Church Unleashed!

14 10 2009

[I feel led to re-post this last years trip with Roger and Brooks Thoman. This was posted at wwwlk10.com site for quite awhile.]

“I will take a bath first,” I said.

“No, stay AT my side.” She says. “You can brush my teeth Papa.”
And I did.

She missed me so much that she wanted me to do everything for her. She’s my sweet little princess, Shirley—my 31-month old baby.

Sorry, I am not that good of a missionary yet. Leaving family for just a couple of days and then coming back home for a day and traveling again is not what I am used to. But I have to since the network is growing and needs someone to initiate things…

Thanks for Roger and Brooks Thoman, without them I could never do this on my own. They traveled wtogether as we visited several areas. I have been in a shipwreck you know, floating for 2 hours without a life jacket at 4 o’clock in the morning and all you see is a bright fire, not God’s Shekinah glory but just the ship burning! That was a couple of years ago but since then I have had fear of taking a boat overnight. Fortunately, God provided us the ability to fly.

It is my first visit to these places where we’ve been. When someone wants to join the network, that means they want more information about simple house churches, most of them have already seen them as a way to reach more people. All we did was to affirm what they have been believing either for months or years, or even days or hours. We trust that they heard God speaking through us.

It’s all about the Holy Spirit…

During one of our meetings a pastor friend from the Island joined us as we discussed the idea. We have done seminars with some of his leaders but somehow it’s not his time yet. His heart was moved after hearing the testimonies of the Cebu Network friends who have tasted the freedom of the Spirit. His comment was, “I am a traditional Baptist pastor. I love the stories very much and I am troubled. What should I do now?”

Without hesitation, Roger could have said the ‘steps’ to do but instead he bluntly and with kindness replied: “Listen to the Holy Spirit.”

A human question such as, “What should I do” can draw so much attention to our flesh with all its human strength, “Here are some tips you should follow” or “Why don’t you give up your church now?”

This movement of house church, simple church, micro-church, organic church, call it whatever you want as long as it is simple enough to duplicate. He has been speaking to hundreds of like-minded people like us all over the world, and even in my country. We have to realize that we could never create another vision except what has been started 2,000 years ago. God may allow us to have our day dreams of what our church should look like, but for your next generation’s sake do not ask God to cooperate with your plans trying to build your little empires of denomination.

God is in the move, let’s join ourselves in Him!

We have visited around 5 locations in Visayas-Mindanao, Philippines [Butuan, Koronadal, Labason, Kabasalan, and Cebu] numbering around 100 delegates, touching around 20 cities and towns, and touching hundreds of house churches.

Some delegates took a 4-8 hour drive by bus just to reach where we are meeting.

Some have been waiting for someone to come like us and share about house churches and affirm them.

Most of them are very happy, why? Because it’s their first time to attend a House Church Seminar in their area!

BEING CHURCH and YOUR CHURCH AT HOME

One of the best things that we did was use my two articles that I’ve written. They are straight from my heart concerning doing House Churches in the Philippines. I had no idea that Roger would use it. We gave them copies of each and let them bring wherever they are. Here are some points of my articles:

BEING CHURCH: It is a way of life, a twenty-four hour, 7 days a week Christianity.

The first and foremost challenge of every Christian is let him stop going to church ‘as we know it’ for 6 months and let’s see if he or she still feels like a Christian. Filipino Christians are very religious. We even feel that we’re going to hell if we cannot attend worship service for one Sunday. We define Christianity in what we’re doing as Christians [having a church to attend, a program to maintain, etc, etc.] rather than a way of life. Attending church Sunday after Sunday cannot be called a way of life simply because that is not something that we can do all day everyday. To literally measure the success of the house church movement in the Philippines, as Dr. David Lim says, is to count the numbers of Christians who are not attending worship church services on Sundays! And, I may add, how many pastors are resigning in their churches as CEO’s [Chief Executive Officer] and become CDO’s [Chief Destructive Officer]. The first challenge for every Christian is to learn how to BE the church.

The second challenge of a believer is to encourage them to be responsible for their own Christian life. The moment we depend on our pastor, church programs, or leaders for our Christian life is the moment we blame them for our Christian deficiencies. When we are not measuring up, the easiest way to solve this problem is to get out of our churches and find another church that would cater to our needs. This is Christian irresponsibility! When we commit sin, the last person who will know is our pastor, but the first person who will know is us. So, why does the pastor have to preach about sin? Basically to make us feel guilty! God’s purpose is that He gave His spirit to us to make us responsible for ourselves as His followers. We have the anointing that would teach us all things; Jesus is our Good Shepherd. The pastor ‘as we know it’ would not even be needed, not a hint, especially now that we have all become ‘priests of God.’

The third challenge would be to re-think our priorities in life. Americans are like twins to the Filipinos when it comes to putting God and everything in a compartmentalized box and making a distinction between ‘sacred and secular’ or between our ‘spiritual’ and ‘natural’ life. One example of this is the problem that occurs when we try to place God as the number one priority of our lives. He cannot be the priority. The question arises: If God is your number one priority then why do you spend most of your time in your family or work? A competition then arises between church [3rd priority] and family [2nd priority]. Reconciling Scriptures such as, ‘work as if you are working for the Lord,’ and ‘in everything you do,…do it for the glory of God’ become impossible. No, God must not be the priority of our lives but, instead, the center of everything. He must be involved in our daily life such that we realize that everything we touch He touches also simply because He lives in us. He should be the reason of why we do the all of the things that we do. Not the number one ‘list’ of the things that we do. Making Him number one, as a sequential priority, is separating your spiritual life from your natural life. ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God’ doesn’t speak about priority, but it communicates building a bridge from His Kingdom life values to your life. It is placing more value on seeking God’s Kingdom than seeking the things of this world.

Filipinos love music. They can easily ‘connect’ to God through it. But certainly it’s not worship as we define it here. This leads to the fourth challenge of Being Church. Anybody can just sing songs of worship but often they are hardly worshipping God. Defining worship as singing is the poorest understanding of all definitions. Worship, however, is giving glory to God. Right from the beginning God created man to proclaim His glory [Isaiah 43:21], and when man sinned he had ‘fallen short of His glory’ [Rom.3:23b]. It’s not that we don’t sing anymore [this is just an expression of worship, one of the expressions], but that we are ignoring the truly accurate paradigm of worship. ‘Offering our lives as living sacrifice’ [Rom. 12:1] is not singing. It is being obedient to God, being pleasing to God in everything we do.

Don’t get me wrong, I love music, I even compose many kinds of songs. I have specifically 50 songs in my mind that I made for church and for one another. So I sing, but I do so in the right mindset. Remember, how you understand things, is how you express them. That is why almost everything about Christianity must be redefined and that includes worship.

Why is the concept of ‘Being Church’ so important? If we don’t settle this from the beginning in the life of each believer, then all we will do is have a ‘traditional worship service’ in the house. Sooner or later the house churches will all end up becoming church in a building.

YOUR CHURCH AT HOME [family]

The ultimate picture of a church is a family. We are His children and God is our Father. We are to treat one another as brothers and sisters. We are ‘households of faith.’ A family lives in the house and that is why it is best to have church in the house where everybody knows everybody. In my country, families are still very close to each other. We are not comfortable being separated. My parents don’t like us going to church somewhere else. They would prefer that we stay at home, so we did bring the church to our home. And they are very glad about that. Honestly, they both were saved in our home and have learned so much about God at home.

Revival must begin where sin begins, at home with Adam and Eve. If we have revived church with un-revived homes then it is merely hypocrisy. We sin more in the homes than anywhere else on this earth. The very last verse of the Old Testament, Malachi 3:17, talks about broken family and the need ‘to turn the hearts of the father to the children and the children to their father.’ And Luke records the coming of John the Baptist bringing the same message: to cut the ‘curse’ in the family [‘curse’ is the last word of O.T.]. And for what reason? To ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’ Remember, also, Jesus sends the twelve ‘ahead of Him’ to the village looking for a ‘man of peace’ in the house. [Luke 10].

Now, look at the contrast and see the differences:

DOING CHURCH     v/s     BEING CHURCH

Christianity     Religious meetings           Way of life
Church              Cathedral/house –             Christ in you
Meetings          Scheduled                             Spontaneous/Spirit-led
Worship            Singing                                  Obedience
Discipleship    Manual/curriculum        Life experiences, led by the spirit
Focus                God is the priority            God is the center [values]
Goal                   Religious [conformed to the patterns of this world] -Righteous [transformed by His image]

WEAKNESSES AND STRENGTH OF THE NETWORK

Visayas-Mindanao region are about half of my country’s geographical size and population. Every once in a while emails pop up in my account inquiring, asking, and begging for us to come and help them out. Honestly, it is always a miracle for me to be able to travel outside of my province. Comparing fares and my budget doesn’t seem to fit, but somehow God is gracious for me to be able to do it. Arriving to our destinations, this is mostly what we found: most of them are very tired of doing church ‘as we know it’ and they want change. They just need someone to point out what’s working and what’s not working in doing church and this takes us to talk a bit negatively about traditional church. Yet, at the same time we tried our best to ‘speak the truth in love’ and to do our best to be as ‘wise as serpents and humble as doves.’ And then we go on…

I love how Roger shares in differentiating the two. “Here we are saying that we love God and one another and trying to finish the great commission of Jesus, but what we’re doing on the other hand is ‘going to church Sunday after Sunday, doing the service, fulfilling the programs, running the church like a business, and exercising control. We preach about ‘finishing the great commission, loving God and His people’ but again on the other hand trying our best to run this religious machinery Sunday after Sunday.” And bluntly he says: “We must unleash the Church!”

The second weakness we found is that some of them who are doing it are simply having a ‘Church Sunday Service’ in their homes. Part of it is a lack of information regarding right and wrong reasons for doing house churches. Now let’s talk about a bit of this. For most Filipinos this is important.

Doing house church in the Philippines is initially easy for two reasons: Lack of money and a lack of persecution (initially). When you speak of ‘House churches’ here most Christian leaders and laity assume you are just doing a ‘phase one’ or ‘stage one’ of a traditional church. In fact, mostly that’s what we all do if we want to start a church – start in the homes. And if it grows in number or in money, or if neighbors complain about loud music [persecution] then it’s time to move to a building. And mostly in the province side, a lack of money forces them to gather in homes. These reasons are good but not the best. If they don’t get it right at first then the road to tradition is slippery enough for one just to slide in. And then we hear the Pharisees say, “You see? House churches won’t work!”

But questions like, “Does it work?” is a wrong question. And basically what you get for an answer for that is a wrong one too. The right question is: “Is it right?” And Roger got the right reasons:

It is Biblical. As Gary Goodell challenged pastors: “You can do what you wanna do in your church but don’t call it Scriptural co’z you cannot find even one verse to support them.

It is Simple. Loving God and loving people is He only ask us to do, nothing more, nothing less!

It is a Discipleship focus. It can easily reach more people and disciple them to follow Christ in one day! Yah, you hear me right, one day. Let them repent of their sins, bury them [baptize], teach them a little and send them home! But,…keep your relationship with him because we are a family. If anything goes wrong, encourage him – do the ‘one-anothering’ in the Bible. One delegates is in shock, “What? one day? Mine is 3 years! No wonder they have not been a good follower of Jesus, they have been a good follower of me!” Basically what he means is, members of his church became dependent on him.

It has the potential to turn the world upside down and finished the Great Commission.

Jesus job is to ‘do the will of His Father, and to finished the work’ and this is also our reason for our living. One afternoon’s session, Roger had let others share what they have learned yesterday. One person shares about the elephant and the rabbit illustration. The other guy who has not been there the other day interrupted asking, “What has got to do about house churches?” We all laughed. Roger explained about the possible number fertility of the two and point out the house churches are like rabbits. It can reproduce around 476 million in 3 years compared to 3 elephant in three years. If we can have the right DNA for house churches it can ‘turn our world upside down’ again.

Oh, one more thing he said, “It is cheap!” For most Filipino pastors who have ‘constant’ monthly struggles of where to get the money to pay the rent? Here is your answer, though not the ‘right’ reason for you to do house churches but good enough for you to take a U-turn. Most of our churches here could not stand on their own feet maintaining the balance of their budget. When it comes to money, house churches can produce it if given the time and chance to grow.

Control, is the hardest weakness we found. Of course in my country I am very aware of this. We love titles and positions. We crave influence. But thank God that in His Kingdom He is the King. A friend shares, “will I hear the Savior’s voice if I make the same noise?” The voices of men are so loud that we cannot hear the gentle voice of the Lamb.

Talking about control, the challenge is always for the Pharisees: Do you want others to control you? Of course everyone would say the answer is no. Then why do you want to control others? No wonder we have 2,000 plus denominations in my country because we want to control others. Pooling others to our side, supporting our own vision for the world, promoting ourselves! I like how Wolfgang Simson puts it, ‘I don’t have a vision, the vision has me!”

And talking about submission, this challenge arises: 1 Peter mentions about ‘submit to your leaders.’ Although the Greek does not really have this meaning, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and say that what one clergy said to me is right. “A member of a church that submits to his pastor is obeying 1 Peter.” Yet, I replied, “But Ephesians 5:21 says ‘submit to one another.’ Will you, as my pastor, submit to me?” A silence broke the atmosphere.

Clergy makes the church powerless! When they show up they unknowingly strip off the member’s responsibility of being priests of God. Members want him to lead meetings so that will survive spiritually. And honestly, if pastors will die immediately members will backslide. Pastors should not tell their members what to do or else the people will not learn to be led by the Spirit of God and will, instead, become pastor led. This teaching is not new. If it is new then we will be labeled as cults! It is as old as the New Testament.

Here are some strengths that we came across wherever we went:

A Sense of Calling:
‘Blessed are those who are flexible for they shall not be hurt when they are bent’ as someone said. Those who want change will eventually be seen as unacceptable in the eyes of those who love traditions. God Himself calls out His people. True sheep starts heeding the call of their Shepherd. Our job is to affirm each one of them. There’s nothing we could do to add the call of God in their lives. The Lord of the harvest has sent laborers into His field.

A Sense of Oneness:
The willingness to change eventually leads us to unite. It is time for the nobodies in God’s nation of priests. It is time to stop the ‘one-man show’ and start the ‘one-another armies of God.’ Lower down the bar of our titles and positions and raise our level of trust in one another.

A Sense of Hunger:
Most felt dissatisfaction in their current church’s structure. The answer is not automatically to change to a ‘house church’ structure but Christ’s life to be lived out first outside the four-walls of their traditional churches and in their homes. One of the ways Roger challenged us was how to start a church in our own families. Most traditional Filipino Christian leaders and families are not that united enough to have ‘real’ church first in their homes. When I attended a “Pastors Exclusives’ Christmas Gathering one of the well-known pastors in our city was unofficially invited to speak in front of us (150 leaders hosted by OMF Christian Literature). He asked, “One of the problems that we face as pastors is, ‘Can one of our children follow our footsteps?'” Silence broke the audience recognizing in our hearts that he was addressing a real need in our lives. We have an abbreviation here ‘PK’, meaning ‘pastor’s kids.’ It simply means: A pastor’s son does not behave as they ought to. Some members of the household will go to different churches every Sunday. One child told her mom, while sitting in front of the church pews, “Mom, I wish Pastor Daddy would always stay at church and preach.” His father was so good at church but when he’s home he’s a different man. As one pastor confessed to me: “I am tired of wearing three masks: one when I’m preaching, one when I’m around members, and one at home.” Honestly, one time I caught the devil saying, “I would never ever destroy a church, only a family.” For when there are problems in the family, the road to the church is downhill!

Thanks for partners who have sacrificed by sending their books, house2house magazines, reports, articles and other materials. It greatly helps a lot. The Philippines has a lack of books on simple church and forming family values.

Roger, and his wife Brooks, shared a great deal about marriage which is a need also for house church leaders. Our wives have been left out many times. Whenever we attend a seminar our wife always asks, “So, what happened dear?” And mostly we don’t do well when it comes to communication. Even when Roger and Brooks came, not a lot of wives came [Hmnn….still I have to figure out why]. But those who came benefited from what they taught on God’s purposes for marriage and the need for men to listen to their wives [C’mon wives, smile…] Just like my Dad jokingly replied to Brooks’ question of who makes decisions in the Filipino family. Dad said,

“Here in the Philippines the husband always calls the shoots!”
“Really?” Brooks is in shock I guess. Can hardly believe what she heard.
“Yap,” Dad continued. “If the wife says so!”

I passed through a book in a bookshop entitled: What A Man Needs To Know About Women. And when I opened it, it’s all blank – nothing!

One day the husband said confidently to his wife: “Dear, do you know that wives speak twice as many words as their husbands?”

“Yes, because we have to repeat everything we just said.”

“What?” the husband blurted!

I agree, I am not good at listening intently while my wife is speaking. I must learn. Roger didn’t know this, but honestly I am very glad that he covered in his teaching how to listen confidently to our partners. Most Filipinos thought we didn’t need this help. Well, only the husbands thought that. The wives loved it! We men here are in bad shape when it comes to communication. Ophs, not all. Maybe only me and someone else reading this he he.

Oh Brooks. She is very sweet sharing her story and house church meetings experiences. It is very helpful. How the meetings can go. How important it is to listen to the needs of others. How to participate together in gatherings.

She is very supportive to her husband, Roger, while speaking and doing workshops and answering questions with him.

Mostly, I was so blessed by how Roger loves Brooks! They didn’t know that I am just watching and observing and finally gave a report to my boss he he. He lavishly provides assistance to her from transportation to food, to beds and to carrying her suit cases. And I learn that to have a healthy family you must provide whatever needs your wife has, and then live happily forever, amen! [Or else, trouble comes]

In our journey, there are those whose needs we helped meet: fares, lunches, foods for the street children, and giving gifts to whom we thought it must be given.

For all of you who pray, support, and sacrifice to help make this happen, thanks guys. Highly appreciate your generosity and love.

By the way, for your information, because of this visit I will come back in two different locations in Mindanao to help set up their FIRST Mindanao House Church Congress. It will be on July 5, at Koronadal City, and July 12 at Cagayan de Oro City. Brethren there will help coordinate the Congresses and, hopefully, they will become the coordinators in the Mindanao region. At last, what we have been waiting for is happening!

Isn’t it nice?

Enjoy life to the fullest.

Molong
Cebu, Philippines
May ’08

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