Tag Archives: house church

Distributed parking, distributed leadership

Our family doesn’t always visit a brick and mortar church, but when we do, my wife and I have a system to handle the parking conundrum. You see, we typically go to one of the many megachurches in the area and parking is predictably a nightmare. So what we generally do is ride around the parking lot scowling at people who are walking slowly back to their cars. We do this for a few minutes before we give up and agree to have my wife take the kids into the nursery while I finish the task of hunting down a parking space.

Hunting down a parking space at a large church on Sunday morning is harder than it sounds.

And yet, as silly as it sounds, this exercise helps illustrate something I believe the church in general could stand to learn.

You see, for most of the time during the week it is easy to find a parking space at most churches, large and small. The demand for parking places only spikes occasionally, usually on Sunday mornings between 11:00AM and 12:00PM.

I work with high performance computing systems a lot and I believe the principles used to solve the problem of crunching a large amount of data can be brought to bear in solving the problem of church parking.

When Toys R’ Us first launched their ecommerce website in 1999 they quickly found out that their servers were no match for the load that awaited them from a pre-Christmas rush. The next year, they decided to entrust their ecommerce store to another company that was able to solve the problem of handling large amounts of traffic.

Today there are several companies that have developed what is commonly called “cloud computing” systems. In brief, a cloud computing system is when you take a lot of servers and hook them up so that they cooperate while processing a large load. That load could be crunching through a lot of data or handling a lot of web requests. Most of the time its a combination of both.

Cloud platforms like Amazon are built to handle the surge of Christmas traffic. But this creates a problem similar to what most churches face with regard to their parking lots. There is a lot of wasted capacity since, for the most part, the resources meant to handle the surge in demand sit idle.

To get more use out of their cloud, Amazon and others like Google started offering parts of their cloud to others. The idea being that you could develop a website, deploy it on their system, and if your site gets really popular it can expand to more of the cloud platform to handle the load. Amazon calls their solution elastic computing.

The key to large scale computing is to find ways to carve up the problem domain into small, manageable, bite-sized chunks, and then find a way to have many mouths devour those chunks.

Many churches, when they start to grow and face issues of scale, attempt to solve the problem initially by offering multiple services on Sunday morning. This often works well if the church is able to effectively cut the demand per service in half. This is not much different than attempting to solve large computational problems by utilizing larger servers. This is known as scaling vertically and is the preferred tactic of many smaller churches. However the problem is that it produces waste in terms of under utilized resources when there is no load (ie. the other 6 days of the week) and eventually a hard vertical limit is reached.

Many churches are coming to realize the importance of distributing the load when it comes to discipleship. But when it comes to teaching, most still operate in a centralized fashion.

There are many reasons the church needs to embrace a more distributed leadership model. Here are a few:

  • Having multiple teachers to handle the task of teaching believers is a Biblical concept.
  • If more churches were to implement it as the model of leadership, it would also have the added benefit of alleviating the enormous and unnatural pressure placed at the feet of one man or a very small group of men.
  • Having multiple leaders serves as an encouragement for others to grow. It would help solve the problem of unmotivated church members.
  • Having multiple leaders makes single points of failure, especially of the moral variety, less prominent and less devastating.
  • Having multiple leaders provides an excellent means of continuous error correction.

Along with the spiritual reasons, there are other organizational benefits:

  • Having multiple leaders means buildings can be more fully utilized. Groups can be scheduled to meet at various times throughout the week, distributing the load, instead of causing the load to spike on one day and hour.
  • Higher utilization of resources means less waste.
  • Distributed leadership means fewer and lighter crowds. This means visitors are more likely to find a place and are more likely to become intimately involved with a group of believers.
  • Distributed leadership means leaders are free to specialize. This, in turn, translates into higher quality teaching and a more educated congregation. This would also mean more believers would be better equipped for evangelization.

And finally; distributed leadership would mean my family and I would have a better chance at finding a parking spot on Sunday morning.

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What does a simple church look like?

When You Come Together from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

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Tidal Wave – Finishing what the reformation started

Tidal Wave from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

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Resources for the home church

What do we believe? How do we operate? What sort of structure do we abide by?

There are some of the questions I had after deciding that the way I had always “Done church” just wasn’t cutting it. But what was a viable Biblical alternative?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve compiled a few helpful resources for studying and learning about the home or organic church movement. Some of these authors and works contain contradictory views, especially when it comes to issues such as the role of women in the meeting, how elders are to be chosen and function, and how new fellowships are to be formed. In spite of this, however, I have found a fairly unified core of teachings, centered on the accounts and practices of the early church recorded in Scripture.

So without further ado, here are the best resources I’ve found when it comes to home church.

Sites:

Books:

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Children in House Church

As a mother of children currently ages 4, 2, and 6 months; at the first mention of meeting in homes as a body of believers, I thought “What do we do with the kids?” and I often still wonder “What do we do with the kids?”.

When we met with two other families with young kids in Augusta, we started off hiring a teenager from the neighborhood who worked as a Mother’s helper. We quickly found that especially the kids under 2 kept making their way back to their mothers. Since we all lived next door and our kids played together almost every day and knew the rules of each house, we finally decided to all have a meal together and then let the kids play on their own while we studied the bible. Of course babies stayed in the room with the adults and all the kids were welcome to come quietly sit in on the study with their parents. On most occasions this set up worked really well for enabling the adults to study, but we never focused on prayer, worship, or teaching the kids anything about God. We were meeting as friends and neighbors doing a bible study and we all went to our respective churches where we worshiped and our kids were taught on Sunday mornings.

When we moved to Marietta, we began to meet exclusively with a house church group that had no young children other than our own. Especially in the beginning, there were many occasions where I just didn’t want to go. It was so much work to keep the kids inline in someone else’s home that wasn’t set up for young children. It took forever to get out the door with food for a potluck meal, materials for our study, toys and books for the kids, diapers and sippy cups and two kids who really didn’t want to go. Then we had a another baby so we added at least one more bag and a heavy baby carrier to our list of supplies. There was so much prep just to get there and once we got there, I was so tied up setting up a spot for the kids to play, fixing their plates, making sure they didn’t spill or drop food all over the place or break anything, and trying to keep them still and quiet during the main study time that I came home more frustrated than ever. But with all of the frustration from the kids, the group of believers that we met with was great. We truly worshipped the Lord and even though I was never really able to participate much in the study and discussion I saw the benefit of talking through things as group instead of having one presenter on a pedestal.

One day a family with two boys ages 3 and 5 visited our group, adding a few challenges to our meetings. We had been with Breaking Bread for several months, so my kids were accustomed to rules that I had given for each house and the routine of the meeting. But just like my kids a few month previous, these boys and their parents had never met with a body believers in someone elses home. Having four children playing was a much more chaotic. While this family unfortunately only met with our group for a few weeks before deciding to go back to an institutional church, it provided an excellent opportunity for the entire group to evaluate how to incorporate children into the meeting more and support parents so they could interact more in the study. After a few weeks of discussion, the group decided to add a short children’s devotional,  a couple of children’s songs to the singing time, and have people sign up to take the children out do a lesson with them during the main discussion time. We tried this schedule for a few weeks and decided to take out the children’s devotion because they listened more in a one on one setting during the lesson and my oldest child in particular would not speak in front of the whole group. The kids really enjoyed the one on one lesson and it was great not to have to pack so much stuff to entertain them and be able participate more in the discussion. Unfortunately, we moved soon after starting this idea so most people were only able to sign up once.

Now we have moved to Roswell, too far away to travel to several of the houses in the Breaking Bread group. We haven’t found a closer group to meet with yet, so we are looking at starting a new group. Given the opportunity to revaluate how to best teach our children who God is and how we relate to him, we have tried going to a few nearby institutional churches. I think especially preschool age children learn better in groups where they can do more hands on activities and play games related to a lesson. We’ve tried this for two weeks now and I don’t know that it is the best decision. Will it be too much to try to go to an institutional church on Sunday’s and have home church on some other day? Can Wes and I really sit through the Sunday morning production every week without being cynical? Today at the end of the prayer just before the closing song a couple gave their 9 or 10 year old son the ticket to get his sibling out of the nursery. When the boy started to walk our during the song, the parent quickly shooshed him, sent him back to his seat, and the father told him just watch the last song then you can go. Will we end up like that? The production isn’t over yet and they better watch whether they care to or not.

If the house church model is best for adults, why shouldn’t it be for kids too? Maybe it’s just important to have a group with other kids in it? If everyone in the group thinks of it as a family, coming together to worship would  the group as a whole be willing to be dedicated to teaching the children?

I think each group will have to find their own way of handling children in an organic house church. Church is a living organism and the needs and strengths and each group will be different and charge from season to season. As we start to seek a new body of believers out in Roswell, we are going to try to find a group of people who intends on truly treating the body as a family with a commitment to love and strengthen all members of the family. As long as we come with that mindset, the rest will work itself out.

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Life finds a way

..or “why the way we traditionally ‘do church’ hurts us in ways we can’t even begin to fathom.”

A random stranger recently asked:

Myself and many others find mutual edification every Sunday. If all you ever did to worship in a regular, organized church setting is passively listen to one man then I’m sorry for you.

How do you know that people aren’t using their God given gifts at any organized church setting?

How would you substantiate the claim that ~98% (my number) of pastors in America are damaging and detrimental to their churches for standing and preaching a sermon?

I wouldn’t place a number on the number of detrimental pastors nor would I claim that some pastors weren’t gifted and able to be used in spite of the flawed system they find themselves in. However I would point to three lines of evidence to substantiate my claim that the system we have come up with of clergy ruling over the laity is harmful.

In the first place, a hierarchical system where non-preachers are viewed as less spiritual, where the gift of preaching is exalted above all other gifts is plainly against many passages found in scripture including Jesus’s own admonition that his own disciples not follow the pattern of the world in setting up hierarchical “power over” systems.

Secondly I would point to the perpetual spiritual immaturity that is fostered and festering in most churches (particularly Southern Baptist and Methodist churches as those are the ones I have the most experience in). When people are told that rigorous study of the word of God is limited to an elite few “chosen” men the end result is a logical abdication of serious study on the part of the “average” churchgoer. This is one of the reasons I believe areas such as apologetics have historically had such a hard time making inroads into the local church because most pastors feel threatened by the prospect of their congregation actually being educated and able (empowered?) to ask serious questions. Sadly it doesn’t have to be like this and I’ll explain in my third line of reasoning below.

Finally, I believe that the system we’ve manufactured (sure, as early as 300AD, but early errors are still errors) and have come to accept as an unquestionable fact is harmful to the Body of Christ is because it leads directly to pastors either being burned out or becoming dictators (I believe in some cases merely for self-preservation). Nowhere in Scripture are we presented with a description of a man who is supposed to shoulder the load that we expect the average “professional” pastor to carry. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that one man in a local group of believers is in charge of visiting the sick, ministering to all the members, responsible for the bulk of spiritual instruction, etc.

Sadly, it doesn’t have to be this way as what we find, instead, portrayed in Scripture is a community where each member of the Body of Christ helps shoulder the responsibility of mutually edifying one another.

Now I’m not claiming that such communities don’t exist within institutional church settings. On the contrary, I believe that the church is a living organism and as Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way.” such that there are many pockets of small intimately connected believers that are found in many churches. However what I’m claiming is that those pockets of organic communities that exist within the confines of an institutional church often happen in spite of the system we’ve come to accept and not because of it.

When the main period of “worship” in most churches is seen as being the Sunday morning service (often referred to as “the big show”) the question is not whether members are allowed to employ their gifts at another time but whether they are encouraged to employ their gifts in the meeting on Sunday morning. Since most believers are not encouraged to participate openly I submit that the resulting system where only a few members of the body of Christ are allowed to speak or otherwise monopolize the meeting implicitly implies that the members who are not allowed to participate (think about what would happen if someone were to have a “word of prophecy” and decide to share it in the average Southern Baptist Church) are somehow inferior.

Until we come to terms with the lack of open participation and mutual edification found in most of our churches I do not think we will see anything other than more of the same when it comes to the church’s impact on the world around us.

One must also wonder why we are so reluctant to change as well considering that we regularly hear tales from missionaries and brethren in churches overseas which lack the streamlined hierarchical leadership structure we see here (think Korea, China, South America, etc.) exploding with new believers and a spiritual maturity that ought to make us hang our heads in shame.

So, the clergy/laity split is detrimental in at least 2 ways: 1.) it harms the spiritual growth of the “average” Christian and 2.) it leads to clergy burnout. And the opposite to the clergy/laity split I’ll call the open participatory format is supported by 1.) Scripture as well as 2.) our own experience of demonstrable spiritual vitality in places that do not cling to a clergy/laity distinction/split.

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Doing Church

One of the more interesting questions my wife and I get these days is “so, where do you go to church?”. This question is especially interesting when the person asking knows the depth of commitment we have to Christ and many expect the pat answer of “we attend such and such Baptist or Presbyterian” or, at the very least, “we are still ‘shopping'”1

Instead, our answer is that we attend a simple church2 which meets in the homes of the various participants. Since many people are unfamiliar with any ecclesiology outside  of one which confuses a building with an organization and programs with the church, the response we often get is probably the same as if we were to say that we participated in some bizarre cult3.

The truth, however, is that we’ve been meeting with a group of around 15-20 other believers for the past few months and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Even though our children often pose a difficulty in terms of logistics, we’ve found the common fears and objections most often raised against house churches to be completely vacant, at least in the one we are currently blessed to be a part of.

I suppose if these people were to overcome their initial shock, and I’m sure many who have known us in the past would like to know, they would ask the obvious follow-up question of “what’s wrong with a normal church?” with the obvious implication that we had somehow left the church.

To be fair, we have had some bad experiences with churches in the past. And to be honest, these experiences have made it very difficult for me (in particular) to be comfortable with the idea of attending any church, institutional or otherwise, ever again.

For the longest time I thought the problem lie with me, especially since it was my questions and quest for honest community and answers that ended up driving large, immovable, and painful wedges4 between us and people we had known and loved for years.

Then, as if by a miracle, I met a series of people who shared with me their similar (and often times much worse) experiences and showed me their battle scars. They let me know that I am not alone5. Lest you think they were merely bitter and resentful I hasten to add that it was through their love and friendship I also learned the true definition of community and family.

It was actually one of these dear brothers (a youth minister, no less) who suggested that I read Pagan Christianity, an blistering expose of the pagan practices that have crept into Christianity throughout the years and the profound impact they have had. Undoubtedly it was this book that helped me decide to, along with my loving (and trusting) family, but it wasn’t the only thing that helped me make this decision to, at least for the time being, leave the institutional church. Much of Francis Schaeffer‘s work, especially what I’ve read about L’Abri, along with his son-in-law and current L’Abri president Udo Middleman’s book “The Market Driven Church”, along with a host of simple inconstancies such as the abject disdain I’ve experienced from many churches when it comes to thoughtful and rigorous discussion and study6

So, we are “doing church” differently now.

We’ve come to the conclusion that we don’t need the elaborate buildings and religious trappings to grow close to Christ and His bride (which is the true Church). We’re not encouraging a mass exodus from the institutional churches many people are still members of but we also don’t think such a mass exodus would be such a bad thing either.

  1. How this phrase ever came about I’ll never know. []
  2. Also known as house church, micro church, etc. []
  3. Unlike the commonly accepted cults like the Jehoviah’s Witnesses and Mormons []
  4. Many which I still feel the stinging pain of today []
  5. And judging from the number of people who are leaving churches all across our land I am inclined to point out that my experience and conclusions are far from unique. In fact, it seems that the old mantra “Jesus, yes; the church, no” is coming back in vogue for another season. []
  6. Though most churches ironically encourage their members to read their Bibles, most sadly don’t actually intend for their members to actually comprehend and grow from what they read. []
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