How the Home Church Transformed my Pastoral Ministry
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)
Posted on August 11, 2014, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology, Worship Leader and tagged Mark Sooy, theology, worship, worship leader, WorshipThink. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.