Networking House Churches
Premise: Non-hierarchical relational and informational networking encourages a sense of connectedness and a healthy development of house church movements.
From our beginnings nearly twenty years ago, OIKOS Australia has been led to be a friend to the house church movement in our country. Our practice and understanding of networking has arisen from the experience of travelling and meeting with many house churches over that time. We did
not start with a theory of networking, but rather our understanding and conviction about networking has developed along with our practice. I write from this viewpoint.
A. Reasons for Networking
House churches can become discouraged for many reasons –
• Isolation often leading to lack of focus and irrelevance.
• Not knowing how to ‘break the mould’ of the institutional church they may have come from. Not allowing the Holy Spirit to lead their gatherings.
• Not reaching out in their community. Not sharing the Gospel and so becoming ‘ingrown’.
• Not knowing how to deal with differences and conflict effectively.
• Lack of vision. The Bible tells us that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov 29:18 KJV)
• Not knowing the ‘bigger picture’ of what God is doing in rebuilding His church in our day. Limited understanding.
Because of reasons like these, many house churches are ineffective, stunted in their growth, purposeless, and most experiencing these difficulties will close.
Some things that keep house churches healthy
• Building one another for the Kingdom. Growing in the ‘one anothers’ of the New Testament church life. A joyful experience of being discipled to Jesus and to one another.
• Having a ‘Kingdom of God’ focus.
• Alive prayer in their meetings.
• Joy in sharing in the Word of God.
• An outward focus – seeking those with whom the Lord would have them share the Gospel. Multiplying house churches around new disciples.
• Having a sense of the Global and National house church movement.
Knowing they are part of something big and alive that God is doing.
• Being in touch with other house churches in their region and so developing a sense of connectedness. ‘Cross pollenisation’ of news and encouragement.
• Gatherings and celebrations of house churches in regions.
• Shared ministries and gifts in a region.
House churches that have a relationship with other house churches in their region, and have access to news and information about other house church movements in their own country and overseas, are more likely to be healthy and missional. Strategies need to be in place to develop networking for these reasons. Networking, however, must be non-hierarchical but based rather on developing friendships and the sharing of the deposit of God’s wisdom, grace and gifts that He has given.
The early house churches partnered together as citywide networks in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-47), Rome (Rom 16:3-15), and Ephesus (Acts 20:17, 20), and as a regional network in Asia Minor (2 and 3 John; Rev 2 and 3). They were linked through leaders meetings (Acts 15:6, 20:17), large group events (Acts 2:44, 5:12, 20:20), apostolic visits (Acts 14:23, 15:36; 3 John 1:5-8), and apostolic letters (Acts 15:22-23).
B. Methods of Networking we use and see happening
Personal visiting of house churches. House church leaders who have experience and understanding of house church movements in this country and overseas, and who have spiritual, relational and practical skills to impart visit house churches in their region. Because we believe that church is all about relationships – with the Lord and with one another, we place a high priority on
personal contact and visiting is a top priority wherever and whenever possible. We see those with Ephesians 6 ministry gifts emerging, planting and building house churches.
Personal contact via the Internet and by phone, email and social
networking. The Internet is in place for Kingdom growth! So let’s use it to the max!
• A web site and Blog that provide up-to-date global and national house church news, reports of gatherings, resources that encourage life and vitality for house churches. Provision of links to overseas and wider country web sites is valuable. This allows groups to draw on the understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the wider context, the sharing of the ways of God, ideas, inspiration and encouragement.
• Podcasts, YouTube, DVDs available for viewing and downloading.
• Use of Facebook and Twitter.
• Key leaders keep in touch with house churches via email, Skype (or some other similar means), and the phone of course. We use these means to pray together and share news and ideas.
Gatherings of house churches. Gathering for celebration, seminars, sharing of resources, mutual responding to needs and concerns amongst leaders. OIKOS Australia encourages home churches to be in touch with each other in whatever ways are possible. All of this can enable people to grasp a deeper understanding of house church and to learn to have a Kingdom focus.
National and overseas house church events enhance networking. We encourage key leaders to access contact with interstate and overseas home church leaders and to attend conferences in order to bring back to the house churches those things that will build and bless.
Newsletter and other print material. Although most people have access to the Internet in our country, there are significant numbers who, due to living in remote areas, age or mobility, still rely on print media for their information. However, we have also found that hard copy newsletters and booklets in people’s hands are more likely to be read, kept or passed on, so this is a major means of contact we use.
Church planters often provide the means for house churches to network.
The Luke 10:2b prayer and planting movement has inspired many house churches to become outwardly focused. Some have been inspired by the spate of house church books and materials with a missional focus that have become available in recent times. House churches that are missional are more likely to form friendships with other house churches that can then lead to co-operative
and cohesive networking.
House churches keeping contact with the wider Body of Christ. We see this as important as we resist an ‘us and them’ situation. People who are on the house church journey seem to naturally network and find each other and maintain very dynamic relationship across the denominational spectrum. Such openness reflects a significant shift in attitude from earlier times and demonstrates the work of God’s Spirit as God builds His church in new ways.
Summary. We are beginning to see that networks are forming because of the friendships that have grown and especially the relationships that home churches have developed with key leaders in their region. We see these regional networks providing the way forward for house churches to grow healthily and to multiply to reach those whom God is seeking to bring into His Kingdom. Individual house churches can be effective, but networks of house churches can have a dynamic impact on a city or region.
Networking has allowed us to understand how God is working and transforming the culture and identity of His church across Australia. Through networking we have been able to identify trends and shifts in house church practice from the elementary question of how do we do it t the deeper spirituality of living God’s Kingdom life in the present realm. Life transformation matters show powerfully the Holy Spirit is at work reviving topics which have been off the radar screen for a long time.
C. A danger we always need to be aware of
It is very easy for enthusiasm to run away with us. We see what is possible and we want to make it more so and put systems into place and expect God to fit into them. Or we see opportunities of ministry and jump in to make a name for ourselves. When things are really moving along, it is very easy to be caught up with success and very subtly the enemy moves us aside from the straight path God wants for us. It is important that we have anointed hearing to really hear what Jesus is saying and anointed eyes to perceive His way forward step by step. Especially, we need anointed hearts of total obedience. We need to keep in step with Him. Not one step behind for sure, but certainly not one step ahead either. It is the Lord’s church and work. Not our work except under His careful eye and guidance.
We are aware of the emergence of the apostolic and prophetic that is coming through the house church movement along with the other ministry gifts. We have a saying in OIKOS – ‘Look for the anointing, and don’t do appointing’. Where we see the anointing, we need to encourage and enable the gifts. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost remind us in their book ‘The Shaping of Things to Come’ –
“The missional church adopts an apostolic, rather than a hierarchical, mode of
leadership. By apostolic we mean a mode of leadership that recognises the
fivefold model detailed by Paul in Ephesians 6. It abandons the triangular
hierarchies of the traditional church and embraces a biblical, flat-leadership
community that unleashes the gifts of evangelism, apostleship, and prophecy,
as well as the currently popular pastoral and teaching gifts.”
In conclusion. We indeed live in the most exciting time of church history! Let us stay very close to Jesus and to one another and move as the Holy Spirit equips and leads us. The best is yet to be.
Bessie Pereira – Director of OIKOS Australia