my thoughts about a home church

recently, my wife and a friend started talking and dreaming about a home church (jeannie likes to call it a spiritual community), something contemplative and honest and exploratory and intimate. a few weeks ago, 10 of us met for the first time. i don’t know 6 of the other people yet at all; and, though we had dinner together, i ended up sitting at a different part of the table, and didn’t get to know them. so it’s still a strange thing. and none of us have actually committed to it yet, because we haven’t really defined what it is yet.

this past saturday, they group met to start listening to each others dreams and desires about what a group like this. i wasn’t able to join them. so i wrote up my thoughts, a modified form of which i’ll share here…

a little backstory: i have developed a love/hate relationship with evangelicalism. i love my roots, i love the commitment to people, iI love the commitment to praxis, i love the commitment to fresh forms, and the passion for jesus. and i still hold to most of the central tenants of classical evangelicalism. however, i hate what pop-evangelicalism has become – a circle-the-wagons exclusive group more interested in defining who’s in and out than in engaging culture and loving the world with the love of jesus. i am sometimes repulsed by the black-and-whiteness of calcifying evangelical theology and the complete removal of mystery from worship and the life of the believer (of course, these are overstatements, and wonderful exceptions can be found all over the place).

my desires: i long for a place of contemplative, communal worship, of honesty about questions and doubts (a place where questions and doubts are seen as more valuable to a spiritual journey than answers and resolve), and a place where all voices are welcome. and, to be honest, i want a place that is not dominated by people like me: males, specifically, as well as strong leader types with quick opinions and strong vision. i want a spiritual community that compliments, or brings some necessary balance to my normal proclivities: a community that values slow, that values the voices of women, that doesn’t have a master plan. oh, and i’d really love a place where it makes sense to worship alongside my children, rather than having them farmed-out to a chuck e. church.

my concerns: i have two concerns that have been percolating. first, i’m concerned that the tiny dream (maybe more accurately, a tiny longing) that was birthed in the hearts of my wife and her friend, and later including a third friend, could easily get steamrolled by people with louder voices, prior discussions about their communal longing, prior relationships, and stronger opinions. part of what so attracts me to this group is the opportunity to follow my wife, to allow for an inverted space where her voice is truly equal or more heard than mine. i am not saying that i want my wife and her friends to be our “pastors” or “leaders” or “elders”. but i do hope for a bit of a matriarchy where their initial leaning to begin this group is patiently, humbly, and quietly listened to.

second, i’m concerned about a pre-set approach to what this group or home church is, even from people embracing a contemplative approach. as much as i thought the list of descriptors one person suggested sounded like a church I would love to attend, it also put up red flags for me, because it was so close to being a system, a pre-designated road map for this group, rather than something that evolved out of the collective voice of the community.

let me put this a different way. deconstructionist philosophers talk about truth being an event. even more specifically, they say truth is a “communal event.” this is in opposition to the idea that truth is external, rationalized and static. in other words, truth is what arises from the collective voice of a community. and they use the word “event” to lock it to time and space, rather than absolute and external. the implications of this are:

in the same way, emerging church leaders are talking about theology (and even orthodoxy) as a community event. this really describes what i long for in this group: a community where praxis (theology and practice together) will arise from our individual and collective discernment, not from a static, external source. i’d love that list of the things we saw, but would want to be careful that anything like that would inform our dialogue, not define our dialogue, or us.

(by the way: for anyone having a heart attack over my comment pushing away from truth being found in a static, external source… remember: the bible is not a static, external source. it’s the living word of god.)

20 thoughts on “my thoughts about a home church”

  1. i know nothing . . . but a few thoughts as I read the above – Firstly, don’t over think it. Just enjoy being part of it. Secondly, be there. It’s great to read about it, but – you need to be there when it happens. If you are worried your wife and her friend might get steam rollered, be there to support and encourage and it is less likely to happen? Oh, and whatever it is, one person always carries a vision for something more strongly than anyone else – that is your leader (or whatever you want to call them), don’t be restricted by labels, but don’t think that just cause you are using words like “communal” that it doesn’t need a leader / spiritual guide . . .

  2. Mark I like your questions on truth – this is a topic i want to study over the next six months and perhaps write about. Can you point me to some of the best deconstructionist philosophers talking about truth being a (communal) event.

    Jesus said he was the truth, so that may leave the way open for truth to be in some ways both static and external to many things and people, but also perhaps partially internal to others and an event?

    Keep it up.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. Me and my wife are having similar thoughts and dreams, and it’s good to hear about the potential dangers you’re describing.
    I second your concern about the risk of having people “taking over”, but it shouldn’t hold you back from pursuing this. If it is something that you want to shape together, not sticking to a preset list or model, then I guess at some point there will be different opinions and potential conflict.
    Just some random thoughts. I look forward to hearing more about your adventures. ;-)

  4. david — i would suggest you start with someone who interprets them in our context, rather than going straight to the deconstructionists themselves (at least to start). i haven’t posted on it yet, but the best book i’ve read on this lately is pete rollins’ book, “how (not) to speak of god”.

  5. Marko – we’ve only met once but we have TONS of mutual buddies. I not only understand your questions, confusions, dreams and heartfelt hopes. Let’s just say that I affirm where the Spirit is taking you and your wife…whatever the “form” becomes, the spirit of a gathering that is simple and profound is bound to be something that challenges your thinking and being as a Christ-follower. I’ve been “doing this” for two years now…it has been a frustratingly joyous journey. It is “oxymoronic” in the sense that it is fun, exciting but gut-wrenching all at the same time. Community is a great idea until we try and start living it. Go for it brother! I love reading your blog and praying for you, YS and the life’s responsibilities to a God-honoring vision that you are living. By the way, if you haven’t read “Organic Church” by Neil Cole, read it!
    In Jesus,
    Robin Dugall
    [email protected]
    Youth Leadership Institute/ReNew Ministries
    Eagle, Idaho

  6. I am encouraged to know that I’m not the only one who’s thinking outside the walls of McChurch. I’ve been a vocational youth guy for twelve years now and am on the cusp of pulling the plug. I want to experience the body of Christ organically and relationally. Church the way we’ve done it is missing substantial parts of Christian community, spontaneity, and life.

    I believe it is OK to strike out on the journey toward our dreams. There is only one life to live. I want to live it before it’s too late.

    Thanks for the inspiring post.

  7. marko, this is very exciting. I think as a whole the church needs to have a variety of expressions in the ways that we are the church. I do find one thing interesting that YS in some regards is a part of and leader of the evangelical system of “doing church” and the president of this corporation is looking at changing how he worships in community. I wonder how this will change ys and by exstention youth ministry? I for one will be paying attention.

  8. When we were over in Germany as missionaries, my wife and I met with a couple of families for a couple of years for home church. It was started partially due to the lack of choices in churches, but primarily because of our desire to experience what you have described you are looking for and frustrated with. It was a great time and we learned a ton, mostly about what not to do like create formulas. Probably the biggest bonus was with our kids. It was great to have them with us throughout the singing, sharing, praying and eating. I encourage you to keep checking it out. A great book on it is, “Houses that change the world” by Wolfgang Simson.

  9. I understand your concerns. Last year the ministry I work with started a “church”. It began as a cheese and wine evening where people came and we just hung out and discussed life. However, it has become so structured that I don’t want to attend the church that I was supposed to help start. I now looks like a churches pathetic attempted at something “cool” or “different”. I have no advice, just a testimony of how easily we can fall back into routines of the past. Cheers.

  10. You say you don’t like the “exclusive group” that the church has become but how is starting your own group less exclusive?

  11. tim, when i referred to “exclusivity”, i’m referring to a rigidity of thinking, as well as a homogeneaity of thinking — “you can only attend our church is you think exactly like we believe on all points.” actually, many of the best evangelical churches are the LEAST exclusive in terms of “desiring” for everyone to come join them. that’s always been one of the hallmarks of evangelicalism (one i appreciate).

    as to the exclusivity of the home church. well, this is a fair question. we’ve talked about it already. while the issue i was addressing wasn’t about whether the group is open to new people (the way you’re asking about exclusivity), it IS an issue; and i have no interest in being part of a home church with 10 people who become ingrown and a tiny club. a home church doesn’t necessitate exclusivity.

  12. My greatest fear… One that would take hours to discuss and hundreds of pages to record… is this: For each movement of God, and for every clear direction to a Christo-centric community I hear the rumblings of people looking to jump in and get all they can from the new experience. In a small way, and certainly one which causes even greater consternation, oppression and struggle seem historically to be the tool that God has used most effectively to redefine… or simply reshape the Church. We speak often of the local, small c church experience. In third world countries where death is the punishment for Church with the big “C” these conversations are not being had. I hear so many (not a criticism of those looking to develop a more intimate body life) desiring to take on the role of reformer. The price for that role generally is death, poverty and loneliness. I am not intending to be a wet blanket here. I just have many deep seated concerns. I also wonder if the bi-product of being a “PROTESTant” isn’t a skeptisism of the machine.
    For good or bad, God has used it, just as He will use the next swing of the pendulum. For me, working with rural people, whose training is minimal, and whose spiritual depth has been deadened by years of ineffective pulpits (not to mention the effects of poverty on the rural psyche)and for whom “home-school” can often best be described as “fear-based education” or excused truancy, I am concerned.
    This area struggles with a genuine lack of spiritual vision. I do not desire to sound “Maxwellian” but without leadership (vision) the people cast off restraint. I watched as small churches of 50, who possessed intimacy and relationship, attempted to grasp the concept of Willow Creek style small groups. Now the pendulum has swung again.
    Many people in our rural communities will rally around the cry of “smaller is better”.
    It is a valid discussion in an area where trained leaders and intuitive questioners abound. Here it may become the dialogue of the frightened, bored or disgruntled. We already have hundreds of small, intimate and unfriendly churches.
    My question, which seems to be more of a rambling diatribe, is this. What becomes of the established, now archaic monolith we thought was church just twenty years ago?

  13. Marko, I’m interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this: if God (His character) is external from us and static (unchanging), wouldn’t truthful theology (theology that really reflects God) be something external and static that we have to find rather than something that arises out of ourselves? That is, I’m interesting in hearing more about your goals as a community–do you see yourselves as ultimately discovering true, static, external things about an absolute, unchanging God through the workings of the community (and you’re just asking for freedom from others’ expectations to discern those truths together as a new community), or are you describing something else (e.g., the truth about God is not external and static, but is as your community defines it)? And if something else, could you expand on that a little? It sounds more like you’re saying the former, but I’m not sure I understand. Thanks!

  14. Marko, I would humbly suggest reading, “Go and Do LIkewis: Jesus and Ethics” by the late William Spohn. This is a tremendous book on ethics and the life of the follower of Christ. He writes that spirituality “in the traditional sense means almost the opposite of the current poplular notion of spirituality. It signifies practical ways of praying, serving and living that connect the faith convictions of a tradition to a particulat time and place.” It seems like this is what you are getting at – tradition with this particular place and time. However, Spohn does warn us, “problems arise when a lived spirituality is cut off from an adequate reflective framework, that is, from tradtions and communities that could provide normative theological and thical guidance. I their absence, spiritual practices are often justified by appeal to unexamined cultural commonplaces or narcissitic good feelings which are ripe for self-deception.” I would gently ask you to not completly abandon the tradtional church. We have many good things still left and a wonderful history. I would agree that we need to reach out, through a community effort, and show the love of Christ to those around us. If you are tired of evangelicalism, maybe try Anabaptism. We are founded upon following Christ’s actions and worshipping in community. May God bless you, your family and the others as you seek to follow him more faithfully.

  15. it just seems plain odd to comment/ critique /question/ muse on personal and somewhat intimate thoughts written into a specific community.

  16. Wow……….so many are feeling a yearning for the same changes in how they practice their relationship with the body of believers. The original “church” looked a lot more like a home fellowship of Jewish believers than any McChurch in existance today! I am finding that the nature of God is more unchanging than the traditional church has taught and that the lessons and truths of the old testament are still living and true, as the God who embodies the Word remains living and true. Freedom from tradition starts with taking the Bible at it’s word and building personal practice from there…..God honors that…..I’m witnessing it daily. I will be following your journey with great interest……….bon voyage.

  17. “remember: the bible is not a static, external source. it’s the living word of god.”

    Perhaps the mystery of the Bible is that it is somehow both?

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