Have you felt led to get started on a new journey with God via Simple Church? Here’s what I’m learning: When getting together think family, conversations, food and neighbors.
Reframing who we are: When getting together, forget “church” and think “extended family get together”–aunts, uncles, nephews, cousins, nieces, grandparents, and a spattering of “enfamilied” friends–over for dinner,outings at the park, at reunions, weddings, holidays, helping each other, etc.
Reframing what we do: When getting together, forget sermons, sermonettes and bible studies (these can be empty substitutes for life) and think conversations. Don’t pray for my conversion yet–let me explain!
Each of you focus on actively following God every day–and when you gather–over studying about Him. Get used to responding to His leading, whether in the every day mundane or in the unexpected.
1. Listen for God. Each day, all week, within yourself and around you, and in others. Pay attention; be observant. Our Father, who told parents to “teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deut 6:7)” does the same for His children.
2. Listen to God. Every day read a book or books of the bible. Memorize a book. Read and think and ponder until scripture swirls around in your head and is coming out of your ears (and mouth). When He leads, you might study/ponder the same psalm or book for a few months or more (it’s a combination of how dimly we see/how hard our hearts are and the immeasurable depths of His wisdom).
If you do these two things (if you each listen for God and to God each day), your “family” will find no end to the conversations together and to pulling out your bibles to rethink and consider and dig and compare whenever you are together. But we also need to learn to listen to Him when we are together. If you are learning every day to follow His leading and prompting, you’ll better know what to say, when not to say something, when to stop, etc. For some, they will need most to learn to act when He prompts them. For others, they will need most to learn to shut up and sit still when He prompts them.
When that kind of conversational interaction becomes your norm (I Cor 14:26 etc), sharing out of full hearts and lives, you will also find yourselves in bible studies and in sharing for extended times–but not as the main course nor as the sole course. You will also find, just as when a family meets, not everyone has to sit and listen to a solitary conversation. That occurs part of the time but itcertainly isn’t the main way the family converses when together. Loosen up!
And let the kids play! They see what you are doing and it imprints them for life. But don’t put bowties and frilly dresses on them and make them sit like immobilized miniature adults for a few hours. Let them come and go. You’ll find yourselves outside playing with them sometimes, and looking in on them in the other room. Playing, laughing, being hugged and kissed by aunts and uncles while they turn their noses up and their faces smile with joy. Family. Not…”church.”
When getting together forget sip and a chip or coffee and a donut, and think meals. Everyone that can, brings something to share. Fancy, plain, big, small, yummy and yucky. And let the meal include remembering the Lord’s death, expecting His return, and rehearsing the table He is preparing for us. Let it be joyful, not a wake. He’s alive. He’s here! He’s coming back physically. He has a table prepared… Oh, what a fortunate family we are!
When getting together, forget missional, missions and ministries and think neighbors. Who is my neighbor? Those you pass by as you follow Him who are in need (”as he journeyed, came where he was:and when he saw him, he had compassion on him” Luke 10:33). These may be those next door, at work, at the market. But for the most part, they should be natural contacts, where (if you are paying attention) He brings these people across your path, not something forced and artificial.
Just like the difference between sermons and conversations, if we are full of Him and following Him, we will have work enough serving “neighbors” without creating artificial ministries where we go somewhere else and dabble for an hour or two a week. Of course, He may move where you live to get you among those He wants you to come across. If we follow Him, He will make us fishers of men. Fishermen live by the sea, and their work consists of strenuous, long, and obtrusive labor at odd hours. (see Gal 4:19, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.")
Really Good Stuff!
And when we 'start out simply', let us also continue 'simply' as well.
The trap is to revert back to old. The galatians were rebuke by Paul over it in Galatians 3:3
"Are you that stupid? Did you begin in a spiritual way only to end up doing things in a human way?"
Its done by GRACE in the SPIRIT - no other way, because HE wont bless legalism or self effort or retreat.
The Jews also wanted to go back to Egypt, when they were struggling through the wilderness to the promised land.
That promised land for us is the LORD JESUS (more of HIMSELF), giving up our own ideas, our own
agendas, our own religious traditions and mind set. Getting rid of old grave clothes, and walking in fresh new
revelation and life.
This is normal Christianity, celebrated amongst brothers and sisters, with JESUS being front and center, everytime
you come together in LOVE.
I always have one question for people who suggest things like this. How's it working for you?
That's not a confrontational question; it's a sincere one. I'm not trapping you. I don't have a cruel follow-up response planned. That's a real question. Are you seeing this work, or are you just hoping it will.
I would have a couple follow-up questions if you say it is working, such as what kind of problems you run into doing things this way. One real problem for small churches can be fringe people, part in-part out, who "whisper" while they're in and thus divide, bring in false doctrine, or ravage the weak sheep. Are there benefits that help overcome this problem?
But I only want to ask those questions if someone is actually putting this into practice and successfully enjoying spiritual fellowship with the Lord and with each other. Building a church is not a hobby. It's part of a very long war, and there are real combatants that get themselves involved when the Lord starts rising up in a people.
It sounds like you've been burned. I think all of us have been wounded. We've mostly all also been wounded in families, in work, in communities, and in circumstances. We live in a fallen world, and we are marred. I wish I could say I have learned to live above all that, but I still struggle, as I also do with my old nature. But, I am learning. We are all becoming more and more, little by little, into the image of His Son. We are all learning to relax in His embrace, and in His wisdom as He turns all things to our good.
Have you been able to find some connections there in TN? My family is from Lenoir City, just a bit below Knoxville.
Yes God's love and presence is working for us. We meet regularly with about a dozen people, and there are several other groups in the Raleigh area who are doing the same, and are about the same size. Sort of leaning into your second question, various groups here have differing theological perspectives--a couple are charismatic, another fundamental, and another baptistic. But we are all friends and get together occasionally. In fact, in the next week, we are getting together (on different occasions) with two of the existing groups and with two couples who are probably going to start yet another group in the area.
Why so many? Are we divided? Actually, the main issue is proximity. We desire to get together on a more frequent basis than once a week, and some of us also have connections with friends in more traditional churches. Most of the groups do not meet Sunday morning, which lets us visit traditional churches and friends. But I can assure you we are all growing to care about each other.
Secondarily, I do think we are clustering for weekly and daily get togethers mostly along theological lines. The church that meets at Tom and Janie's house is pretty close to our group in proximity, yet we meet on different days and don't get together every week. I'm not sure you can call it division. We did meet with them for a few months. We didn't and we don't argue and we don't dislike each other. Only so many folks fit into a home, and there is only so much week in a week to visit one another. Meeting separately, we are freer to talk about things and practice things in some areas when we are not together because, frankly, when together, we restrain ourselves from things we can't share in, deferring to each other. We do get together with others and with groups from time to time. In fact, I can honestly say I love Tom and Janie (affectionately as well as, you know, in Christianese), and they consistently bring joy when we get together. I can say with confidence they love me, too.
So far, we haven't had any of the divisive squabbles I think you are describing, but no doubt those will arise. Our particular group calls our weekly get together on Saturdays, "Dinner and Conversations." That rather aptly describes what we are doing as a relatively new group (a few months).
No, this isn't a hobby, but I not comfortable considering it a war between Christians (including those who meet traditionally). I can understand how at times it feels that way and looks that way. But no matter what man does or doesn't do, God's opinion stands. He calls us all family. I want to look at our goings on from His perspective.
Do you follow Alan Knox's blog, The Assembling of the Church? (http://www.alanknox.net/). Alan advocates the fundamental unity we have as believers. I mean at everyday, practical levels. Alan meets with a larger group just north of Raleigh in Youngsville (Wake Forest?, I'm not sure, maybe 70 people?) that presently doesn't fit neatly into either "traditional" or "simple" church categories. He has lately been posting now and then on the struggles-side of living out NT church principles (most of which would be advocated by simple church folk). You might enjoy connecting with those who interact on his blog.
The benefits that overcome the heretic approach of division are that we are glued together by love based relationships, not by that sort of knowledge based one-upmanship that seeks attention and status by perfection in our understandings. Our status is that we accepted by God, and therefore we must accept one another, period. It is very helpful to understand the basis of our unity (what Jesus did, not what we know or do), the meaning of submission to one another (to defer not to obey) and leadership (to care and to serve and to sacrifice, not to make decisions or direct or speak for others).
Paul, I'd like to learn more about who you are, where you've been and what desires God has put in your heart. I'm intrigued by people who say some of the things you've said. If you'd like to get a little more personal, I invite you to join me via email: amealer at gmail
Art (& Deb?),
I've probably been burned, as you say, but I don't really have the personality-type to be bothered by that. It's not really a struggle for me to overlook bad church experiences.
But I think you misinterpreted my post. When I said war, I didn't mean with other Christians. I meant with the devil.
I'm in a church, and I love it. Sort of like 17 house churches all on one piece of land. It's 20 years old, and I've been here for about 15 of those. I'm very happy, though as part of the leadership, there's always (spiritual) work to do.
However, God is starting to open doors for us to minister to others, and there are questions that I've found unavoidable. They've led to really interesting solutions.
Anyway, the point of that is that you were giving advice on an area that is of issue for church plants--leadership, structure, approach to meetings--and Jesus taught us to judge by fruit. So I always ask how it's working.
Last year, we sent some people out to California. Very interesting! I was in Auburn, CA, and another family was in Sacramento. We went not knowing what we should be doing. The other family went there to stay. My family was only there for 2 months.
God has moved incredibly and allowed him, after some time, to meet some people and to join visions with someone leading a house church. Where I was, I was shocked to find a Presbyterian pastor with a heart for the church. Not for his denomination, but for Jesus' church. I'm back in Tennessee now, but we're staying in contact with him and one of his "Life Group" leaders that is trying to turn the Life Group into a church plant--really, to see the group gel into something that is knit together by the Spirit, takes care of one another, and in which the Lord Jesus is raising up gifts and leaders.
As we go out more, we'll run into more and more unique situations, and more and more people saying, "How did you accomplish what you accomplished? How can we do the same?"
I like to know, then, what's working and what people are facing.
Really good advice Art & Deb!!..I love it...brings us right to "Love God ..Love your neighbor"!....He will take care of the rest..if we are doing this...
IN Him we live, move, and have our being
Blessings to you,
Sista Sandy :)
The above sounds like something I could get into. I've grown in the last 6 months to realy love cooking/baking and would love to show off my personal dishes to more than myself and wife and taking goodies to share with the people where I work. Too bad your all too far away.
I had done the after church house group thing with the imbedded bible/book studies and mens group with the books we had to read and discuss. Yea, the studies tended to be dry and some of the books painfull to read. The best part of both was the eating and just talking about life.
The house group and study groups was a church ministry thing. How did this work for me? It didn't. It wasn't long before giving up the house group but kept going to the mens group early in the morning every other Saturday. I so much enjoyed breakfast and fellowship after at the restraunt next to the church, I suffered the books.
Mainstream or simple church, real fellowship is a key thing that holds people togather. The best part of church before getting into helping the youth leader on Sunday evenings was the group of really old people who would have our Sunday evening church around the counsel room table. We sat all facing each other and sang occopello. The decons and elders seldom showed up. We ended up using the catachism as a guild tool reference to study the bible. We would pray for the church and each other. I could go for something like that again some day.
For now I'm resting away from it all. Trees go dormant and drop thier leaves in the winter taking a rest. That's where I'm at. Resting, free and happy.
Robert, there are some realities that we need to process related to the sermon, particularly when it is the prodiminent teaching method. No doubt there can be fruitfulness when a matter is addressed aloud by a single person for an extended time (say 30 minutes). But every study (I was an educator for over 30 years) shows, without variance, that monologue is the least effective means of obtaining change in behavior. We can listen for a long time, find it interesting, say amen or think differently -- but change rarely happens through lectures/ sermons.
It appears that Jesus had some longer discourses in His teaching, but it was also interctive. The more common method for Jesus was to teach, demonstrate, mentor a few, send them to do, evaluate, and build on that, etc.
Don't we also need to pay attention to the instruction of the epistles to the church? “Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col 3:16; Rom 15:14) Listening to one or two sermon-crafters for the largest part of our diet (I've also been a "lay" pulpit guy for over 40 years, with seminary degrees) is, I suspect, a recipe for immaturity of the Body. The building of the Body is consistently attached, in the NT, to the interactive, loving exercise of all the spiritual gifts in a way by which all the gathered can benefit (Ephesians 4, I Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 14:26, etc). Doesn't the sermon undermine this principle?
"Just chatting", I agree, has little promise attached to it. Our lives together do need focus. I'm wondering if a long tradition of sermons might even be the reason we don't know how to edify one another with truth, prophetic words, etc.
What do you think?
Your words concerning the sermon being very ineffective in educating or edifying certainly have a ring of truth in my mind. One reason I think this is so is that at the end of the sermon there is no interaction. No questions or discussion. I still think of the men's ministry model I described above might work. Another idea is to give everyone a Bible reading to meditate on during the week. Then on the assembly day, the group can share with each other their thoughts with each other. I do think their should be someone who has walked a little further (an Elder?) to give some depth and perspective. The church has been blessed with godly men and there is 2000 years of history and thought. I think we should draw upon this knowledge. This also connects us with that "great clouds of witnesses" that have walked before us.
Just for the record, the post on "Starting Out Simply" nowhere suggested "just chatting." What was proposed and has been effective in practice was stated in the following four paragraphs:
"1. Listen for God. Each day, all week, within yourself and around you, and in others. Pay attention; be observant. Our Father, who told parents to “teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deut 6:7)” does the same for His children.
"2. Listen to God. Every day read a book or books of the bible. Memorize a book. Read and think and ponder until scripture swirls around in your head and is coming out of your ears (and mouth). When He leads, you might study/ponder the same psalm or book for a few months or more (it’s a combination of how dimly we see/how hard our hearts are and the immeasurable depths of His wisdom).
"If you do these two things (if you each listen for God and to God each day), your “family” will find no end to the conversations together and to pulling out your bibles to rethink and consider and dig and compare whenever you are together. But we also need to learn to listen to Him when we are together. If you are learning every day to follow His leading and prompting, you’ll better know what to say, when not to say something, when to stop, etc. For some, they will need most to learn to act when He prompts them. For others, they will need most to learn to shut up and sit still when He prompts them.
"When that kind of conversational interaction becomes your norm (I Cor 14:26 etc), sharing out of full hearts and lives, you will also find yourselves in bible studies and in sharing for extended times–but not as the main course nor as the sole course. You will also find, just as when a family meets, not everyone has to sit and listen to a solitary conversation. That occurs part of the time but itcertainly isn’t the main way the family converses when together. Loosen up!"
Yes, you are right. Forgive me for characterizing your approach as just chatting. I was wrong on that.
I like the idea that each person is expected to come with something. I do have one follow-up question. When you meet, do you go around the room and with each person have a group discussion on what that person shares? That is, do you have a group discussion on 3 to 6 topics at each meeting?
You know, not so much with sermons but trying to find relevent things or topics of study I would think would be the hardest part with interactive style groups. Good food and fellowship time would make up for a flop night. In book studies I've had, there were those irrelevent nothing that strikes a cord with anyone chapters and no one can think of much to say. If a sermon is a flop, who would know?
The taking turns bringing something worked quite well when I worked at GM in lunch time studies there. It wasn't a burden at all since any one only had to do thier thing once every 4-6 weeks depending on how many were coming. I'm in no way verbally gifted but I did manage. I wouldn't push the shy people into this sort of thing. Not everyone can do everything nor should be pushed out of thier comfort zone, just a word of advice. You won't get apples from an orange tree. As much as I tried to pop out apples, everyone got a green apple shaped orange. I'm no leader. God didn't gift me that way.
Personally, I'm in the design and engineering business because I'm creatively tallented. As creative as I would get with my lessons, my presentation sucked. I could creatively make oranges that looked like apples on the outside but inside, was all orange. I cannot overcome my own personality to be someone or something I'm not.