Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pillars of the Church: Elders

Since the beginning, Jarrod and I have been concerned about church growth. We couldn't seem to figure out which came first: converts or elders? In "chicken and the egg" argument, this question goes unanswered. In house church, it's a question of balance and wisdom which is why all throughout the book of Acts we see the apostles fast and pray...and then send out those God told them to anoint as the pillars of a work in the area to which they would be planted.

While Jarrod and I don't consider ourselves baby Christians, my parents have been the only true elders; both because of age and maturity in the Scriptures. Since mostly our meetings only held three to four families, this didn't seem to be a problem.  The "ratio" however didn't seem ideal for growth and personally, I hoped for elders that I wasn't related to. I've seen "mom and pop" churches in error and scandal because they were literally "family" and basically built an impenetrable dynasty that was so sick, I shuddered and ran from it.

Back to the ratio of elders to babies. The more babies you nurse, the more elders you need. It would be like one daycare worker trying to watch over a passel of children by himself. That worker becomes exhausted, frustrated and eventually gets burnt out! Our vision has been to "go into all the world" like Jesus said and we were ready like a gunshot to hit the streets but we also knew if we were going to really grow, we would need some pillars upholding the work.

Quite unexpectedly, we got ourselves some elders! Two couples, both long time disciples of Christ, have joined our meetings. Both are deeply rooted in the Scriptures. One couple had enjoyed a  house church fellowship for ten years before moving to Oklahoma. The other has spent his life defending the faith regarding science and the scriptures all over the world.

Wow. I mean....wow!

You can't imagine what it's like to have someone who's actually done church this way when you've only done this for two years. It's exciting and it just continues to reassure us that God is working in us for His purposes!

At our last meeting someone spoke up about something that was kind of hard to discuss authoritatively or definitely for the lack of scriptural information regarding the subject. One of the elders spoke up, gently and simply:

"That's something that needs to be shelved until we can discuss it."

He was referring to a commonly held rule in house church: don't teach a doctrine unless you've got solid Biblical basis for it and it's been discussed and examined by the elders. We all know the basics (creation, atonement, eternity) but the extras (what will we be like with a glorified body) have to be examined first. The reason for this is not control but order. It's relative to keeping the meetings, especially for the young followers of Christ, within the boundaries of simple-tried-and-true teachings that edify everyone. Speculating about things where the Bible falls silent makes for great conversation but not teaching unless it has been proven and accepted by the elders for teaching. Notice I didn't say by THE pastor. Not one man calling the shots here...elders provide checks and balances, an opportunity for God to confirm through each other, whether something is acceptable or refutable.

(Personally, where the Bible falls silent...I fall silent. Where the Bible shouts again and again...I direct the whole of my energy. Seems the most important things Scripture emphasizes should be emphasized.)

That moment when the elder spoke up brought order in a way that was gentle, humble, and loving. Rather than barking: "You're not going to teach that here until I say so," it was more of, "let's visit that sometime in private."

Huge difference.

That's the kind of experience an elder brings to a meeting that balances it out. So, we are looking forward to future meetings as we share "the inheritance that is in the saints in Christ Jesus."

Thanks for reading Thank you to Rusty and Sara Wimberly for your many prayers and gentle guidance!

God bless you all.
Jarrod and Mindy





Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fruitful...

It's amazing to watch God work when you think He's not up to very much at all. We are a small house church. I've often wondered why we rarely have more than three families in a our meetings at a time when we have this large home and all this furniture.

If we'd gotten our way, we would be living in a humble home in the country. God kept us here and gave us a large home in the middle of town and we love it.

The first family the Lord sent us was a single parent family who had been dragged through abuse and trauma. We hardly knew what to do when she got saved! For six months we worked to help her find a job, get on her feet, work out issues with her kids and then suddenly she moved back to her husband to work on a restored marriage. I heard from her recently and they are still in church, and though she admits life isn't perfect, it hasn't been the same since she came to Christ and realized just how much He loves her and her family.

The next family the Lord sent us had been through broken relationships, so fractured and painful that they were truly forced to move. It was hard to see them go because we'd really become much closer to them now that they were meeting with us (we've known them for years) but we knew God had spoken to them and they were trusting Him. They are now happily settled in a wonderful home, a good job, and great community. We visited them last Sunday and will be introducing them to house church communities in their local area soon.

Through that transition of these two families, we have had down times. We even went for a few weeks without meeting at all. Our AC wasn't working properly (a big deal in hot Oklahoma let me assure you). Then we had to deal with fleas (who can subject friends to those infernal blood suckers?). There were times last summer I wondered if we had failed but through it all, we were learning.

We've learned that house church is so simple you think you're not doing it right because it looks nothing like institutional church!

We've learned to teach people to hear God's voice for themselves rather than hear the voice of God for them, that showing love is demonstrating His love, and that just because you don't meet for a couple weeks doesn't mean God isn't working in your fellowship of believers.

House church is just living your life in Christ and through Christ together. After we eat our meals, we pray to open the meeting. Sometimes we sing. Sometimes we don't. Someone pops up a Scripture or makes a declaration, asks a question, confesses a personal fault or injury or presents a personal crisis. But always..our discussions come back to the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Everyone leaves with something, even if you shared a lot of personal testimonies. Sometimes we sing and have those moments when you can almost touch Him. It's really different every time...so we learned not to plan too much. He's running the show. Not us.

Two weeks ago Sunday we had a visitor who is interested in starting a house church and it was a great time of sharing like mindedness regarding church. It revived our own excitement about this expression of Christianity we feel called to live out.

We're doing well. God's growing us, changing us, and God help us in spite of us...He's bringing fruit out of it too in others!

Thanks for reading!




Monday, November 12, 2012

Head of His Church



One of the things we've had to "un"learn is the "order of service." It's been so helpful to visit other house churches and more recently the Okc church two weeks ago. We noticed how patient the saints were during worship. They would wait, almost painfully, for the Lord to direct the next song or exhortation or scripture reading.


So we tried it last night. We told everyone to have an attitude of reverence and let a "pause" sustain itself after each song. Scriptures were read, prayers were prayed and all in between three songs. We just "knew" when it was time to transition to the next part of the meeting.

An elder began talking about the seven churches, how it relates to us today. Another brother spoke up about forgiveness and he was able to receive the wealth of scripture and "been there" wisdom from another couple. Hate was being turned to compassion. Pride to humility. This brother was almost embarrassed to share such personal things but the truth is...house church is like that.

As one person humbles themselves and seeks to draw from the treasure of scripture and gifts of the Holy Spirit in the rest of the group, that vulnerability spreads to everyone else. Pretty soon everyone else starts to share "what happened to me" and "how God brought me through" until the "inheritance that is in the saints" begins to be passed around the room. It can get as personal as people want it to....in a small setting it's very doable. In a huge gathering of more than 50 people, it's just plain too scary!

I think about the meeting last night and realize that I had no idea the meeting would take the turn it did but obviously the Lord led our discussion and ministered to us and through us for the edification of everyone present. That's how it should be, right?

And here I was stressed out because I hadn't prepared "a word" myself. Yet, I'm realizing more and more, the goal is to prepare our hearts and be intentional about meeting ...without the agenda to control or "program" the meeting at all. The Lord truly is head of His church and He never fails to tap into the things He's put in us that week, last month or even thirty years ago. We just follow His lead.

Due to marked interest, we're getting read to do a study on eschatology every third Friday night. If you're interested, feel free to contact us.

Thanks for learning with us and for your prayers and support.
Shawnee Home Church

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Growing Up

Sunday morning we had the rare pleasure of attending a home in Oklahoma City that is part of a house church network, stretching all over the state. The Fenns of Supernatural House Church (also known as The Church Without Walls International) facilitated the meeting (no one person has the floor at all times in a house church meeting, ever). They started planting house churches about twenty years ago and continue to maintain relationships with HC plants all over the world.



I have to admit Jarrod and I were a little gun shy when we first heard about this ministry, Supernatural House Church. "Supernatural" has become a buzz word in grossly unbalanced teachings but after browsing their website and articles, it was clear balance is what they are about. As a friend of ours put it, "Not crazy but not spiritually constipated either."

The meeting was incredibly similar to ours with the exception that there was no off topic conversation and rabbit trails (which we sometimes fall prey to), though there was plenty of "let down your hair" fellowship during the greeting time and over a meal afterwards. I really liked that the conversation stayed focused on the subject but that didn't prevent people from sharing personal stories or asking questions...all of it was related to the core of what God was saying that morning.

I also enjoyed the very sensitive nature of the worship. Each song ended followed by silence to sense the Lord's leading. Are we finished singing? Does anyone have a tongue/interpretation, does anyone have an encouraging word? As Paul said in 1 Cor. 14 "let all things be done in order."

"As the Spirit" gave utterance, several spoke up between songs and actually foreshadowed the discussion that followed worship. For example I'd written in my journal, "How many of my decisions are based on my own desires and how many based on pleasing You by doing what You want, Lord?" There were several other things that I wrote down during the meeting that either expressed itself in song by someone else or by an exhortation or prophetic word of encouragement.

The "sermon"?

Pleasing God. Do we live our lives everyday to please God...or do we approach God with the idea that we pray and plead for God to bless our own will, ideas and desires?

As Fenn pointed out, when we first come to Christ it's usually for some immediate benefit. Salvation brings joy and peace and the assurance we will see Christ at the pearly gates...but, as Jarrod pointed out, we mature as we plunge deeper in the experience of His love for us. We naturally begin to love Him so much more that we yearn to please Him!

Of course the sheer absurdity is that this has somehow been twisted into legalism by those who would rather bear His name while living for themselves. We can't possibly please God...or can we? With Christ's energizing grace and power of the Holy Spirit, we are expected to!

As John Fenn brought out in several passages, Paul urged us to live in a way that pleases God. "Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Rom. 8:8)" and "without faith it is impossible to please God...(Heb. 11:6)" and "we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. (1 Thess. 4:1)

Nearly everyone spoke up and one by one added truth from the richness of Christ and His Anointing and His Word from within them! Brief personal testimonies brought humility and openness to the meeting. We all shared this incredible love for Christ and longing to please Him.

We were refreshed by the entire meeting and enjoyed meeting other believers in this setting. "Cross pollination" as Steve Queen said to us is a great thing. We thank God for the connection and look forward to sharing it with the Ekklesia in Shawnee.

Thanks to the Queens, the Fenns, and the Lassiters for the warm welcome and inspiration. 



Monday, October 15, 2012

Children Are Members of Christ

Jesus had a special place in His heart for children, one so counter-cultural at the time that He was forced to answer the crowds when He was giving them more attention than He gave the adults. I believe that Christ recognized children as just as much a member of His church as adults. We believe they have a purpose in the church meeting, with their own callings and gifts and they should contribute to the meeting in their own way. 

It seems Jesus thought so too. Let's remember that it was the children who were crying 'Hosanna' to the Lord. "But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant. Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?" Matt. 21:15-16

Last Sunday night we had an idea to get the kids more involved in the meeting. They're all about the same age, ranging from 12-14 years old. We asked them to anonymously write down on a piece of paper what they struggle with. It could be anything from getting along with a sibling, temptation, peer pressure or even doubts about their faith. Then after putting the wadded papers into a bowl they each selected one. In two weeks, after searching for the answers to those problems in Scripture with the help of their parents, they will preach their own sermon (or simply read scriptures or accounts of people who had to deal with those same issues) in the church to us all.

We are REALLY excited this because it will accomplish the following things (although the list is endless):

  1. It will teach them to minister to each other!
  2. It will teach them how to search the Scriptures for answers both on someone else's behalf and their own. 
  3. They may end up discerning by the Spirit (using a gift they didn't know they had) who this person is that needed this solution. They may discover they love bringing a teaching or being an evangelist or whatever is in them. 
  4. It will open up deep conversation between parents and children, possibly leading to confession about what they personally go through in their lives. 
  5. It will make them more aware of how important it is to think of others and what they go through, not just focusing on themselves and their own troubles. 
For the first time in weeks I saw one of kids get their bible and notebook. We saw them actively participated in a way I don't think we've ever seen and it was almost as if they realized they were an important part of this journey. They started asking questions that belied things they deal with like kids at school who are openly gay. That lead to talking about the Christian's response to that (with love and the offer for repentance and supernatural deliverance, healing, etc NOT hateful rejection).

It was such an amazing time! Rather than making them sit there and "be quiet" and just aimlessly bringing scripture to them, it ended up being very dynamic with their participation and questions about the Scriptures the adult read that evening.

In two weeks, one of these kids will be ready to bring their teaching or exhortation. We're excited and we can't wait to see what God will speak to them!  

No matter where or how you gather among God's people, challenge your children to begin exploring the Word of God to answer their problems and discover their spiritual gifts. You'll help them have a relationship with Christ that is personal but isn't self focused and set them on a path to be used by God now and for the rest of their lives. Don't raise a pew warmer, raise a contributing part of Christ's body!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Get Your Glasses On

We have a new family coming to our house fellowship and the subject of tithing came up. They said they knew they needed to be tithing and it was something "on the list" they really wanted to get checked out. Their sincere hearts to obey God in every aspect of their lives led them to believe the common misguided application of an Old Testament Law practice. Tithing 10% of your income. We explained that according to Acts and the Apostles letters that giving was an altogether different thing in the early church. They gave according to specific needs, not an Old Testament code.

Now before you get yourself all riled up, hear me out. If you are in an institutional church, you are obligated by virtue of using that building to pay some form of support. It's got to be paid for somehow, right? Just as institutional church models the Old Testament model (paid priest, maintained building, caring for the poor through various programs)...giving money should be part of what you contribute to a church in a building.

Ten percent? No. "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 1 Cor. 9:7 As I said...not under compulsion or threats that you will be cursed. Not under promises of 100 fold return. According to what God has laid upon your heart...could be less or more than 10%. Just obey God.

First century church didn't have that 10% mandate ever. They didn't have paid ministers or buildings because Christianity was illegal. So there was no need for a rigid tithe. However, tithing is also not a new testament practice not just because there were no real buildings but because this was Old Testament law, along with ceremonial washing, observing Saturday Sabbath, etc. It's intention was to pay the priest (who could not work to support himself and his family) and also to care for the poor in a similar way that our taxation system pays for welfare (this research is clearly laid out in "Pagan Christianity: Exploring Our Roots" by George Barna & Frank Viola). The tithe was reintroduced by the Catholic Church in Rome, who even went so far as to demand everyone pay that regardless whether they subscribed to the faith or not. It's been in place ever since.

There is not ONE mention of tithing in the Apostle's letters. Not one.

Now that we have THAT aside, I will assert that New Testament giving was an "over and beyond" what a mere 10% was. In Acts we see them selling their precious possessions to give to the needs of each other and the poor. "And they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." Acts. 2:45-47 (See also Acts 4:32-37)

We explained that we take up need specific offerings and cited an example of a church member whose glasses were literally being held together by tooth picks (in place of tiny screws). The frames, which where the only ones he could afford when he broke his glasses a few months ago, were too small for the man's face, rubbing against his eyelashes, and eye sockets. Sweat, dirt and tears were chafing this elder all the time he was working and he works hard.

As this new couple was leaving the house, they came back inside with a $100 bill and insisted they pay for the glasses. This week, on his birthday, he got himself a new pair! This kind of giving fosters a sense of family bonding and sense of unity through demonstrated love. It blesses both the giver and the receiver. It's a sacrifice you're offering before God on a saint's behalf and THAT is giving with generosity, from the heart, for the right reasons.

It's important for all of us to have our glasses on when it comes to what we're taught. Examine the Scriptures for yourself, devote yourself to studying God's word carefully. You might be surprised on what you're missing out on, whether you're blessing your church or someone on the pew...or your couch. Give as God leads you, not the Old Testament and not a man!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Jesus Hospital...

Lots of people start house church with noble visions of a well trained, fully functioning team of elders. There's at least one elder in each five fold ministry gift and everyone is working together to reach their city, neighborhood by neighborhood for Christ. Everyone shares their lives, their food, their wealth, their hearts with everyone else. Church, "first century style."

Well. Yeah. I mean that's the idea.

For now, we seem to be a hospital. Since we began, God has brought us people who need a Jesus hospital, a place where deep wounds and horrific trauma can be healed.

Last fall we sheltered and ministered to a woman and her children who had suffered unspeakable pain. A lot of healing was done in this single parent family before they returned to their home and a restored marriage. This fall, we have a family who, betrayed by those dearest to them, are gathering with us. They're learning to hear God's voice for themselves, that following Christ will cost you something but the reward is everything, that God, who is for them and not against them, is and will always take care of them...no matter what lies rage against them.

How has this family grown us?

At one point, our new family was in deep trouble, in true despair. To my astonishment, my husband took off in the car and headed for their house...did he lay hands on him? No. Did prophesy to him? No. Did he lead him in worship? No. He was just there for him. They didn't even get really "spiritual" but it meant a lot to them. Later that evening they came to the meeting (just us and them over dinner and scripture) and were ministered to. I can remember a time when my husband, somewhat reclusive, would never have done that...major growth there.

I see more now than ever how important it is to train people to know God for themselves. I tried to "help" this family in a situation and it seemed the right thing to do since it was within my ability to do so...but it didn't work. We tried to call a special prayer meeting but we all "flaked out." I was pretty bummed and scratching my head but the result of our failed attempts was that God performed a miracle on their behalf and not a one of us could take any credit. It wasn't because of my efforts to pull a few strings. It wasn't because we called an emergency prayer meeting and cried out passionately to God. No. This was the result of their prayers. When God answered their prayers, He proved Himself to them and their faith skyrocketed! An elder is not a mediator or a "Moses on the mountain"...an elder is more like a coach who teaches them how to play the game but its up to the player to play the game and live with the score. I'm not the mediator...that's Jesus. I'm just coaching here.

A successful ministry isn't about the number of people who attend...it's about the quality of your fruit. Rather than have a house full of people who say they love God but aren't following Him, I'd rather have a handful of people who are being transformed because they're knowing Him more each day. I'm determined to be patient with what God is doing in us and not despise small beginnings.

We're learning that discipleship isn't a class you teach once a week or a program. It's being a friend. It's feeling their sadness, their pain...and yes their joy on the other side of it. Discipleship is about living God's Word with other people, not just in front of them as a distant example.

It seems almost surreal to realize that Christ has been like a surgeon and we've been the tools; the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us have been like prescribed medicine...and one day, we know they'll leave our Jesus hospital, start a one where they move and keep the Gospel going. I can't wait to see how it turns out!