When a movement stops moving it ceases to become a movement.
(Butuan Trip, 4/10-13/12)
“Is it going to be like this always? If this is all there is, then it is better to stop or else we are all going to die.”
This was a sentiment of my friend Ronie in Butuan when I first met him a year ago. He believes in simple-organic-house churches but something didn’t make complete sense to him. He got tired of attending meetings, was bored of the weekly routine, he felt like being in a valley full of dry bones and he decided he didn’t want to die there with an epitaph saying, “I didn’t skip any meetings at all!” Therefore, he stopped those kinds of meetings in his simple organic house church.
When we are stuck with something and that something wouldn’t make us move anywhere, we can be very sure that it is time to start to dig our own graves. We die. This is what is happening in most simple churches around the globe. We are stuck with meetings. We routinely, like a machine, come back to our meetings faithfully. We don’t do more than just meet again next Wednesday. We don’t know what else to do other than to meet so we guess that the best way to do something about it is to keep doing it – meetings! Wolfgang Simson says, “there is nothing wrong with Bible studies and Prayer meetings, but bible studies in order to have a bible study or prayer meetings just for the sake of prayer meetings is not taking us anywhere”. In a similar tune I say there is nothing wrong with meetings, but if we meet for the sake of meetings, then it soon becomes a tradition.
Here is the problem: we admit that Church is Jesus’ bride. But she looks very dirty because we love to leave our fingerprints all over the bride. “I do this”, “my organization”, “we are Pentecostals”, “I’m Brethren”, “we are not Methodists” “I’m from simple church” and “we are organic house church” – human fingerprints all over Jesus’ bride! It is not anymore possible to comprehend that Jesus has just one bride called Church! It gets even more difficult to grasp the nature of His Church. What have we done! Most of us seem to have an Institutional church background. All what we have done so far to get into the latest church mode is to chop the elephants into small pieces and have renamed them to rabbits. But the elephant’s DNA is still in the rabbits, it hasn’t changed! We have only chopped it well enough for everybody to do the same old meetings in smaller versions at homes. We still do our own thing. We don’t ask God what his will is but we ask him to be part of our will. Instead of asking God to show us His ways, we go ahead and do our wicked-selfish ways. “Just put your signature here at the dotted line, Lord Jesus; don’t you worry about the rest”. It doesn’t matter if God wills it or not but God must cooperate with our plans and bless our will. We don’t get it, do we? Church is God’s property and we are not the ones to claim to build His Ekklesia, Jesus said, “I will build MY church”. Get it – not your church; keep your fingerprints off from what Jesus wants to build.
One of the hardest things God wanted me to do is to trust Him. And I don’t mean just to “trust” Him by letting Him lead me when I do something. No, it’s the other way around. He wanted me to trust Him by me doing nothing!
“Molong, if you want to taste the fullness of the Holy Spirit,” our Father said to me when I started thinking about doing meetings, “then you’ve got to trust me completely”. It took a while for me to see it happen with my own eyes but that’s another story.
We need to grow up; we don’t want to be caught up doing something only to find out too late that we’re stuck with it. For a while, I did things “for” God, and then I grew up and learnt to work “with” God. Then I realized that the “I” in me is still alive. “God and I did it”! Finally, I needed to die as well. Then I understood that the dead don’t work at all. That’s why they are dead in the first place. So I learnt just to watch God work.
My friend Ronie, learnt the same thing. And so does many of those house churches in his city. Paul says, “I die daily.” And Jesus says, “learn from Me.” Only people who are willing to die for Him can learn from Him. Unless we are dead to our “own” ways, God can never show to us “His” ways. Or else, the glory will rest on men and not on Him.
BEING FAMILY, MAKING DISCIPLES
Two things that most house churches lack are 1) they are not a family and 2) because they don’t live like a family, they do not know how to raise one. Only a man and a woman who are so in love with each other know how to produce children and create a family. In the same way, until we become a family to each other in the churches we will never be able to bear spiritual children to whom we would father and mother in the Lord. God cannot entrust us with spiritual kids unless:
– we learn to become good fathers and mothers to our own children (1 Tim.3:6)
– we learn to see and treat those who are part of our simple churches
as one of our own family. (1 Tim.6:1-2)
Ask yourselves these questions: Are your gatherings “meeting-based” or “family-based”? Do you meet for the sake of meetings or because you just miss each other so much?
STOP THE MEETINGS:
If your answer is not the latter then the first thing you need to do is stop the meeting. You cannot be a family if you do plain meetings. Families don’t do that. People don’t need more meetings. They need more relationships. As my friend Gary Goodell says, “Families don’t do meetings; they just meet a lot.”
KNOW YOUR LOCATION:
We know that the NT recognition of Ekklesia in a city is where those disciples lived and shared life together in one location. One city – one Church, Period. The seven Churches in Rev.1-3 were located in the seven cities mentioned. It means that the Church is locate-able. The unbelievers knew where the Christians were living their daily life together as a Church. Thus the Ekklesia became “the city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden.” Jesus’ prayer of unity in John 17 is not about unity in our theological agreement but it is about how we live our daily life together in love with each other. Friends, there is only one place where we can live this – be a family. Heb,3:13 says, encourage one another “daily”; not just on a Wednesday evening after the prayer meeting and during the coffee and tea time. Acts 2:42-46 defines how the believers lived together like a family. They shared everything together and exhibited this life style in the public squares. The public was excited and favored them and the Lord added new family members “daily” into their lives.
The question is, are you located where you are right now with other saints in the city? Are you seeking the Kingdom of God first? The kingdom of God is where such disciples live and share life together as one family to exhibit Kingdom life to the world. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples” because we have love for one another. They see us washing each other’s clothes together, mowing each other’s lawn together, buying huge quantities of grocery in the market together, cutting onions together and eating food together. Because of the love we have for the Lord, — Deut 6:4-6 “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”, — live life in such a way that the world will see in us that we take care of each other and that we go “alongside” (Greek summary word of Heb.3:13) each other “daily”, so that no one of us will be entangled by sin like it happens all the time in the world.
We are in this journey of Life together. There are 125 commands of the King and 58 of them are about one-anothering. This simply means, you cannot live without me and I cannot live without you. No one is better than us. 90 percent of your growth depends on me and 90 percent of my growth depends on you. God uses “earthen vessels” to mature each other.
The kind of Christ’s body that the world is exposed to today is a fractured one. Not only what we call “Christianity” is divided into 40,000+ fractions but also most of the house churches that may not be divided by fractions are but divided by groups. Isn’t having “hundreds of mothers, brothers, sisters” is how Jesus defines His Church in the Scripture? He who leaves his father, mother, brothers, sisters, possessions, and even houses behind for His sake shall have hundreds of them. Add to that persecutions and the eternal life to come!”
My great brother Mike Peters who lives together with 300 saints for over 30 years now, says, “We don’t have Christian neighbors, we are a family. And because we are a family, we do not “support” a brother, we “help” a brother”. Seek real brothers and sisters in your city. There are Christians who are ready to abandon themselves for Christ. That’s the key issue here, we’re still full of ourselves with just ‘me and my family and no more’. We call that ‘selfishness’. That’s the very reason we don’t allow anybody to be a part of our family. A “very anti-kingdom gravitational force in the world” as Wolf reckons.
This takes a lot of relationship building. Anyhow, I don’t know about you but I don’t want to get old knowing that I settled down for the second best playing it safe.
“Seek first the kingdom, the people of God who live Christ’s life together in a given location.” If you transfer location because it has a better weather or a better job and salary, then you are not seeking the Kingdom of God first but second.
All what I’m trying to say is summed up in a nutshell in Acts 2:42-46. Let’s go back to the original pattern.
Many simple churches (as I have found reading on their websites and blogs or even just talking to house church Christians) are exhausted with their groups. Most have a hard time keeping up with their meetings. So some are encouraged to “rest in the Lord” – what it really means is that ‘stop for a while and start again the same old thing over again’. No real change! Others are encouraged to dissolve the group – this is scary for me. It’s so obvious that it’s not a family then.
These reasons and others, which may be qualified but I suspect that they are just an alibi where in fact the core problem of being exhausted is that they neither have raised into a family nor know how to raise others in the family. They may be growing in maturity but not growing together into a family as one body. The result is burnout and depression. Another great brother named Rod, in Butuan, shared with us when we were there recently that “impression without expression will lead to depression”. What a truth! How can we impress the world if we do not express it in our lives? How can we be the light in darkness if we shine exhaustion?
BUTUAN: EXHAUSTION OR EXPLOSION
I met Ronie, in Davao, in a friend’s wedding. We were discussing about making disciples so intensely that we forgot we have been standing for the last 40 minutes. A week later, he sends me a text message on my phone that he baptized five and that coming Sunday he will be baptizing more. I went to visit him with Jomie, a 2nd generation disciple and we baptized 7 people up to the 3rd generation along with Rod and Rex, the brothers.
My second visit to Davao was with Albert, my 1st generation disciple. Together we baptized 13 people up to the 3rd generation. Ronie, on the other hand, without us being there, keeps making disciples and baptizes them. We visited them when we were there a few days ago. I talked to Jay-r one night, one of the disciples there. He is married and lives next door to Ronie’s house. I asked him if he made some disciples. He did. Jay-r made his brother a disciple and his cousins as well.
On the first day of our Butuan trip, we arrived at 7:00 in the morning and were surrounded by leaders of the house churches in Butuan City. Everyone agreed that they have become tired of just having meetings. We had breakfast and lunch together and in between our “meatings” we discussed about how to make disciples. Making disciples is first off to be a follower of Jesus. Only when we focus in following Jesus, we can make others followers of Him. Many have become leaders, which means, they have shifted from having their focus on Jesus to themselves. First, we need to get rid of that deadly idea of becoming a leader. And instead we need to start following Jesus faithfully. That is how making disciples happens!
In the afternoon, many more house church groups came in and we had dinner together at Ronie’s house. Together we recognized that they have all become individual groups and its now time to become a family. Everyone stayed till midnight sharing about being a family (at least no one fell from the window!) and the next day we baptized 6 people. Some went ahead and started making their friends disciple of Jesus and we baptized 7 more. That night no one slept except me 😉 The room was full of fellowship, with women sharing and crying around the table while the men sitting on the floor. And me, right there on the couch snoring! 13 baptisms all in all in three days.
On the second night, many saints came together in Tan’s home as an extended family for a big feast. We roasted a whole pig – Lechon!
Three days later, we arrived in Cebu. A couple that we baptized in Butuan has already made a disciple. This couple has been trying to start their journey of making disciples. But God needed to carry them to a desert place where he could work on them a little more. Testing, trying and dying were necessary before they could launch out. And that’s what happened. They wanted to be baptized again, this time to be a part of the Kingdom of God. They decided to die for the King’s cause and so we buried them again! So far, to this day the 18th of April, 5 days after we left Butuan, this couple has baptized three people! This is not exhaustion, but explosion!