In many ways JPUSA (Jesus People U.S.A., the parent of Project 12 discipleship training) was from the beginning, a huge and growing house church. It’s just that it meets in a BIGGGGG house 🙂
The deal is that we don’t “go home”, rather we live and serve God, one another and our neighbors in a zillion ways via a multitude of ministries based out of our intentional/community for X length of time. We consider where we -are- home. Of course we visit family and friends from time to time, have breaks, vacations and so on, but our life- as long as each of us senses the continuing call of God to do so- is lived at JPUSA.
Now, those who are not “members” of JPUSA continue to learn and grow during their Project 12 experience, which in total lasts 3 trimesters. Those 3 trimesters also include breaks, time to visit family and so on, but after a person completes the last trimester they are encouraged to pray, hear God for themselves and decide IF He is calling them to continue serving for X length of time at JPUSA in Chicago, to return to their home church or move elsewhere to serve God and others.
For those living with and committed to JPUSA in Chicago, we call this home, at least for that period of time we’re here. And it is in that sense, a house church… one that’s been going for 35 years. Due to the large number of people, the incredible needs presented by those who seek help, and the gifts God gives (spiritually and in the practical sense) of those in P12 and JPUSA we are blessed to do A LOT, serving many people in many different ways. It is in fact, a mission field and always has been.
Further, JPUSA joined the Evangelical Covenant Church (a denomination) over a decade ago, and this at a time when many believers were leaving denominational churches.
I often laugh when people talk of the life and fruitfulness of our relatively small (appx. 280 adults) fellowship as they hear we’re part of “a denomination”… they don’t get it and wonder how we can do all the subcultural things we do without hindrance by what they’d consider a sort of “big brother”! The fact is that style or form don’t mean much when you really get into the heart and guts of the matter.
Love, commitment to the Word of God and simple sharing of what we have (in the Ev. Cov., JPUSA and P12) begins and continues at the individual level. It matures to a group level but in the end, individuals choose to serve… or not, just like anywhere. Due to the majority of people really loving God and others and the willingness to sacrifice and offer whatever God gives to help others, we’re seeing God’s gracious hand and lasting fruit.
The prayer and sometimes financial support, the blessings of wise and long-proved biblical council of our brothers and sisters and the lack of “majoring in the minors” has made the Ev. Covenant a truly great fit for us.
I think one of the most important and right issues re. the house church/emerging church movement is reference to “the conversation”. Which is of course, always a two-way street. I think the deep and obvious need for relationship, a real and not contrived sense of family and belonging as well as “being” rather than “doing” offered is healthy and correct. A large part of this happens because we not only visit but live together in literal Christian community on a daily basis. This happens to be something few house churches do with the exception of the family who owns the particular house, and of course few if any traditional churches live together.
I think that the flexible, non-stagnant and even casual “form” or lack of form in most house churches and many emerging fellowships is excellent. People can come and be “as they are” in such a setting.
It’s no secret that many either start or join alternative churches (or “fellowships”) as a point of rejection of traditional churches, sick of church politics, or due to real or imagined abuses.
Sometimes it’s really just a matter of exploration, people are praying for something more or other than what they’ve experienced in typical church life. Sometimes it’s a matter of the Spirit calling rather than discontent. It often has to do with finally “feeling like I’m truly welcomed and can use my gifts here”.
The thing I’m concerned about isn’t all the above, rather it’s that an imbalance towards healing hurting or dis-satisfied Christians or offering alternatives to “church as we’ve known it” or the “founding a home church, cell church or alternative church so we can do -mission-” can really end up a mess some years later.
Balance is illusive and the pendulum indeed swings as it will (and should!) regardless which side of the fulcrum.
For example, if evangelism/mission to the pre-Christian is a (the?) key motive for forming an hc or alternative group, what about discipleship among those who come with hurts and cares (most all of us!) and who really need to grow up spiritually? If there are sizable numbers of people coming to real faith in Jesus Christ, what are you doing to help them “grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus” regardless of your form (or non-form) of local gathering?
On the other hand, if your core motive (or one main motive) for forming the local gathering is to “feed the sheep”, what are you doing to truly offer a witness of the risen Christ in the neighborhood and beyond? Is anyone who does not follow Jesus turning to Him as a result of your “being”?
When Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep”, I would posit that He meant Peter must accept His call to disciple the disciples, to lay his life down and care for them spiritually. In Peter’s case, via the Spirit’s gifts of leadership, pastoring and such it was the call of God on his life. But Peter also evangelised in practical as well as verbal sharing of the Good News. Discipleship AND evangelism, not either/or… rather both/and.
Can we agree that “being” wasn’t all Jesus called Peter to?
When Paul was called as an apostle and teacher, it’s clear his missionary journeys largely consisted of evangelism — the preaching of the Good News where ever he went. It’s equally clear he discipled believers and both established and helped others (i.e., Timothy) establish local churches. Again, both/and, not either/or.
I would suggest that one key factor in ANY alternative / house / home / cell / local congregation regardless of basic character and personality or “leaning” is that we pray for and seek to encourage balance and “flow”. Please know, when I use the term “flow” in this article I specifically mean the Holy Spirit calls us to be -and- to do, to witness -and- disciple people in accord with the Word of God. The Spirit moves us to do both.
Any healthy, balanced church must not only focus on those who regularly show up, but also on various poor, widows, orphans (see James on this point) and those who have not heard nor in some cases seen real, flawed yet consistent Christianity via Christ living in His disciples. The Holy Spirit continually flows in both directions and so must we regardless of how we “do” church.
IF Christ is “the head of His body, the church”, IF the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” and IF we believe as Weymouth translates it — “you know the critical period at which we are living, and that it is now high time, to rouse yourselves from sleep; for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first became believers” we must both be and do.
We must take care that comfort isn’t the real motive of how we “do” or “don’t do” church. Many have rightfully criticized traditional churches as mere “social clubs”. Careful prayer, consideration and at times choosing the UNcomfortable for His and others’ sakes are part of the call of God on all our lives.
Form doesn’t answer character, it takes the Comforter Who Himself is God, to bring both comfort and at times, discomfort via His call upon us to love others “not merely in word, but in deed and in truth” that validates a local church as authentic.
May God help us live and serve in His love, within and beyond our local expression of “church”.