I admit that to the untrained eye, I am something of a biblical and theological mutt. There is no pedigree to my background. My theology degrees include a Bachelors from a Catholic/Charismatic University, (Yep you read that right) two years of study at a very liberal Presbyterian seminary, a Masters degree from an Evangelical/Anglican school, and a Doctorate from a conservative Reformed/Presbyterian school. I grew up in an unchurched family that had loose connections to the Roman Catholic Church, came to Christ through a ministry called Young Life, was a leader in a fellowship of about 100 people that met as a large group and as house churches. I was pastor of a large Presbyterian church, planted a church from scratch starting with only our family and am now a one of five pastors on staff of a non-denominational mega church of about 10,000 people a week. Definitely a mongrel. No AKC papers for me giving my lengthy pedigree of church affiliation or listing a family of ministers going back four generations. I am a mutt through and through.
But you know what? I like being a mutt. The right kind of mutt can take full advantage of the best of all the things that make up being a mutt. Granted a mutt can never win the Westminster Kennel Club Championship, but hey, that’s over rate anyway. What self respecting mutt would ever want to be forced to prance around a ring with a bunch of other dogs named things like, Henry Fastidious Excelsior Minor IV just to see which of them is the “perfect” representation of the breed? Give me a dog named Spike who is part German Shepard part Collie any day. He would love you to death and keep annoying sales people away at the same time. The best of both breeds. And as long as you got the short hair of the Shepard you solve the shedding problem too.
So what does that have to do with House Churches and Mega Churches? Simply this, I think the picture of the church in the New Testament is more mutt than pure bred. Sadly most of us approach it as if it is pure bred and that our version is clearly the “perfect” representation of the breed. We prance around our theological and ecclesiastical show rings hoping to win the prize. I experienced this first hand one day when I asked a group of House Church leaders if they called their group a House Church, or Simple Church, or Organic Church, all terms in common use. One of the guys looked me square in the eye and said, we call it Real Church. Okay, then I guess what I have is fake church. On the other side of things I have heard numerous pastors of more conventional churches say that house churches are “not really churches”. I am convinced neither of those responses are Biblical.
What I saw in the New Testament the first time I read it in 1974 was an incredible variety in the way ministry and “church” was done. Sometimes they met in large groups of hundreds and thousands. Sometimes, often times they met in small settings of homes. Sometimes they met in public places like the Temple, or the local community center that they called a gymnasium. In larger cities it was different from smaller cities. In places where there were lots of believers it was different from places with only a few. The church in the first few centuries was far from being a monolithic pure bred. It was way more like a mutt than most of us are comfortable with.
In a recent round table discussion with about to dozen leaders of Mega Churches and House Churches it became obvious that none of us has it right. None of us are the “perfect” representation of this thing we call Church. There are lots of things we can learn from one another. There are lots of things we can do together if we focus not on our “breed” but on King Jesus and His Kingdom.
In listening to these various leaders, both in the context of the meeting and as we shared meals together I learned a lot about how much we are alike and how much we need each other. How are we alike? Well we all need to be given huge amounts of grace from others because we are not one anothers enemy. We are one anothers family. We might think that the other is more like our crazy uncle Larry, but they are still family. The tactic of our real enemy is always to bring division and then pick off the weakest member of the pack. I learned that neither group is very good at discipleship. House Churches are good at community but that is not the same thing. Mega Churches are good at classes and the like, but that is not discipleship either. Growing radical followers for Jesus who are sold out to Him by pouring our lives into them so they pass that on to others, now that is discipleship.
I also learned how we need one another and can take the best of both and make a difference for Jesus. Mega Churches need to learn how to have community and care for people on a personal level better than they do. House Churches need to learn how to serve beyond the boundaries of their group and be part of a global church. Mega Churches can bring some of the best teaching, resources, and logistical support that we could ever hope for as we work to serve the King. House Churches bring a nimbleness, an openess to the move of the Spirit that allows us to see and hear what God is doing that might not fit our strategic plan.
What is important in all this is that we begin to realize that we are all “mutts” and that we need each other for the sake of the King and His Kingdom. There is no “perfect” representation of the “breed”. There is however a perfect representation of the “Bride”. It is a Bride that Jesus is perfecting to present to Himself in glory. I think it is about time that we the Bride start getting our act together and cooperate with one another for the sake of the Groom.