Ellie and I have had a very atypical missionary career. Along with our two children, we have been overseas for twenty years and God has had us live in eight different countries. And, almost every time that we have moved, we have had to start a new house church.
Here is how we got started. Our second country was something of a war-zone so the few missionaries there had to worship in our homes for security reasons. After several weeks we all realized that, even without a building, we were a church.
By the time we got to our third country, we were hungry for the warmth and security of another house church but we didn’t know how to start one. So, Ellie and I sat together and asked God to give us another family so we could have others to figure it out with. It took about six months for us to find one more family, a few weeks later to find another family and God added others over the next few months to years. We still miss those people, and those in the other churches that we met with, more than any other friends.
Starting a house church is so like the other things that God asks us to do by faith. It is intimidating and you will feel inadequate and underqualified. That is just what God needs. When you obey, He will lead you. If you dare to start a house church, even though you may just be a college student in a dorm, He will give you everything that you need to be successful. Just persevere.
When you obey God he gives you every resource needed to be successful for his task.
In our experience, getting started takes faith, getting someone to join you takes prayer and finding the content for your gatherings is so much less important than you think. As gathering disciples, you are the church. The stuff you do together will naturally flow out because of the Holy Spirit that is within you. You will want to pray together, and sing, and study the scriptures, and give money to the poor and to missions.
The gathering of born-again disciples is the primary ingredient of a healthy church. Church is about who you are, not about where you meet or what you do.
People may say that such a meeting is susceptible to developing theological heresies but, on the contrary, I see the majority of heresies coming from institutional church leaders and from seminaries. I would even say that a church that is just talking about God, rather than rallying its members to fight against the spiritual forces of evil in this world, is deluded if they claim themselves non-heretical. You cannot better protect against Satan’s ploys than having a Spirit-led church and that is more practical with a very small group that has no budget responsibilities. I know that is easy to say in writing but I have also found it to be true in practice. None of the churches of Muslim-background disciples that we have seen have buildings or seminary trained pastors and they are advancing the Kingdom within the context of constant spiritual and physical opposition and persecution. This kind of church, in Asia and Africa, looks just like that seen in the book of Acts.
Once you start a house church you will see scriptural passages about church in a new light. Some old ideas will fall away and some new ideas will come to you. The content comes if you just have the faith to start gathering with other disciples, seeking His agenda.
I know all of this may sound really weird, like it isn’t real church. I was invited to house churches in the 80s and 90s and I awkwardly found excuses to refuse. But if I had known, even in high school, what I now know about house church, I would have started one back then, even with my long hair and bell-bottom blue jeans.
Main point: A healthy church is a gathering of born-again disciples focusing on God's will for their lives. So what? Are you gathering with a healthy church? If not, what are you going to do about it?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.