I May Just Get A Little More Sleep On Sundays, Or Wondering About House Churches

Tis no secret that I’m overly dissatisfied with church. I didn’t tear apart Anne Rice, if anything I totally understood where she was coming from. And I don’t need to waste your time with listing all of the ways in which Christians have messed it all up, and plenty of all writers are detailing each mistake painstakingly.

I could have done a long build up over weeks, each post a separate treatise about some aspect of conventional churches that I think miss the mark, all before finally revealing the larger thing really goin’ on in my mind.

(In fact I already started when I wrote about the problem with hiring pastors based on educational qualifications, though surely you can probably still expect some posts in the future about the problem with sermons, worship music, church buildings – among other things).

Truth be told I’ve never gotten much out of Sunday morning church services. In childhood I slept whenever possible (my dad aided in this, my mother the opposite). I outright avoided them in high school by arranging my work schedule to put me in a retail store the exact time of the service. In college I moved churches though I volunteered in Sunday school with children because I felt like I was wasting an hour and a half of my time (and I got far more out of the young adult group I was apart of).

Today when I go I usually end up journaling the whole time, or lately, bouncing my daughter on my knee and ensuring she doesn’t cry.

I’ve been dropping hints lately to my wife that I’d like to seek an alternative. We recently switched churches, dropping the one we met inside of so that we can form relationships as a couple in a new environment. The new one is certainly one of the cooler ones in town (though the one we left is certainly super hip too), in fact at the last service every song performed was released within the last year by major Christian artists and a spoken word/poetry slam artist delivered a piece.

Problem is, we didn’t change much. And the issues I have with church are leaning me toward a house church style of things. That’s what I’ve been dropping hints about.

I dread Sunday mornings most weeks, and its not because I’m opposed to God. And from what I’ve seen the whole point of a church gathering is community helping and sharing in life, which is rarely accomplished by sitting and listening to a speaker week after week.

I want to change to a type of church that values community more than performance. And I don’t want my daughter to be raised believing that church is something you attend, a place that you go to. I want little Noelle to see the church as a body moving boldly, and I don’t mean to the latest worship song being belted out by the band.

So this post is much less of a statement and more of an asking – what is your experience with house churches/organic church (ie non-traditional/institutional churches)? What are its inevitable downfalls? I hope to read some books on the subject, mostly by Frank Viola and maybe Neil Cole, though if anyone else has other suggestions on the matter fire it up please!

(oh and for the record I currently attend City Church, and I have nothing against its people or leadership, and I have no personal beef with them, I’m just not into church services).

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18 Responses to I May Just Get A Little More Sleep On Sundays, Or Wondering About House Churches

  1. David says:

    Interesting read Charlie.

    If I can be honest, it sounds like you are looking for a church, and in the process, maybe missing Jesus. It is so easy to look to a place of worship, whatever size, to meet our needs, and worse, our perceived needs.

    From your posts it seems that ministry to the poor, and acceptance of marginalized groups is important to you. I also remember that you were interested in possibly, if the package isn’t too weird, checking out Pentecostal or Charismatic services.

    It’s obvious you are searching, and it’s going to be tough to find and answer if you have preconceived notions about how God will connect with you. What if God showed up like He did in one of the crazy videos on Jesus Needs New PR? Would you find him then?

    Think for a moment what it was like when Jesus bent down, picked up some dirt and spit in it before he healed the blind man? What do think the onlookers thought when he cast the demon out of the guy in the synagogue? The water into wine? The feeding of the 5,000 men and their families?

    In many ways I don’t think the American church expects too much from Jesus.

    If it was me, I’d find Jesus before I picked a church of any size.

    Good luck.

  2. I could see that being an issue, as it always is. I do perceive a major flaw in our “worship services” in that they lack a sold community modeled in Acts. Hence my interest in house churches. Though you do raise a great point in that I should choose based on the presence of God, not other qualifications.

  3. David says:

    If Jesus isn’t there manifesting His presence, it’s just religion.

  4. volkmar1108 says:

    Charlie,

    Came to read here at your blog after noticing a comment you made at Viola’s blog.

    Wife and I have some experience with HCing. Our first was with a large group of folks who left a particular stealth-SBC after leadership abuses from the Pastor. About 40 of us met in the house of one of the families for ~ a year. Most had the idea that this is what you do until you can build a building and become a “real” church.

    After that we were part of a Reformed charismatic congregation of ~150 people for almost 3 yrs.

    After that, and after we had read Viola’s Rethinking the Wineskin, we began to meet with some others of a like mind in our house. That’s been going on over 3 years now.

    I would agree with David that if Christ isn’t present as the motivating dynamic of the assembly then it all just boils down to more religion. However, in my experience that “presence” is something of a herky-jerky reality, just as each of us experiences our relationship with the Lord in something of an on-again/off-again manner.

    Perhaps the key issue in meeting outside of the box is to purposefully resist importing into the HC setting the same religious mind-set and habits and expectations which we learned and experienced in the “normal” church.

    House church as a form is valid, but I wouldn’t say it’s the only valid form. Sometimes we have experienced as much or more sharing of life together in the IC than in HC. I would recommend that where you find an earnest desire and practice to share the life of Christ together you have found a good place to be. House churches can be just as or more whacked than IC’s.

    Tom

  5. Angela says:

    Charlie – I’ve read a bunch of books on house churches…from what I’ve heard from people I’ve spoken with, house churches eventually gain lots of structure to where they become similar to a Sunday morning church. You said that by going to these Sunday morning churches “you didn’t change much”…maybe you should think about how you can go and give to that place instead of looking to see what you can receive.

    • its not that I want to receive so much as I want to be an active participant in church – and I don’t mean by helping put on the show.

      • volkmar1108 says:

        Angela,

        Charlie’s response is indicative of Believers who are are at a highly mature point in faith and are bored, and thus not progressing, because of a lack of meaningful interaction with other Believers–a near absence of “one another-ing”. The box-church format focuses attention toward a small group of people up-front and tends to produce a near passivity on the congregation at large. “Participation” by the congregation is directed toward “programs” and “opportunities to serve” which effectively reproduce the provider-client relationship. Thus, Christians are taught to shop for the place which have the best programs and do the best job of “giving me what I (think) I need” and finding the Pastor who “feeds me”.

        That “normal” methodology produces two groups of Christians; the professional Feeders and the non-professional, passive Consumers. Is there any surprise that only 10-15% the members of any “normal” church do all the work?

        “Mutual feeding” is the assumption of a healthy house church. It should be the assumption for any church for that matter.

        Tom

      • Tom,

        Thank you for the compliment. It’s not that I think the people at my church are in capable or immature, but there is no space for actual relationships short of the time after “church.” As I wrote originally, I don’t want my daughter growing up thinking the church is a service she attends. I think b/c I’m working through all this stuff about church as a community of people gathering in the vein of Acts that I’m in a different place than normal attendees of church. I don’t want to say I’m in a place of higher understanding, just different – and I desire to be with people who are tracking with my line of thought. I haven’t read that Viola work you referenced, I will find it now.

        Great point that we find churches that fit our needs and a pastor that speaks to us – instead of being apart of a group of people where we actually contribute. Lets be honest most of the 10-15% you mentioned are highly motivated extroverts, and doing that kind of work is much moreso their personality type rather than a calling from God.

        Tom you are still apart of the group that’s been meeting for three years?

  6. volkmar1108 says:

    Charlie wrote;

    It’s not that I think the people at my church are in capable or immature, but there is no space for actual relationships short of the time after “church.” As I wrote originally, I don’t want my daughter growing up thinking the church is a service she attends. I think b/c I’m working through all this stuff about church as a community of people gathering in the vein of Acts that I’m in a different place than normal attendees of church. I don’t want to say I’m in a place of higher understanding, just different – and I desire to be with people who are tracking with my line of thought.

    Exactly. I wasn’t trying to infer that others are “incapable or immature” either. It does mean that when people get to a certain distance in their journey with the Lord that they began to notice the craziness and futility of the guy behind the curtain pulling levers…and that guy is working real hard to keep the bells and whistles and fog machines going.

    Tom you are still apart of the group that’s been meeting for three years?

    Yes. We had our 3rd anniversary on the first Sunday of June. No one has gotten angry enough to leave. ;o) One family moved to S.C. so the husband could go to Duke Divinity (ironic that, isn’t it ;o)~ ) I suspect that if division occurs it will not be over theology or some such thing, but because of size and/or geography–driving distances may become inhibitive for adequate family life.

    Frank Viola is something of the storm trooper of church deconstructionism–and he’s good at it. He has a series of 3 books that are a “must-read”; Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, and From Here to Eternity. [ http://www.ptmin.org/books/2-books-by-frank-viola ]

    I have an out-of-print of his on MSWord or pdf which I can email if you desire. It’s a flame-thrower. Good for shock value.

    If you have the time I’d also suggest reading The Problem of Wineskins and The Community of the King by Howard Snyder. Snyder is less inflammatory and comes at it from a somewhat different perspective.

    Wolfgang Simson wrote a book that is well-regarded about house church titled Houses That Thange the World. One chapter is titled “15 Theses” and can be read here—-> http://www.simsonwolfgang.de/html/15_theses.html

    Having said and recommended all that I will repeat that form is important, but form isn’t the end-all be-all. If we’re not gathering around the person of Jesus, then we’re just playing religion.

    Tom

  7. volkmar1108 says:

    Oh, forgot a very good resource; Paul’s Idea of Community by Robert Banks.

    Somewhat scholarly, but yet readable. Banks is considered the father of the modern house church movement.

    If you’re interested in dialoging with non-kooky house church folk consider becoming a part of this discussion group; http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hcdl/

    T

  8. David says:

    Wow, a great conversation!

    @Tom – yeah I know the presence of God can be a little tricky, but I just could not commit to going anywhere that it was not a fairly regular experience. Personally, I am so sick of religion that I spent 4 years trying to find a church that could get out of the box. Some were pretty big 500+, and others were of the small-group variety.

    The church I am now attending (about 150) is going through some changes. They are embracing the ministry gifts outlined in Eph 4:11. It’s a big change for a pastor/pulpit-centric church. People are losing control and spreading the ministry around – and God is doing more there than in the last 23 years according to long-time members!

    They just had their first non-religious men’s retreat. A beach house, no TV, computers of cell phones, beer, fishing, lots of free time and tons of seafood. It was the best attended of any they have ever had. God moved and some folks were healed of physical ailments. I saw men in groups of 2 or 3 praying, laughing, crying – men hanging out just getting to know each other. Community quickly began to grow out of that. There were only 2 30-minute devotional times in three days… it took over an hour for 35 guys to say goodbye, and exchange phone numbers and emails.

    My take, maybe we need to do less of the religious stuff, and let folks use their gifts to love each other? The leadership sort of made the rounds between different groups of guys, just hanging out, playing a card game, offering to pray, asking questions…

    Just a thought.

    • volkmar1108 says:

      David,

      Sounds like you’re in a good place and are highly satisfied. That’s a very good thing.

      Jesus said,

      I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

      We know intuitively that when Jesus says we are His friends we want the same relationship with those around us.

      Tom

      • I love that verse you quoted Tom. And David it seems so contrary to what Christianity would want – but I actually do agree – decrease religion and increase natural relationships. I know its not as concrete of a growth plan, but the alternative is as stale as day old communion bread.

  9. Pingback: So Why Do I Get Out Of Bed Sunday Morning, Or The New Standard | Charlie's Church of Christ

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