People often ask me how I can encourage a group of believers who have spilled out of a religious institution one week and then go to one of those institutions the next week to do a seminar or consult with their leadership. Most times the question is an honest curiosity, but some have questioned whether I’m prostituting my gift of gab to make money from larger groups even if I don’t embrace the way they do things.
First, it would not be true that God provides for us better through larger groups than small ones. Very often the opposite is true and sometimes neither of them are able to help us with what it really takes to get me there. Secondly, I don’t accept an invitation to any group that doesn’t have some familiarity with the passions God has placed on my heart. If I’m in a more structured setting, it is because one of the things we’re talking is how the conformity of an institution easily distorts our perception of God’s working. Finally, I find people passionate to know God and his reality in all kinds of settings and if I sense God wants to be with them, I’ll go. If I’m only with people who agree with me about everything, there would be no value in my going.
I really don’t have a strategy that determines where I go. With each invitation Sara and I pray to see if this is something Father wants us to say yes to and follow whatever growing conviction he puts on our heart. Mostly that works out extraordinarily well, but I wouldn’t want you to think we always get that right I’ve been in some places where I just knew after a few moments that I didn’t belong and had missed his leading. But that’s been as true of alternative groups as it has been of traditional congregations themselves.
I guess I’m finding my perception of Jesus’ church to not be as simple as saying it has to be in a home and all groups who meet in a building are by that fact disobeying God. While I think a home is most conducive to the life of Jesus’ family, who I am to reject others who see it differently? What is most important to me is that folks I spend time with deeply want God’s life and they are allowing him to change them over time to fit with the way Father works. I’m never comfortable in a conversation drawing great distinctions between house church (HC) and the institutional church (IC), as if one is totally Godly and the other totally in bondage. It just isn’t that simple. I am convinced that we make such distinctions so that we can claim to belong to the ‘right’ group, but that Jesus has no such compulsion. He lives alongside people wherever he is allowed access and seeks to draw them into his way of seeing things.
Thus I don’t get dragged into a discussion of a church without walls being better than a church with walls. In fact, I’m convinced that from God’s perspective there are no walls, even if people think they are. Jesus’ church cannot be walled in by any human effort and acting as if it is disconnects me with his reality. I have also been to so many different groups of people living out the reality of their life in Christ and the expressions of church life that produces are vast and diverse. Yes, there are similar priorities in all of them, but how they live that out in their meetings and relationships can take on vastly different forms. I want to embrace all the ways in which God works, not serve any one expression to the loss of others.
On an email list I host at Lifestream, one of our contributors was talking about their own frustration trying to find the right model for church involvement. They had left the institutional forms years before, finding more a detriment to what God put on their heart than a help to it. As they looked for other forms, they never seemed to find something that fit. They went through incredible doubt and faced hardships, thinking they were all alone. However, during this time their home had become a gathering place for a lot of young people and in the naturalness of those relationships people were coming to Christ and learning how to walk in his ways. One day God brought that all together for them as he was struggling over what church life should look like for his family:
At first I wondered at that. I guess I was hoping for something more profound. Foolish me! What is more profound that being forged into a real family? Here it is happening under my own roof right in front of me. In the midst of all the horror and pain (we experienced for a) number of years, what had Father been doing? Making a Family. Nothing more. How profound and wonderful. We have wept many tears, felt enormous pain and struggled with so much and we are so blessed!
There are no walls in this incredible family. It can look like a hundred things in various places around the world. I simply refuse to live like there are walls, even with those who try to define it that way. And I certainly won’t feel superior to them, because I used think there were walls too!