Introduction to our Practices
The following practices have been adopted from the We Are Church “model” and have been adapted to meet our specific needs as we feel led by the LORD to administer. While there is no “perfect” church, we align ourselves to what we believe to be the most effective use of our spiritual service. To this end, we have employed the following practices.
Devotion to Reading Scripture
The quintessential discipline of devoted followers of Jesus is their commitment to reading the WORD of God. All too often we find that people gravitate towards sermons, ministries, books, and community but have neglected the focus of these things. There is nothing inherently wrong with sermons, ministries, books, etc… but they should point us to the person of Jesus Christ. Like any relationship, there must be time invested in knowing the person we are having a relationship with. This is why it is so important that believers be in regular fellowship, alone with Jesus through the reading and study of His WORD.
As a part of our practices, we will strive to build a culture that puts preeminence on this relationship with Jesus through a structured, daily reading program. While there is value to being “fed” by someone exercising their gifts of teaching, the difficulty is that they become dependent on the person teaching for their nourishment and not their own personal commitment to reading and growing deeper in the WORD for themselves. To this end we are emulating We Are Church and using the same Scripture Reading Plan that they use. We believe that by keeping everyone on the “same page” so to speak when we come together we are aligned and focused together. As we read through the Scriptures we encourage everyone to pray through them as well, asking God for insights, wisdom and personal application. When we come together this allows a natural segway into a discussion about the things of the LORD. Where we may deviate from the We Are Church model is with regard to the weekly Bible study. We are more inclined to have our pastors teaching with the aim of gearing their sermons towards open discussion and not completely eliminating the sermon from our order of service. We find value in exercising the gifts and value the We Are Church Structure; however, it is through discussion that the expectation is placed upon the body to offer personal insight and the opportunity to evaluate the way the Spirit is moving in the lives of our people. In this way, we feel that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the group and the onus of participation is incumbent upon each individual, thus building a culture of respect for the holiness of Scripture and the dynamic of group attendance (Hebrews 10:25-27). In addition, we feel that the LORD may lead us to focus in on a particular book or passage of Scripture that may not align with the weekly reading plan, in which case we prefer to allow the Spirit to lead us whichever direction He will have us go. Either way, the emphasis remains on the faithful reading and study of God’s WORD
We Meet in Homes
We like the question that We Are Church poses regarding meeting in homes. They ask, “If you had no history or exposure to the church at all other than reading the New Testament, what would you expect to see if someone invited you to a gathering of a church?” The biggest and primary thing is love. Over 50 times in the New Testament love is commanded, and so we understand there is really no other alternative. In the Book of Acts we see people contributing to one another through the exercise of spiritual gifts, through fellowship and breaking of bread. These deep relationships took place, largely, in the homes. In larger churches, it is primarily an Actor/Audience relationship. Not that the pastor who is teaching is an actor, but when he is on stage delivering a sermon there is no room for audience participation. With smaller group settings the emphasis is on engaging one another in a deeper discussion, and addressing questions as they arise. Of course, larger churches break off into small groups, and even home fellowships or life groups, because they realize that it is in these venues that deeper fellowship occurs (otherwise they would not employ these groups within their fellowships). Could it be that they are on to something here? What we have seen in our experience is that the larger the group the more room there is for people to fall between the cracks or even hide in them. In addition, a large fellowship is not conducive to participation by the whole fellowship. For a large church, it would be impossible for every member of the body to contribute to the discussion. Imagine how difficult it would be in a mega-church! That is why a mega-church to us would be 10-20 people and not 10 to 20 thousand!
Another beauty of home churches is that the size of the home is a contributor to the size of the fellowship. For the average family home, 10-20 people would be exploding at the seams! This also lends to closer fellowship with one another. With smaller groups, we are better able to carry each other’s burdens, edify one another and truly know one another. With larger churches, the life group or home fellowship is secondary to the Sunday (big group) meetings and people can “opt-in” to love one another. An essential part of our model which we have adopted from We Are Church ensures that anyone who wants to join the fellowship understands that our weekly gatherings are essential to fellowship and that opting in is not an option.
Finally, we meet in homes as an instrument of prayerful financial stewardship. It is obvious that big churches come with big price-tags, an expense that we agree attaches the growth of the church to a sizeable budget. Meeting in homes excludes the need for a large church building and frees up tithes and offerings for Kingdom work in strategically identified local and global missions. As the churches grow and divide, we still enjoy the growth of the body of Christ without the hefty expense of managing a large building fund. In reality, we have a greater ability to scale exponentially as we are not bound by the size of the building.
Everyone Disciples and is Discipled
Perhaps the most powerful and exciting part of joining the church in the context of a small, intimate and intentional group of believers is that there is no one on the fringe and nowhere to hide. In a world where social media has become the guise behind which individuals are able to hide their true identities and give the appearance of having it all together when in actuality their world may be crumbling in around them, a small home church brings a level of intentionality that makes it extremely difficult to pretend everything is alright. The level of intimacy a small group brings inherently promotes openness where sin cannot hide. People are more apt to feel comfortable addressing personal issues they experience, a sin that might be in their lives, and problems that they would perhaps be mortified of sharing in a larger setting. It is in this setting that chains can be broken, lives healed, and people ministered to as love becomes the principal focus.
Every member of the church is consistently held accountable for a close discipleship walk with one another. We Are Church has summed up this idea quite succinctly as quoted below:
One of the primary responsibilities of our pastors is to ensure that everyone in their church is being discipled. This means that each person in the church is consistently experiencing people poke and prod into their lives. It means that each person is expected to be transparent with at least a few other believers in the church about the things they otherwise desperately try to hide, and that those believers walk them through healing, repentance, and believing the promises of God. There shouldn’t be any room for people to hide or just “attend church” when everyone is being discipled for life and ministry.
Of equal importance is our aim to ensure that everyone is discipling another person. We are all called to make disciples and share the Gospel with non-believers. Jesus modeled this for us in His disciples and they became our models as well. We should all be about the business of taking spiritual responsibility for the spiritual care of other believers. As ugly as it gets the end goal is build up and edify one another as we are being conformed into the image of Christ through the process of sanctification.
This kind of involvement in the lives of others requires time and attention. Discipleship requires us to get to know someone and have conversations that might be difficult. It implies growing together, speaking the truth in love, working through conflicts, and doing life together. It is much easier to replace discipleship with programs, books, classes, and retreats, but the real needs that people have can only truly be dealt with as we come alongside one another and intentionally pouring into each other. Not that programs, books, classes and retreats can’t be helpful, but all too often they are the path of least resistant and neater and cleaner than getting into the trenches with another sinful human being and working things out together. Just as Jesus discipled the twelve and commanded them to do likewise, we too must carry on this rich command in obedience and become disciple makers ourselves.
Discipleship is where the rubber meets the road. Taking on responsibility for another person is difficult and be painful and heartbreaking at times, but we feel that it is necessary for the body to make the sacrifice and commitment to love one another fiercely and to see that we are growing in our walks. For new believers, the degree to which they disciple is commensurate to their understanding. It would not be unrealistic to expect a new believer to disciple by being actively engaged in evangelistic efforts while they are being discipled to then take on spiritual responsibility for others as they grow in their faith. For seasoned believers, the expectation to disciple goes without saying.
Everyone Exercises Their Gifts
A careful reading of Scripture enlightens us to the fact that the saved believer is indwelled by the Holy Spirit at which point they are given certain spiritual gifts to be used for the edification and common good of the body of Christ. These gifts are imparted in such a way that the body is mysteriously woven together by God where each member of the body is necessary, and one person’s spiritual giftedness is of equal importance to the body as the others. The reality is that in larger group contexts the exercise of spiritual giftedness can and is often underutilized. In a biblically balanced church, the teacher or pastor is on equal footing with the body regarding spiritual giftedness.
In our home church, as exemplified by We Are Church, there are no dominant positions or titles with regard to exercising spiritual giftings, with the exception of the elders whose function is uniquely identified in Scripture and is both a calling and appointment. Still, as it pertains to the functioning of the spiritual gifts in the home church, we have structured things in such a way that everyone in the fellowship can contribute to our gatherings and everyday life. While the pastors have an important role in leading and shepherding, theirs is not the only voice that needs to be heard. Everyone in the body works together to build the body which grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). It is through the exercising of our spiritual gifts that we are able to grow to spiritual maturity. Just as in the body, when one part suffers or is allowed to atrophy and the rest of the body is rendered useless, so it is in the spiritual body. Every member must be allowed to flourish in their spiritual giftings for the edification of the entire body.
Regular Multiplication of Churches
The central evidence of “success” in the modern church is the size of the church and the rate at which it is growing. The fact is that most churches start out small, relational, discipleship focused, and healthy. As growth happens, the ability to maintain the characteristics that attributed to the numeric growth diminishes in most cases. What ends up happening is the church becomes more of a machine than a healthy family. So how do we handle growth in our own fellowship? Glad you asked. Like larger churches, we have to adapt to the growth as the LORD adds to our number. The last thing we want to do is get in the way of the LORD growing His body and adding to the number who are saved and growing in their faith. To this we again defer to We Are Church who poses the following:
Meeting in homes sounds great, but what happens as the church grows? How does a church adapt as the Lord adds to their number? One word: Multiplication. The true fruit of an apple tree isn’t apples, but rather more apple trees. The true fruit of a strong leader is not followers, but more strong leaders. The true fruit of a healthy church is not congregants, but more healthy churches. God has designed the world to be one that reproduces and multiplies. The apple trees that can’t multiply are ones that are genetically modified. We have too many GMO churches, and not enough reproducing churches.
In order for us to multiply it is necessary to develop strong leadership from within so that when we do multiply the leaders of the new home churches are equipped to lead. Multiplication is necessary in order to keep the size of the fellowship smaller and more intimate as described earlier. It also forces us to prioritize a missionary mindset over our own comfort. As a church grows people grow to love one another deeply, and the idea of separating from half of the family we have been a part of seems almost cruel. And it would be if it were not for the goal of the higher calling to bring new people into the fold. For the sake of keeping things healthy and small, each member of the church becomes missionary minded and understands that replication is a necessary part of growing a healthy church. As new leaders are raised up and the body growing spiritually, propagation becomes a beautiful picture of a healthy and growing church.
Unlike many of the large churches where one or two people are always on the stage leading, we intentionally lead in such a way that as to not make people within our fellowships dependent solely upon the leaders. As many big church pastors can attest, the members of their congregations have a tendency to elevate them to “celebrity status,” whether that is their intention or not. When everyone in the fellowship is using their gifts and the roles of the pastor and assistant pastor are not based on status or ability, when it comes time for multiplication the body will have no problems going with the co-pastor or assistant even if his “gifting” is not as strong as the lead pastor. The aim of our fellowship is to allow others to flourish in their giftings and help the body to identify and exercise their own spiritual gifts. Identifying new leaders requires us to search from within as the LORD adds to the body.
Our primary goal in building a fellowship of believers is to keep it simple. A place where people simply love, and the WORD is simply taught. We don’t have paid staff, big budgets to manage, impressive programs, big screens or big names. A wise man once said,
I discovered firsthand that when you strive to gain, then you must strive to maintain. When you don’t strive to gain, you don’t have to strive to maintain. If its the LORD’s work, if He’s done it, and He’s added, then you don’t have to strive to keep the thing going. It’s striving to maintain that creates ministerial burnout…Throughout the country we see many large churches that have resulted from tremendous growth programs. But you have to keep that program going. You have to keep it oiled and greased and moving, or the thing begins to fail. Then all of the striving and all of the hype that it takes to maintain the program will absolutely kill you. There are a lot of super churches today, but there are also a lot of tired leaders, because of their striving to maintain what they’ve built. -Pastor Chuck Smith (June 25, 1927 – October 3, 2013) From Calvary Distinctives.
In our home church what you can expect is a simple fellowship that results in the deeper community. If Jesus is not your focus and you don’t want deeper fellowship, deeper community, deeper accountability, deeper growth, and deeper love, then our home church is probably not going to be a good fit for you. Jesus and His disciples kept it simple. As His disciples today we should do the same.