavily dependent on paid staff and ordained professionals (I’m really not against paid staff – though I can say I’m not a fan of ordination). I’m actually interested in something a little less glamorous (or actually, to be more accurate, I am interested in both). Something a little more spontaneous and inclusive…more simple, more of a regular rhythm of worship. I’m probably not explaining the difference very well…

    And again, let me clarify, I’m interested in alternative worship, fresh expressions, theodrama (I see Ikon as different than alternative worship/fresh expressions), all of the above. But I wonder if there might be room for something a little different – more house church influenced in its focus on participation, simplicity, informality, and equality of all participants. It wouldn’t have to take place in a house – it wouldn’t be a house church (though that’s not a bad thing either).

  14. 14 zoecarnate December 8, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Adam, you took the words out of my mouth. I don’t know how well I explained it, but Jonny Baker, Kester Brewin, Pete Rollins and others do these events (and they *are* events) monthly. Which strikes me as more sustainable for what they are. But I dunno about the ordination bit. Pete’s not ordained; Kester is a math teacher. I guess Jonny’s ordained, but I won’t hold that against him.🙂 And it’s not just these guys calling the shots; my impression is that a ‘committee’ of whoever’s interested gets together once or twice to brainstorm these theodramas and collaborate to put them on. But most of the folks aren’t paid, from what I understand. You know how we could find out? By asking the folks on the Alternative Emerging UK Yahoogroup. These are all alt.worship types, mostly overseas – one of my favorite email discussion groups. My feeling is that they’re way ahead of the curve than us on open-source worship that is truly ancient and contemporary.

    But you also read my mind on your second part – truth be told, I’d like to do something super-creative and alt.worship every 30 to 60 days, but I also need something simpler, more frequent, and sustainable. These days I’m thinking Quaker worship, or St. Gregory’s simple sung liturgy/Eucharist, or a house church Agape Feast meal but shared with poor & rowdy neighbors. I think what St Benedict’s Table in Winnipeg does is just amazing, both with their house-based liturgical dinners and Agape Table.

    And this brings me to my final point: For me at least, unless I’m living out a life of regular, simple, outpoured service to my neighbor, I don’t feel like I have an outlet for the ‘sweet mystical communion’ of the Godhead enjoyed in moments of personal prayer or corporate worship. This all becomes very consumeristic and self-serving if there isn’t this component of being with the Other on a regular basis.

    Thank you everyone else who’s commented; I’ll interact more a bit later!

  15. 15 Ken M December 8, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Hi Mike,

    interesting blog and thanks for asking what we think. I’m sure we all have different perspectives on the matter. While I’m convinced the structure/form affects us as long as it’s not the main thing it may be ok. Have been reading the revised version of Pagan Christianity and it does show how we as humans love ritual, form and space. Again if we look at Christ’s life he had very little of any of this stuff, not even a place to lay his head.

    Personally I’m much more interested in the gifts that have been deposited in each other that reveal Christ than in any form/liturgy or space that may be offered as an enhancement for spiritual growth but which may easily become a substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in each other.

    We have been simple/house churching for a 12 year stretch here and have been in and out of various traditional settings for 23 years prior to that, well more if you take in my catholic upbring ha. At least in my situation (as I said many will have differing views on this) I have no desire to go back to any form, ritual or space thing that may displace the spontaneous ministry of the priesthood of the believers gathering around Christ. Now I understand that this may not always be attained in practise but I believe it needs to be the mark we shoot for. Church history is a sad commentary of substitues brought in because they brought a feeling or sense of something that in actuality became a replacement for the working of the Holy Spirit and giftings of the body.

  16. 16 Dena Brehm December 8, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    I don’t want the responsibility of deciding where I am, or where I’m going. I don’t want to define/limit what is.

    Did the various denominations-thing for 20+ years … did the wife-of-a-seminary-trained/ordained in a liturgical/charismatic/evangelical church thing for 10+ years … have done the house/simple church thing for 4+ years.

    I’ve seen good and bad in all flavors … but I’m becoming less structured, and more living-with Jesus-and-with-others-minded.

    In fact – I’m seeing “church” as something that existed in the first century for reasons we no longer have — I think we now have something far better, and that a church-focus (in any form) gets in the way.

    I enjoy relationships with others, whether they believe yet or not (they will).

    He’s both Guide and Goal — and only He knows how to lead each of us from where we are, into an awareness of what He’s done for us, what He has for us. So, we can trust Him — He knows what He’s doing. Enjoy the journey, wherever the path leads…!

    Shalom, Dena

  17. 17 zoecarnate December 8, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    Thanks Dena! And I, of course, share some of those very same hunches regarding the unique character of the first-century church. So what I’m talking about here, rather than framing it as ‘God’s-once-and-for-all-goal-for-all-good-Christians-everywhere’ is, in fact, far more modest: My own personal leanings during this time; how I see God’s covenantal transformation working itself out in the 21st century Southeast, in neighborhoods and cities, through theo-drama and transformance art, through ritual and (what at least seems like) unmediated God-encounters, in ancient purpose-built religious buildings and in the streets.

    It’s a welcome reminder that the Big Picture does not rest on my shoulders! And yet, I think God has called us to be collaborators with Holy Spirit in our midst.

    Gratuitous blessings on your West Coast journeying!

  18. 18 Jay December 9, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Having lived in a Buddhist society that is full of candles, incense, and bellsf or the last twenty years, I see this trend in the emergent church as he most offensive. I don’t believe the New Testament Church accidentally neglected the Old Testament ritual symbolism in their worship. I believe that one of the greatest dangers facing the vital expression of true spirituality is idolatry. Even in the least liturgical protestant churches, their ambitious building projects became their idols. I crave the freedom that the emergent church offers, but I will not be part of the man made material symbols of religion. If I want icons, sounds, and smells then the forest or the meadow is my temple of worship.

  19. 19 brotherjohnny December 9, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Good stuff, Mike.
    I may try to come by with more comments later…
    but for now, I just want to say that it’s good to hear where you are.

  20. 20 Tracey December 9, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Since I see relationship with Jesus in the context of a marriage relationship, I definitely see how liturgy could have a place. To me, it’s really no different than setting the scene when I plan to spend intimate time with my husband. I may light a candle, put on nice music, burn incense, etc. All of those things are intended to enhance the intimacy I spend with my husband. They don’t replace it. I never find myself being so mesmerized with my candle or with the music that I forget about my husband or why we’re there. They simply enhance the experience – they don’t replace it.

    So, if bells and smells enhances people’s experience in connecting with Jesus – then go for it. As long as there’s never any confusion about their purpose and Jesus remains the focus.

    Tracey

  21. 21 charlie December 9, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    I think we may need to add a new possibility into the mix. How much longer will “church” buildings be open or even home church settings be an option if persecution comes to the ‘western church’?

    How long will God tolerate western “Christianity” to continue without attempting to glean or purify souls for His name sake? Ask saints in the persecuted countries around the world what persecution and “survival mode” has done for their purifiction and trust in God alone. They will tell us, “please don’t pray that our persecution end, but pray that we may be able to endure and glorify God.”

    Should we not begin considering how we will live and act in love should persecution come? Will this not totally alter OUR priorities? Who will be willing to carry an “enemy’s” soldier pack an extra mile?

    Don’t get me wrong..I love and miss the singing and gathering in larger groups to bring back the fond memories and traditions to soothe and comfort the soul. These are still luxuries now in the organized and organic churches.

    My question and admonition is will we be ready for what may soon be coming in America? Will be able to stand in the day of testing of our faith?

    It’s time for a new anthem: “America, bless God!”

    Charlie

  22. 22 Jeff Goins December 9, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Now you’re bloggin’!

  23. 23 Tom (aka Volkmar) December 11, 2008 at 2:28 am

    Adding to Pat’s “fight club” rules…

    #6. Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?

    Mike,

    Nuggets of wisdom and beauty are to be found in just about all the traditions (I too, am somewhat attracted to the Montanist…) and orderly perambulations through those traditions is probably a good thing. However, what will be your “unifying field theory” in all the explorations?

    I suspect the “smells and bells” traditions are most attractive to those who experienced such as children (first impressions affect), but as another commentor observed, I’d find it difficult to accept all the other trappings that come with those traditions.

    Tom

  24. 24 Daniel December 11, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    I won’t pretend, I’m no fan of liturgy, of any kind… “Smells and bells” are fine I guess, but even talking about such things gets us caught in the trap of thinking that we meet with other Christians (gather…) in order to “meet with God” as a group. I just don’t see it that way… I’d rather hear about what God has done in other people’s lives, and that’s kind of hard to do when you think there has to be some regimen of communion-taking, or song-singing, or what-have-you… If buildings and pastor’s-salaries are yokes on our pocketbooks, then liturgies are yokes on our time and interaction. Limiting us from really encouraging one another. That’s my take anyway…. It’s amazing to see, as we’ve met with more people in “home-church” settings, just how much ‘liturgy’ is ingrained into people who’ve grown up in the church, even if they would never use the word liturgy in their life…

  25. 25 Heather Wax December 12, 2008 at 6:01 am

    Somewhere in the midst of a family crisis here, I missed some weeks of your blogs. This was not a blog to miss!

    I, too, as you know, have been an avid homechurcher for oh, 17 some odd years (give or take.) I’ve dabbled in other circles a bit, but you definitely wouldn’t find me sitting in a pew somewhere on a Sunday morning for two hours.

    That said, I’ve done the housechurch thing and found its end. After a while, it seems to stagnate. There’s only so much you can do in a living room with the same basic group of people (give or take a few new believers) for years on end.

    Our homechurch is taking a radical new step (for us) in merging with another housechurch that is an offshoot of a large institutional church in our area. Our philosophies on leadership are completely different than that of the institutional church, and yet we’ve begun to think outside our “home” church and start to think about the entire county we live in, and how we can affect it together. I can’t describe the way the Lord is moving in our hearts together and what He is doing..but it’s so real….and so much better than being alone. Everyone should have their housechurch days..there are things you learn there that you can’t learn anywhere else. But seeing the headship of Christ in an even BIGGER, citywide, countywide way…whoa. This is blowing our minds. We’re going for it, and while it may become a disaster, the Lord is taking us on a ride we have yet to have ever experienced. There is Life after homechurch!

  26. 26 charlie December 12, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Here’s my question about all this? Has the Lord proven Himself ALL-sufficient to us personally? When we think of God, what is the first image, icon, smell, concept you have?

    I’ve been living “outside the camp” in one manner or another for over 30 years. I’ve been, discouraged, crushed, angry, hurt, bitter, you name it. When “churches” (in or out of homes) let us down or no longer provide the lifegiving nourishing our spirits require, where do we turn?

    As I mentioned in my earlier post (above) what will we do when we can longer gather/assemble with others (at least not openely)? What if it’s just you (or at most you and family)?

    Maybe we all have a religious/social addiction and are in denial. To get free, withdrawal will be painful. Who will we call for comfort and support then?

    Think about it

  27. 27 God's Outlaw December 21, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Charlie,

    I joined the( out side the camp gang ) 10 years ago. The war inside was brutal. Shot up ,beaten , ridiculed , and basically acused of just about any thing you could name under the Sun. I was the Pastor ( should have been shot for accepting the title ) . I have looked at just about every type of CHURCH gathering We can dream up. My life consists of Daily Fellowship With My Father And His Son Walking in His Holy Spirit. We have become so conerned about this Church life or that Church life ( where we gather and what we do ) , have we forgotten that He is the one who is working and to look for what He is doing. If we do not watch and search the Scriptures we will not SEE what is coming. I pray that we will be able to stand in unity with all that know HIM ( Yeshua ) for His Glory . Amen

  28. 28 jessop December 26, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Mike, thanks for your blog, I enjoy reading what you have to say about church generally. Your readers’ comments are also interesting.

    Can I add my little bit?

    After 30+ years, first in the Congregational Church ministry and then with the Assemblies of God in South Africa where we initially practised the full open ministry, ministry of all believers, I left and had my first full home church experience in a small village. For the last 8 years I have not been part of any local fellowship but meet with 4 or 5 fellow-home churchers from tome to time over a cup of coffee in a mall. For those last eight year I have been in contact with home-church Christians all over the world, in e-mail lists and one-on-one exchanges. I am all for local-fellowship for those who can do it. At heart I am what I term a ‘congregationalist’ meaning that I fully believe in the full autonomy under God of the congregants in a local church, free from control by any hierarchy or outside control. I go further and stipulate that a local congregation should not have any written constitution or ‘things that we believe’ document other than the normal Orthodox Creeds of the church; and that there should be no buildings or Real Estate held in the name of the congregation, and that there should be no paid staff to support. The ministry should be freely given but support should be given to ‘missionaries’ sent out from the congregation to make disciples for the Lord Jesus and establish further local, fellowships. There should also be a willingness to support such charities and worthy causes as the congregation should decide upon. For meetings, I can suggest:

    No better incentive than:
    “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. (Malachi 1:16)”

    And no better guideline than:
    “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.(Acts 2:42).

    When and how they meet, and what sort of order prevails in each meeting, is up to them to decide as the Spirit leads. I strongly recommend that all who would take an active part should make themselves completely familiar with Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, chapters 11 to 15, applying the spirit but avoiding the legalism that can come out of it.

    Jessop.


  1. 1 Adapting House Church « Doug Watching Trackback on December 8, 2008 at 6:32 pm

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