"What Is A House Church?" ~ Vision Proper For The Tribe of Expressions

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"What is a House Church?" This is probably the most common question I get asked when people hear that I am a House Church leader in The Edge. I think one of the common mistakes we make in answering comes when we see House Churches as a model rather then an organic community of people. We say, "We are trying to..."

  • "... be like the 1st century house churches."
  • "... be less organizational."
  • "... just do life with friends and family."
  • "... do church smaller within our homes and living rooms."
  • "... be a simple small group."
Family on Mission
Family on Mission

When we really look at what being a house church is, our intentions are not to follow a model or even past example, it is really to be a closely knit spiritual family who are covenanted in the mission of God together! We are a 21st century gathering of people who wish to live as Christ within the Kingdom of God as it reveals itself in our homes, neighbourhoods, and surrounding communities!! We can call ourselves a tribe when we find ourselves interlinked in the journey of shared discipleship with one another in the desire to be like Jesus in the world today!

In any house church, there is always two shaping perceptions which catalyze their movement - their Vision Proper and the Practical Community Rhythms they create around it. A tribe's vision proper, as Dave Rhodes expresses[1], is really the ideals and hopes they see God calling them towards. It is "the way things are meant to be" and the essential building blocks which we perceive to be in any Christian discipling community. The practical community rhythms created around that vision are really the mission statement, values, strategies, and measures each tribe begins to create and practice that move them towards that calling. In the simplest terms, the first addresses the question, "What is God calling us to, or saying to us?"; while the second speaks to the question "What are we going to do about it?"

As part of the Edge House Church Movement, the Expressions Tribe follows a vision proper to which every house church in its membership strives towards. We believe 'To Live Is Christ' (Phil. 1:21) and that we seek to live that out through Loving God, Loving People, and Making Disciples. But we also recognize the autonomous contexts and cultures to which each house church may find themselves in through their own unique local community and the language to which they find meaningful. In this way, the Expressions Tribe has found their own reflection of The Edge's vision through the mission of 'Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community', practiced through the practical community rhythms of Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living. While we will look at these practical community rhythms in future posts, this post is really looking at the vision proper for Expressions and the essential building blocks or mDNA (Missional DNA) we look for in our lives as disciples.

Five Irreducible Minimums

In his greater work 'The Forgotten Ways', Alan Hirsch identifies five irreducible minimums to a missional movement. As he shares, these five minimums should be present in any gathering tribe to bring purpose and significance to their movement. Expressions has found these minimums as reflective in our own mDNA as a house church with the hopes of others embracing them as essential to their own growth in identity as House Church's who are a part of God's calling.

It is important to realize that these minimums are ideal in there expression, which is why they are part of our vision proper and seen as the hopes we feel called by God to grow in as we journey through both personal and communal discipleship. In no way is any of our members expected to be perfect in expressing or practicing all the minimums or essentials in perfect balance. They are simply visional goals we can strive towards in balance as the practice of each can bring fruitful growth both to our personal lives and the community we are a part of.

Centred on Jesus ~ 'Expressions of Jesus as Lord'

Jesus is Lord
Jesus is Lord

At its deepest core Expressions seeks to centre its mission on ‘Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community’. It is here that all our tribal movement begins. Jesus is calling all of us to answer the question of “Who do you say that I am?[2] The answers to which we give are not so much in the words we share or the spoken statements we make but rather shown in the lives we live and the community which we journey with. It is an identity we take up in which we hope to become more like Jesus in everything we do. As Leslie Newbigin states, “The confession 'Jesus is Lord' implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world - its philosophy, its culture, and its politics no less than the personal lives of its people. The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.[3]

It is important to note however that as God's creation we are not in possession of that mission on our own but rather that God's mission possesses us. We do not start with the church being that which defines our missional identity but rather the character, life, and being of Jesus is the central identifying bases for everything we do as a church community. By this I mean that it is not our mission to fulfill every desired wish we ourselves have for this world but rather it is God's mission we are to witness and proclaim to the world as we participate in it. A man named Christopher Wright wrote it in the words that, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission.[4]

When Expressions missional center is on 'Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community', we find ourselves propelled outwards into the world while imitating Jesus in everything we do through the practical understanding and acting out of something we call (I)Living ~ Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living. How exactly can we do this? What practical steps can we take in acting these rhythms out? This will be explored in future posts but first, let's briefly look at the vision proper for these three practical rhythms.

Worship ~ 'Invitational Living'

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.[5] You cannot help but hear Jesus’ words and be drawn into there focus on righteous worship through Loving God and responding to His Invitation when hearing His commandment. But why did Jesus start with the word "love"?

Love in practice is meant to be more then just an expression of individual personal affection towards another as we reflect its passionate nature in heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is a relational tension that is felt and encountered between people as it binds them together holistically through shared experiences in life. These moments of binding tension articulate the boundaries of any relationship as well as the freedoms, expressions, and practices within it. While we grow to recognize our desires and tensions in responding to God's invitation, we find personal and communal ways of expressing and showing that practice through Listening, Learning, and Living in obedience to His voice and presence as we encounter Him amidst our daily lives.

By creating environments, spaces, and practices of Invitational Living we are in the hopes of finding sanctuaries to which God can commune with us in, “a place of reflection and renewal, where you can listen to yourself away from the dance floor and the blare of the music, where you can reaffirm your deeper sense of self and purpose.”[6]

Mission ~ 'Incarnational Living'

"You shall love your neighbour as yourself."[7] Words which drive us to Love People unconditionally and not just those who we recognize, but all people regardless of their differences. Embracing a life of Incarnating the likeness of Jesus within ourselves we strive in every moment to live in servanthood towards self stewardship and for others through renewing, reconciling, and resurrecting the significance of all relationships and creation. It is our experience in this practice that we recognize, “most people needed to feel a sense of belonging before they believed. And they needed acceptance before they could even begin to understand what repentance or transformation might look like. When you invite the messiness of broken humanity, you also invite amazing grace.[8]

Incarnational Living
Incarnational Living

At first glance, loving our neighbour seems like a second command that Jesus is giving us following his first to love God. Yet in actuality Jesus really sees them as one complete direction. We cannot fully love God and recognize His invitation without loving our neighbours and his creation too by incarnating and reflecting His image within ourselves. In essence, understanding God in Word is only one side of the coin while loving people in action and incarnated deed is the other.

Renewing our minds and bodies with those parts of our lives that have been marginalized or often forgotten about leads us to the very far reaches of our personal and social identities. As we engage and enflesh a sense of Christ-likeness within these relationships, we embody a holistic act of Reconciliation to the other in the hopes of bringing a lasting experience of Resurrection and restoration to newness of life in ourselves and the community we are a part of.

Discipleship ~ 'Inspirational Living'

Being a part of God's mission also has the deeper calling to "make disciples of all nations".[9] Living an Inspirational life we strive to Invest and challenge others to enter a covenant of discipleship with us as we seek to become more like Jesus together, Involving and intertwining themselves as a living gospel into a world where the Kingdom of God and His authority has drawn near, while continuing to Inspire others who have not heard God’s calling and story. It is as Pat Keifert writes, “about initiating persons into the reign of God through evangelism and a deliberate spiritual journey that takes [them] from being Seekers (consumers of religion as commodity) to being disciples of Jesus.[10]

The life of discipleship in the Expressions Tribe takes on a radical meaning which is often missed in the traditional church. We do not look for people to join us in simple membership but rather we seek those who are willing to engage with us in the discipleship journey of 'Imitating Jesus' in all of life through their own expressions of Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living! As Hirsch states, "For the follower of Jesus, discipleship is not the first step toward a promising career. It is in itself the fulfilment of his or her destiny."[11]

A Covenant Community

Expressions I Living
Expressions I Living

The gathering of any Christian missional community must find itself united through more then just common affiliation and/or curriculum. These four essentials or irreducible minimums in balance come together to form the fifth essential which as a whole is a communal responsibility towards each other that becomes more an accountability to each member then just a relaxed tie that can be broken simply by "not showing up" or ceasing to attend. As Alan Hirsch points out, "A church is formed people not by people just hanging out together, but ones bound together in a distinctive bound. There is a certain obligation toward one another formed around a covenant."[12]

It is true that being in covenant cannot be considered lightly in significance. But, that is the point! Our relationships in being a part of God's mission is of great significance both to God and each other! The bounds formed between tribal members become intertwined both personally and communally. In some sense, we become a family as Jesus shared, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.[13]

The language to describe this bound is difficult to find but, I think Desmond Tutu touched on it when he wrote about the African understanding of ubuntu. He shares that:

“My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.” It is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”[14]

Covenantal life is not always easy but it is also the catalyst for the movement of any one tribe or house church and its members. In its best expression a tribal covenant is practiced by every member both personally and as a community while it details some of the practicalities and strategies of all four of the other vision proper essentials. There is much more that can be shared and conversed about in the way of covenant living being shaped through practical community rhythms which we will explore in a separate post towards the end of our journey.

Conclusion ~ Creating a Space For Tribal Gathering and Future Discussions

Knowing that a House Church is defined by the presence of these five essentials and the people who put them into practice helps us to see that the church is never defined by the building in which it gathers, but rather what its members bring to the gathering itself. Whether these people gather in a park, a community centre, a theatre, a mall, a coffee shop or restaurant, or the living room of someone's home is not what is important. At the very heart of these community's and tribe's that we call a "House Church" is a named identity not because they gather in a house but because they exist as a household, a family unit that has been called and sent into God's mission together.

"But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ~ Joshua 24:15

With a vision proper now laid out for the Expressions Tribe and an understanding of what it is God is calling us to, we are ready to turn to the practical community rhythms which shape how we live it out. Over the next series of posts we will explore some of the practical ways we might be able to fulfill these five essentials. While we see Covenant Living being the essential which ties it all together, we'll first look at the formation of a mission statement and Expressions declaration 'Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community', followed by our rhythms of Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living.

While I've tried to keep this post in the simplest language I could, I realize there may still be questions on its points. So ask away! Let's keep the dialogue going and whether it is over coffee in person or in a comment below, I hope together we can follow Jesus as Lord in every expression His mission takes!!

[1]http://100movements.com/framing-the-future/

[2]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Matt. 16:13-20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] Newbigin, Leslie. The Open Secret: An Introduction Into The Theology of Mission. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), Kindle LOC #232.

[4] Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God's People: A Biblical Theology of the Church's Mission. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), Kindle LOC #155.

[5]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mk 12:29–30). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] Heifetz, Ronald A., and Martin Linsky. Leadership On the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading. (Boston, Massatusses: Harvard Business School Press, 2002) Kindle LOC #3111

[7]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mk 12:31). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] Hirsch, Deb. Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality. Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2015) Kindle LOC #159.

[9]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Matt. 28:19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[10] Keifert, Patrick. We Are Here Now: A Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery, (St. Paul, Minnesota: Church Innovations Institute, 2006), Pg. 126.

[11] Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006) Pg. #103.

[12] Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006) Pg. #40-41.

[13]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Lk 8:21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[14] Tutu, Desmond. No Future Without Forgiveness:. (New York: Doubleday, 1999) Kindle LOC #431.