Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The end of church planting?"

I recently received an email from a friend with the above title.  It was referencing a blog that suggested that we may be coming to "the end of church planting" by means of the "professional entrepreneurial pastor" (Rick Warren would be the prototype for this kind of church planting).  

Here's my response...

Thanks for the article ("The End of Church Planting?"

While I largely agree with the author, I want to suggest that he doesn't go nearly far enough.  Jason Hood, following an article by David Fitch, advocates shifting from "professional entrepreneurial pastors" to "missionary teams" for church planting.  A missionary team might consist of "three or four leaders" (or "lead couples").  This is a good start.

However, the critical issue that is not addressed is the nature of the church being planted.  The picture of the desired outcome of the church planting process determines how this missionary team seeks to function.  Do they begin to gather people in order to rent or build a facility?  Do they form a worship team?  Develop a children's ministry?  Secure a preacher?  Develop a marketing plan?  Do demographic studies?  Etc.  All of these activities point to what is a generally accepted, modern understanding of what a church should be.  What I'm suggesting is that this understanding is a major departure from the biblical practice of church.  And, that while we are reconsidering "how" a church is planted, it is even more important to reconsider "what" a church is.

In the beginning of the Jesus Movement, for at least the first 40 years, every local church that was planted was Jewish in nature (although not everyone who was involved was Jewish).  This is because, at least until the First Jewish Revolt (66 - 72 AD), there was no such thing as a separate Christian religion. Everyone that we would call a "Christian" or a "follower of the Nazarene" was considered part of Judaism.  And, implicit in Judaism, was this value:  the home, and not the synagogue, is the center of spirituality.  Our Father Abraham:  The Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith by Marvin Wilson makes this abundantly clear.  Every Jewish home was considered a miqdash me'at, that is a "miniature temple".  The home was the primary location for worship, prayer, the study of Torah and ministry to the community.  (In short hand, we might express this as  "home = church".)

The early Christians did not invent house church.  They simply build on what was already present.  "The Jewish Sabbath celebration provided a pattern for the development of early Christian house churches."  (Heidler, The Messianic Church Arising!, p.61.)  The key to the rapid expansion of the early church was the fact that there were approximately six million Jews living in the Roman Empire outside of Palestine.  (Stark, The Rise of Christianity)  Most of these diaspora Jews understood what most American Christians have never considered:  the home, not the synagogue, is meant to be the center of spirituality.

Therefore, when Jesus planted churches, He planted a very specific kind of church.  It was a church that was centered in the home and that functioned like an extended spiritual family.  (And, Jesus did plant churches!  See House Church and Mission by Roger Gehring.)  And, when Jesus taught His disciples how to plant churches (Mt. 10, Lk 10, Acts), it was the same kind of church.  Dare we consider how far we have departed from this picture?

The prototypical example of this kind of thinking about church planting in the New Testament is Priscilla and Aquila.  Everywhere they went (Corinth, Ephesus, Rome) a house church sprang up.  It wasn't so much that they planted churches as that they understood that they already were a church (a church of two?).  And, in each situation, a larger community emerged around them in a very natural way.  (Apparently, three or four "lead couples" were not needed.  Only one couple was needed which follows the model that Jesus' explained in Lk 10.)  What if a million Christian households in America began to think this way?

Two summary statements.  First, this way of thinking about church, although often foreign to our experience, is far more consistent with the biblical record than our traditional, building-centered model.  We say that "Scripture is our authoritative guide for faith and practice".  Are we ready for Scripture to become our authoritative guide as to how we  "practice" church?  (Isn't it odd that we would fight for this principle of the authority of Scripture in other areas but often completely ignore it when it comes to how we "do" church?)  Our understanding of what a church is greatly influences our understanding of how a church is planted.

Second, this way of thinking about church is far simpler, far more natural and far less expensive than the traditional, building-centered model.  This way of thinking about church opens the door for both viral multiplication and life-changing transformation.

So, I'm glad that we are coming to "the end of church planting" by means of the "professional, entrepreneurial  pastor".  But, my hope is that we will soon also come to "the end of church planting" where church means a building-centered, clergy-centered, program-centered organization.

John White

John White
Team Leader
LK10:  A Community of Practice for Church Planters

*For stories of people who are "doing it":

In addition to the books listed above, I've also found two books by Joseph Hellerman to be valuable.  When the Church Was a Family:  Recapturing Jesus' vision for Authentic Christian Community and The Ancient Church as Family:  How the Earliest Churches Reconfigured Family and Religion.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Best House Church Resources

I recently met with a Christian leader working on a national level who is interested in exploring the idea of house church.  In his experience, traditional, building based churches had generally done a poor job at making disciples.  And, yet, embracing the house church model would represent a huge paradigm shift with many implications.  He wanted to understand the Biblical basis for seeing church this way as well as the state of the house church movement.  "Send me everything you've got" he said.

When we started on this house church journey in 1998, there were very few resources on the subject.  Today, there is a wealth of helpful books, videos and articles.  I didn't send this man everything I have but see below for some of what I think are the best resources available today.

In the "Comments" below, add the resources that you've found helpful.  Also, I mention a couple of documents that I couldn't include in this post but would be glad to send you upon request.

John White

1.  Let's start with a general introduction to house churches in the world today.

"Tidal Wave" video:

"When You Come Together" video:

2.  Jesus' strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission.  As I mentioned, Roger Gehring's book House Church and Mission:  The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity caused a huge shift in my thinking.  Many people have developed strategies for fulfilling the Great Commission, but what if we adopted the strategy that Jesus used?  Gehring explains what that was.  (The book is a difficult read for most people as it was written as a 450 page doctoral dissertation.  I've collected the most important quotes in the attachment below.)

(Glad to send this attachment upon request.  Just write "send Gehring".)

3.  Our traditional, building-centered forms of church are a significant departure from the Hebraic roots of the church.  (No wonder they are highly ineffective at making disciples!)  The early church was thoroughly Jewish.  (Christianity did not become a separate "religion" until at least 70 AD and perhaps not until as late as 130 AD.)  The Jews always understood that the home and not the synagogue was the center of spiritual life.  Marvin Wilson, in Our Father Abraham,  tells us that the Jews understood that each home was to be a miqdash me'at (a miniature temple).   That's why every church in the NT met in a home and functioned as an extended spiritual family.  Every epistle in the NT was written to people who were in house churches.  

As Evangelicals we affirm that "the Bible is our authoritative guide for faith and practice" but we have departed from clear Biblical practice when it comes to how we do "church".  Can we really expect God to empower a spiritual revolution if we reject biblical (ie, Hebraic) church values and practices?

(Glad to send the excerpt from Wilson’s book about the Jewish home upon request.)

To read:  Pagan Christianity:  Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna.  This is the other side of the coin.  If our current church practices didn't come from our Hebraic roots, where did they come from?  (By practices, we're talking about things like church buildings, the sermon, the clergy, the Lord's Supper, etc.)  Viola and Barna make a compelling case that many of our current church practices have no biblical basis at all.  Warning!  This is a shocking book.  Key quote:  "We are making an outrageous proposal:  that the church in its contemporary form has neither a biblical nor a historical right to function as it does."  (p. xx)

4.  Two key rhythms.  We in our ministry (the LK10 Community) teach people two key rhythms or practices at every level.  The first practice is that of listening to God both as individuals and as a church.  The second is connecting with each other on a heart level.  We use a simple tool called SASHET to do this.  These videos will explain.  The result of this approach is that almost everyone is capable of starting and leading a church.

*Church flows from listening:

*CO2 (church of two).  Two guys from my house church:

*Doing church with your family:

*Using SASHET to connect on a heart level:

*Learning to hear God:  3 part video

*Campus Crusade leader on listening to God:

*The Spontaneous Church.  This the first of a four part series.

4.  Stories from the Revolution.  People who are doing it.  There are many more stories on our blog.  Here's a sampling...

*Praying the Lk 10:2b Prayer.

*House churches in Brighton, CO:

5.  Other resources.  

*Houses that Change the World by Wolfgang Simson.  Key quote:  "Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life.  As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots - back to where it came from.  It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history."

*The Messianic Church Arising:  Restoring the Church to Our Covenant Roots! by Robert Heidler.  Key Quote:  "The change from the informal house church to the formal basilica changed the whole concept of church.  Before Constantine, a church was a family of believers.  After Constantine, the church became a building.... The Jewish Sabbath celebration provided a pattern for the development of early Christian house churches."

*The Global House Church Movement by Rad Zdero.  Key Quote:  "The early church of the first three centuries was a 'living room' movement.  This was the church that "upset the world" (Acts 17:6) in the first century and that forced the mighty Roman Empire to legalize Christianity after a three hundred year showdown.  It is also the church that tens of millions of Christians are rediscovering today in places like China, India, Africa, Cambodia, Cuba, England and Western Europe, and, yes, even in North America."

*When the Church Was a Family by Joseph Hellerman.  Key Quote:  "For Paul, as for Jesus, the church was to function as a family... (The early Christians) had no temples, no sacrifices, no priesthoods, no liturgy - just an informal weekly meeting in a local home where they broke bread and sang a hymn "in honor of Christ as if to a god"  (Pliny).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Church of Two: "I feel so supported!"

A CO2 (church of two) is amazingly simple yet profoundly powerful.  We think it's the missing structural element in most churches.  Here's the definition of a CO2:  Two people.  Two rhythms.  As close to daily as possible.

Imagine a house church made up of 3 or 4 CO2s!  Imagine a tradition church made up of 100 COs!

Tracey Schlafer and Brittani Morris have been connecting with one another in a CO2 for almost a year now.   Brittani's comments:  "This is a place where I experience the heart of God on a daily basis."  Here more of their story in the video below.

The six week LK10 Foundations Course goes in depth into the two rhythms that make up a CO2.  A new session (cohort) is beginning on December 1st and there are a few openings.  For more information about the Course, go here

Email me right away if you are interested.

John White

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Traditional church organization plants 75 house churches

Sending missionaries...  across the street.

Most churches understand and practice the concept of sending missionaries overseas.  And, now, there is a growing understanding that we also need to send missionaries across the street.

Reggie McNeal, noted author and church consultant, made this startling comment to a large group of traditional church pastors, "Probably most of the people in your city who are interested in coming to your church are already there."  What this means is that tradition churches that truly want to reach the unchurched in their cities (in Denver, that's 94% of the city) will not do so by tweaking their current programs and hoping that people will show up on Sunday mornings.

Rather, traditional churches will need to develop a revolutionary missionary mentality within their own cities (ie, across the street).  The very best way to do this is to send out (apostelo) men and women to start independent (but connected) house churches.

One group that is leading the way in this innovative strategy is the San Antonio Baptist Association led by Dr. Charles Price.  (Charles' son and daughter-in-law are LK10 Coaches and church planters on Colorado's Western Slope.  See  )  I enjoyed "hanging out" with Charles at the National House Church Conference in September.  He tells the story of the San Antonio House Church Movement in the video below.

(Send this post on to a traditional church leader that you know.)

Find more videos like this on Great Commission Initiative

Monday, November 7, 2011

Henri Nouwen: "The real work of prayer"

The prime directive of the LK10 Community is to "Listen, obey and teach others to do the same."  (Jn. 10:27)  This is our entire discipleship "program" because we believe everything else flows from this 
intimate conversational relationship with Jesus.

But, what do we listen for?

Henri Nouwen (pictured in photo) is immensely helpful at this point.  “The real "work" of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me."

The starting point for all of life and ministry is learning to listen to God.  And, the starting point for listening is learning to hear the "good things" Papa has to say to me and about me each day.  Many of us grew up in homes that had more critique than affirmation.  More criticism than blessing.  And, those words of criticism are what our "ears" are attuned to.  Our hearing must be retrained one day at a time to hear the "good things" that our heavenly Father wants to say to us.

Implications for church?  Huge!  This should be a community where we together are "listening to the voice of the one who says good things" about the others in the family.

One place you can deepen your ability to hear the Lord in this way is in a learning community called The Foundations Course.  For more on this, go here

And, for more from Henri Nouwen, see below...

To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing-- that demands real effort. 
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World


Fr. Henri Nouwen  was born in the Netherlands, where he was ordained to the priesthood and earned his doctorate in psychology. After nearly two decades of teaching at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas and at the Universities of Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, he left to share his life with mentally handicapped people at the L'Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. He is the author of many books on spirituality and psychology, including The Return of the Prodigal Son, In the Name of Jesus, and The Life of the Beloved.

"The Life of the Beloved"

I would like to speak to you about the spiritual life as the life of the beloved. As a member of a community of people with mental disabilities, I have learned a lot from people with disabilities about what it means to be the beloved. Let me start by telling you that many of the people that I live with hear voices that tell them that they are no good, that they are a problem, that they are a burden, that they are a failure. They hear a voice that keeps saying, "If you want to be loved, you had better prove that you are worth loving. You must show it."

But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, "You are the beloved and on you my favor rests."

You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.

Jesus heard that voice. He heard that voice when He came out of the Jordan River. I want you to hear that voice, too. It is a very important voice that says, "You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter. I love you with an everlasting love. I have molded you together in the depths of the earth. I have knitted you in your mother's womb. I've written your name in the palm of my hand and I hold you safe in the shade of my embrace. I hold you. You belong to Me and I belong to you. You are safe where I am. Don't be afraid. Trust that you are the beloved. That is who you truly are."

I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts -- by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved.