Monthly Archives: August 2014
As a follow up to my other articles on the transformation of pastoral ministry (“How the Home Church transformed my Pastoral Ministry” and “Worship in the Home Church – Preaching and Praying”), I turn now to two more specific aspects which were important in the life of our home church: family andleadership.
It seems that almost every church wants to be known as “family friendly” and a place to build relationships. Many churches even boast at being “multigenerational” in their ministry style and makeup. After having spent time as the pastor of a home church, I wonder now if we really understand what that means. Is the traditional church really family friendly?
Here’s what I mean: when a family arrives at church, the younger children are taken to the nursery, the older ones head to “children’s church” or over to the “youth wing,” and the adults go to the adult ministries. All too often these family members never see one another again until they meet on the way to the car to go home for the day. You might say, “Our church has everyone in worship together.” That’s great, but is it really building relationships? Is it really developing family coherence?
“Well, our church has a home group ministry?” Again, this is a good thing, however even these are often segregated. A group will meet in someone’s home and the adults meet in one area, while the kids all head off to a separate room (or the basement). I ask again – is this really helping to build relationships in the family? Is this really “family” friendly? What exactly is family oriented about it, if the family is always separated?
This family orientation is a major difference between how the traditional church attempts family ministry and the experience of home church ministry. In our case, family was a top priority. At the beginning we tried to have a separate “program” for the kids – but this only lasted a week or two. We quickly rebelled against our own pre-conceived ideas about what church had always been and began to truly meet together as families. From then on, we all met together every week for every aspect of our ministry and worship.
And this changed the nature and character of our worship. I’ve already noted, in my previous articles, how different the preaching and prayer were in this setting. Beyond that, we came to see the beauty of learning together. Families had the connection of not just sitting together for worship, but taking time to consider the particular thoughts and ideas from a broad spectrum of ages. When we left our services and fellowship, we each had a common experience to build upon. We could talk during the week about church and what happened there – and we all could connect with it because we were all there. It was community.
It was family.
Do pastors know when to lead and when to follow? In my original article I didn’t really mention the idea of leadership within the home church environment. In fact, it may have seemed that in my own experience as the pastor of a home church that I was the primary leader and otherwise there was no structure. This was far from the case and I’d like to explain.
Early on in our time together as a church, there were two men that were appointed as elders. These men were the heads of the families that originally formed the church and asked that I become their pastor. The three of us made up the leadership of the church.
At that time, I set about the task of completing a study of the New Testament texts on leadership in the church and produced a short study titled, “The Role of the Pastor.” Within this document, I helped our leadership understand the roles the pastor has according to biblical teaching. By doing this, we were all informed of what we had come to expect from our pastors – some of which was appropriate, and some of which was a bit off base due to our past experiences in the traditional church.
Another layer of this was, once the pastor’s role was more clear, who would be doing the leading in other areas of the church? Once again, Scripture led us to understand that each of us were gifted to lead (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, etc.), not just the pastor. In our past experiences in the traditional church, pastors often served under the assumption that they knew the answers to everything, and the other leaders fell in line with the same thinking. We knew it should be different, and made efforts to be different.
The key ingredient was this: each of us would lead in our areas of giftedness, and we would also recognize the leadership of others (both elders and others within the church) and become followers at the appropriate times. Leading in the areas of our gifting was obvious, but the following of others was another matter. We had to be deliberate in following the leading of others. This made us a body, just as Scripture teaches. It developed our community. It raised the level of dignity and service within each and every member of our small flock.
Leadership was fluid and flexible. Each of us did not have to be part of every decision, and we trusted each other to make decisions that were appropriate for the whole group. This level of trust was part of what made our leadership structure so unique, and demonstrated a different way to lead the church.
(Original Post on June 10, 2014 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/21947-worship-in-the-home-church-family-and-leadership)
As a follow up to my article on the transformation of pastoral ministry in a home church setting (found here), I’d like to spend the next two articles discussing specifics of some of the differences in a home church. Specifically, how worship is affected. This week: Preaching and praying.
As I mentioned in last week’s article, the preaching was significantly different than in a traditional church setting. Although we referred to it as preaching, it was often more like teaching and discussion. It had to reach a group of people from 4-years old and elementary age kids, all the way through teens, 20-somethings, and on up to folks in their 50s and 60s.
As a pastor, I felt it was my role to be sure that our folks understood God’s Word thoroughly, and had ample time to digest it and see how it could shape their lives. We did not brush aside difficult concepts like the Trinity, or the substitutionary atonement. We dove in head first, and encountered God and His Truth. There were times that the younger children understood difficult concepts better than their parents or grandparents.The interaction of the differing generations created an atmosphere of learning to understand – not just learning to learn.
Within our studies I often prepared a presentation that I affectionately referred to as my “powerpoint.” The “power” was my hand, and the “point” was that of a large felt-tip marker. I drew pictures, listed words, explained concepts visually. This drew us together in a way that none of us expected. One of the diagrams was of a target – and it became an operational picture of what we felt our church was about. One of the lists was ideas for our church name – and eventually a name and mission floated to the top. These visuals were remembered beyond my words, and I still today use my “powerpoint” to teach. At times I created “take home” bookmarks or reminders so we could keep them with us in our Bibles, or posted on the refrigerator.
It was a unique form of teaching and has been readily adaptable for youth studies, family Bible studies, and even teaching undergraduate college courses. The need to communicate at such a broad level of ages and comprehension helped me to refine my own ability to explain theology and biblical concepts and make it accessible. It was an invaluable experience, and something I never learned in college or seminary.
Prayer was another area that was transformed as it was practiced within our Home Church community. In my earlier article, I note the following:
We discovered our need for prayer, and within our intergenerational gatherings we found the joy of hearing – and participating with – the prayers of the young and old alike. Unlike the traditional church, we prayed together rather than having a representative pray for the group (though this happened on occasion as well). Each of us was welcome to pray, and often prayed. There was no time limit. We prayed for what we needed to pray.
I’m not sure, having read that again, that I can improve on the description of prayer within our small gathering. It was a significant time of being together before God’s throne and bringing our selves and needs to Him. I recall the sense in each of us that God would actually hear, and this raised our eyes to look for His answers to our requests.
Since my time in the Home Church ministry, I’ve tried this kind of intergenerational prayer in a couple of other settings. In particular, I have incorporated it into the setting of Family Bible Studies. At different times the studies have been as few as two families and as many as eight families all together. In these settings prayers have come from all ages, and from all levels of understanding. Those involved have often been pleased to realize that God really does care about everything, and often adults need that reminder by hearing the prayers of children.
I’ve also noted that profound and deep prayers come from the depths of every individual, and as we hear them we respond to the work of the Spirit in their lives. I think that communal praying is unique, and spending time in such a close community such as a Family Bible Study, or in a Home Church, brings the work of the Spirit through prayer into perspective as nothing else can.
As a priority in our Home Church, we never limited the time in prayer. It varied week to week from just a few moments to as much as fifteen minutes or more. Rather than being something that we had to do, it was part of who we were. I can’t help but think that the traditional church could benefit from praying in such a way.
(Original Post on June 10, 2014 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/21917-worship-in-the-home-church-preaching-and-praying)
I had been in ministry for a little more than ten years when I found myself somewhat abruptly exiting church ministry. I had held many different positions during those years of ministry, and had been a part of ministries from as large as 1500 to congregations smaller than 100. None of that experience really prepared me for what the Lord had for me next.
About six months after my last full-time position, I was approached to be the pastor of a newly formed church that was going to be meeting in a home. Those families that were to be a part of the church were friends, and I had ministered to and with these folks for several years previously. We met one Sunday night to discuss having a “Bible Study,” and by the time I left the meeting I agreed to be a part of a home church ministry. We decided to start meeting right away the next Sunday morning.
We hovered in attendance from 15 to 30 people for almost three years. We learned, we laughed, we cared, and we grew together in ways that made us more than a church. We became a community, in fact, a family.
It would be difficult to communicate the depth and significance of all that took place from week to week in the midst of that home in this short article, however, let me share some of the ways that this group of people transformed and rearranged my understanding of ministry. I had been trained theologically, ordained for ministry, and had over ten years of experience, yet what I learned in those three years not only made me a different person, but made me a different kind of pastor.
Because of the organic nature of our meetings, we involved the whole family. This means we had regular attendees as young as four years old, elementary age kids, teens, 20-somethings, and adults on up into their 50’s. We were all together for our whole service, which normally lasted over an hour. Unlike the traditional church, we developed generational relationships because we stayed together, worshiped together and learned together.
Our format was basic. Eventually we came to refer to our meetings as covering three major areas: prayer, preaching and potluck. I hear you chuckling, but let me explain. As a group we had explored in Scripture what would be key elements of our church. We discovered our need for prayer, and within our intergenerational gatherings we found the joy of hearing – and participating with – the prayers of the young and old alike. Unlike the traditional church, we prayed together rather than having a representative pray for the group (though this happened on occasion as well). Each of us welcome to pray, and often prayed. There was no time limit. We prayed for what we needed to pray.
Another aspect that was vital to us was Scripture and teaching, which we referred to as “preaching.” Once again, this was not the normal preaching found in the traditional church. This was teaching needing to connect with a 4-year old, yet not so childish that adults would dismiss it. It had to communicate real Truth, make it accessible to each level of understanding, and cause a prompting to take that Truth into life. It was uniquely communal and allowed each member of each family to connect with Scripture, and then with each other. God was teaching us together, and we were applying it together. There was ample time for teaching, questions and answers.
Our third key ingredient we referred to affectionately as “potluck.” Many readers may be familiar with this as the monthly potluck dinner. Bring a dish to pass and let’s eat! Well – for our home church this was a weeklytime of eating, talking and generally being together. We enjoyed this time as one of more than just fellowship. This was our life together. We ate a lot of food and discussed everything from the teaching of the morning to all facets of culture, work and living. We had fun, played games – and the kids swam in the pool during warmer weather. We often found ourselves packing up and leaving church late Sunday afternoon.
The transformative aspects of these potluck gatherings were significant. It took me, personally, about 6 months to leave aside my to-do list for the day, and simply enjoy being together with these people. They taught me a lot about ministry on those Sunday afternoons. I learned the importance of time – not how to manage it, but how to spend it with people. Knowing them, loving them, and being with them for extended periods of time. If you ask me to identify how ministry took place during these afternoons, I’m not sure I can say. What I do know, is that community was built, needs were met, marriages were healed, life questions were discussed, weddings were performed, training for ministry was done, and we were active in doing good works.
Unlike many traditional churches within my experience, we encouraged absences from our weekly gatherings. We took the biblical promptings to ministry “out there” and put our feet under them. As the Pastor, I was given the freedom to miss up to once Sunday per month to be available for ministry in other venues, with no penalty in my pay! Those who attended were regularly participating in ministry events at other churches, in community events, and any number of ways. In fact, the family that hosted the meetings was gone occasionally for ministry and family outings, and they gave us a key and we met in their home anyway. To us, this seemed to be the natural way that life and ministry happened.
Out of the 20 + people that regularly attended our home church, there has been a great impact in the larger Body of Christ. We saw a marriage healed and a family restored. We enjoyed ministry with those who would never step foot in a traditional church. We participated in sending one young woman to the mission field. One of the leaders of the church helps non-profits stabilize their financial stewardship and get them on solid ground. Others have spread into churches, non-profits and each of them is serving where the Lord has called them to be today. One young man, having spent about two years with us, graduated from Bible College with a degree in Pastoral Studies. He and his wife-to-be attended regularly, were counseled in the church and given several examples of real-life marriage and child rearing. The final official service of our little church was their wedding. They now serve a church in another state.
The church ended its existence as a body after 2 years and 8 months. The function that God had for our time together was complete, and each family saw the need to step away. It was all a positive ending, and after all this time we still sometimes have “reunion” parties – closely resembling our potluck afternoons.
The transformation of my pastoral life was substantial. You can see from my description that the ministry of the home church was different, but even more importantly the thinking was different. We weren’t trapped by the assumptions of a church model based on programs. We were freed for ministry and to ministry. I left there with little desire to re-enter the traditional church setting. I find myself today still feeling bound at times by the constraints of traditional styles of ministry within the traditional form of church. The outlook of my ministry perspective, and what I understand ministry to be, is forever changed.
There is certainly value in larger church settings, yet important aspects of life within the Body of Christ that seem to be consistently missing. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as I continue to serve and seek God’s leading in ministry, the experience of being a Home Church pastor will be one of the highlights.
(Original Post on June 10, 2014 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/21885-how-the-home-church-transformed-my-pastoral-ministry)
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)
There are a number of articles on the Worldview Church Worship Arts page that have been written on the topic of unity, and how important it is to show unity within the worship of the church. There are articles that give a biblical perspective on the subject in general, like: Unity: A Key Ingredient of Worship. Others consider the truth of unity in the midst of diversity, such as: Uniquely You: Worshiping in Your Giftedness. Still others address the need to plan for unity within our worship: One Worship Design: Variety, Spontaneity, Familiarity.
In the midst of these articles, I’d like to insert one that is something of a warning, or at least a cause for reflection in the midst of our weekly gatherings of worship. My thoughts on this subject began when my wife and I, along with two of our children, spent a morning in a local nursing home for Sunday worship. We were asked to come and lead worship which included singing, reading Scripture, prayer and a short sermon.
This, in fact, was a church. The residents and one of the Administrators began this regular church service when the facility first opened several years ago. Although they come from many Christian backgrounds and denominations, many of them now consider this “their” church and serve as ushers, greeters, and in other ways. They treat is as their church home.
The music we planned for the morning was familiar – at least to those in attendance. There may be many sitting in pews of churches today would not have known the songs or the melodies that we sang. In fact, our own children had only a faint recollection of these songs, having not heard them in our own church within recent memory. These songs were hymns. We sang them in the traditional style, with piano accompaniment, and at traditional tempos. There was no hip, new chorus added or a re-arrangement to make it more contemporary. No drums, flashing lights, smoke, background singers, PowerPoint, guitar, etc. Just singing hymns with the piano.
It seems to me that as these traditional songs fall into disuse, it is an unfortunate demonstration of disunity within the walls of the modern church. We have raced toward the modern, contemporary worship style and all but abandoned the heritage of our hymnody. Interestingly enough, I have discovered that the older generation is much more open to modern musical styles than the younger generation is to traditional styles. Without much effort one can hear complaining from the younger crowd that hymns are no longer relevant and that we must offer modern style to a modern world.
While there are some that do their share of complaining, my own experience is that older saints they are much more willing to adapt. This shows a great deal of character on behalf of these older men and women. They are patient and expectant, hoping to see God’s Spirit move. They desire to see their children and grandchildren engaged in, and engaged by, worship and the Word of God. It’s important for them to see the faith pass from one generation to the next.
While at the same time, they are left with no continuity to their own Christian past. They willingly step aside as younger leaders and musicians (though not particularly wise) abandon the heritage of the faith for what seem to be exciting, flashy and “relevant.” Certainly being relevant is not to be avoided, but when it’s at the expense of history, clear Christian doctrine, and a solid development of the Christian mind, we have gone astray.
As we continue to see modern entertainment overtake the worship of the church, we will continue to experience the fragmentation caused by this kind of disunity. Our older saints have much to offer, but they are often sidelined and dismissed in lieu of the modern and the supposedly “relevant” new way of doing things. What are we losing when this happens? What richness of experience? What wisdom? Are we losing the fullness of unity that could be experienced if we were more holistic in our approach to worship?
(Original Post on July 14, 2014 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/22040-a-crack-in-the-unity-of-worship)