One of the greatest challenges in the formation of a successful house church is to decide what to do when you gather on Sunday. In this blogpost I will share what has been very helpful to us in our local group here in Clemson. Please realize that this is just an example and not given as a formula. First of all, it has been very important for us to resist the tendency to simply become a smaller version of what we have done for many years. As was described in a previous blogpost, house church is not "Honey, I shrunk the church." Our group has two members who have more than 25 years experience leading large churches. It would have been very easy for one of us to simply preach or teach every Sunday. We also have two members in our group who were involved in leading the worship in larger churches. In the same fashion, it would have been very easy for them to dominate the singing. Our desire was to gather in such a way where "all the parts of the body" would be recognized and each of us would be able to use our gifts. We believe that the church functions optimally when a typical Sunday gathering is conducted in this fashion. Gathering with his mentality fosters a culture that can be easily imitated, thus producing a church model that has an opportunity to become both viral and transformational.
That being said, it has been quite difficult to accomplish this task. There have been moments of awkward silence, confusion, and unmet expectations as we have struggled to "find our way". We are very thankful for the support of Kent Smith from Abilene Christian University and the Luke 10 community (LK10.com). With their help we have been able to establish two "rhythms" that have been very significant in our progress. For the last several weeks we have been focused on listening to one another and listening to God. This typically takes about two hours. We then, have the Lord's supper as a full meal. I will attempt to describe what this looks like and why it might be important.
1. Listening to one another. The idea here is that as God's children what is going on in our hearts is very important. 1Corinthians 11:29 says that when we gather we should "recognize the body of the Lord". The context indicates that this is not talking about the physical body of Jesus but His body the church. When we gather our father desires for his children to be recognized or considered. Some translations say discerned. This means each person's opinions, participation and presence is important and needs to be valued. Colossians 2:9 describes this as well when Paul says that "all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness Christ." Again, we see the importance of recognizing the body of believers. One of the ways the fullness of Christ is demonstrated is through the body of believers sharing and speaking from their hearts.
With these thoughts in mind, we have found it very helpful to use the acronym "SASHET" to aid us in sharing from our hearts. "SASHET" means "sad, angry, scared, happy, excited and tender." Using this as a guide we share what emotion best describes what we are feeling that day or week. Everyone can choose not to share or to share at whatever level they feel comfortable with. We have been encouraged by how this has helped us form community. We have found that mutual self-disclosure produces intimacy. We have also been encouraged at how quickly this has connected us with our guests and with the teens and children. This simple discipline puts us all at the same "level" and makes everyone feel a part of what we are doing. Many times, first time guests have shared deeply what is going in their lives. We become close very quickly and feel a genuine concern for one another. We then have a time of prayer about the things that were shared.
2. Listening to God. After the time of prayer, we take about 10 minutes where everyone goes to a place of quiet and considers what we believe Jesus wants to tell the church. We then come back together and those that desire to share, share what the Lord has put on their hearts. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 14:26 this could be a Bible text, a hymn, a song, or simply a word of challenge or encouragement. We have been amazed at how many times a common theme emerges. It really seems as if the Lord is speaking to us. While this part has been more challenging to accomplish, we are seeing Jesus work through His body to "build us up in love." It has been encouraging to see the collective body at work. Of course, those with teaching gifts or preaching gifts can use this time to spur the body on towards love and good deeds. However, we are inspired by how God uses each of us to accomplish this.
We then have the Lord's supper as a full meal together. This is a true celebratory time where we consider what it will be like to be in heaven together gathered at the "wedding supper of the Lamb." I like to think of this time as a "dress rehearsal" for the great banquet in heaven. We are typically together for at least three hours. As I mentioned earlier, this is not meant as a "formula" that should be imitated, but as an example of how church can be done simply and effectively. We want to be led by the Spirit so what we do in the future may be different. We are the body of Christ, and where two or three of us gather, the Lord is there with us!!!