Try to start a church these days, and you might find it a more complicated a process than you originally imagined. People expect from you: business plans and support letters; vision and mission statements; a strategy to purchase, rent, or build a building; 5 to 10 year plans; financial profitability; and denominational approvals. Once you launch, people ask, “When are you going to get a building of your own?”, as though you’re not a real church until you’ve have one, along with video projection, sound equipment, Powerpoint, MediaShout, and any other software packages you might endeavor to use. I know, I’m in the middle of planting a Church, and I hear the questions first-hand from people. Since when though, do the financial assets of a church define its viability, usefulness, or future? Would the early Church have survived if they had to be financially stable enough to build a building and hire a pastor, or is Church a bigger concept than a line-item budget and a business plan? When I tell people that I’m planting a house church, they get even more confused, like the two words “house” and “church” could never co-exist in the same sentence. Some are brave enough to ask what a house church is, others more intuitively figure it out, and most wonder “Why?” with the strangest looks on their faces. You would have thought I had put Kryptonite in front of Superman. “It’s a church that meets in a house,” I often explain. “But when are you going to build a building?” is usually the first question people ask. “Never,” I respond. “Oh…”
Why then, would I go and build a building-less, wall-less church? I asked myself that same question for a long time. Why? Because the church doesn’t make sense any more.
Just after I had left my 8 year position as youth pastor in an upcoming contemporary model church, a pastor friend of mine asked to meet with me to talk over what God was calling me to. I sat down with him over coffee at the local intravenous caffeine hole, and told him what I knew deep within my spirit God was calling me to. He replied, “Man, it’s a great idea, but I don’t think it works financially.” “Works financially? Works financially?”, I remember screaming to myself in my head, hoping that the yelling between my ears wouldn’t show on my face. “Is that it,” I thought? Is that what church has whittled down to? Is that what it has become, God’s vision for his precious Bride– this money making entity that concerns itself first and foremost with its own financial existence and dollar-value prosperity? My heart sank in that moment and I felt a wave of grief come over me, not because of what he spoke particularly, but because of what it seems the Church has become in our time. It has become a place of numbers and business strategies, mathematical equations and programs, buildings and assets. The truth is, my pastor was right, though. This vision God has given me to build a house church ministry would have a hard time making money. House church doesn’t make cents, despite the fact that it was the first kind of Church known to man, and now I wonder, was it an advantage that professional pastors didn’t really make money off of her? The early Church seemed to be free of the trappings of paid clergy who have the “security” of getting a regular paycheck from their church, and all the asset management that goes along with it. Is that such a bad thing, though? Was it ever intended to be this financially driven endeavor? Jesus didn’t send out support letters. The disciples didn’t
suddenly abandon their careers as fisherman when Jesus pulled up on the beach. Paul continued to make tents. Money went to take care of the needs of the people. Acts 2 puts it this way, “And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshipped together… and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.” No plans to acquire land and build a building, no corporate strategies, just God connecting with people who then connected with others, and shared everything they had. Where is that in today’s church? Where did it go? Whatever happened to sharing? Whatever happened to the relational nature of church being primary? Have we lost it? Has it been dumbed down to writing a monthly tithe check to pay for the pastor and a church building, a building, that by the way, for many churches, SITS EMPTY 6 DAYS A WEEK.
There is a holy wrestling in me, something I cannot explain away, and that I hardly have words for, yet my heart wants to explode for the passion of what God has put inside me. Church is not about money! How can we continue to go on like this, where Church has been relegated to being this business entity, with customers we please, clients we counsel, and vendors we hire? Can we continue to do church like this? Is this what the incarnation of Christ, HIS BODY, is left to in the modern era? Is it about building more buildings that sit empty most of the week? It can’t be. O Father, please don’t let it be so. Restore your church to who she was, to the relational endeavor she once was, your Bride, with whom you encountered daily and loved with the most intimate kind of loving friendship.
House church, may not make cents (money), and I may have to “tentmake”—work other jobs to support my wife and my 4 little children—for the rest of my life, but house church makes sense. It is not cluttered by programs. It is not “drawn up” in the board room, nor is it a financially driven endeavor. Money need not be the root of the Church. House church is not cluttered with building programs. The Church is God’s people, simple, meeting together, not just once a week, but doing life together in relationship. Church does not end when the sermon is done. It is a week-long interactive experience, where money is not the focus or issue, where we are in and out of each other’s homes. Worship doesn’t begin and end on a Sunday morning, but is a life experience. What money is given goes to help those who need help, and best of all, money is not the driving force behind it. The Church can survive without money.
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like today if the Church had continued to meet in homes, instead of building buildings down through the ages? I wonder what it would be like, if all the money that is being spent daily on church buildings, even today, were spent taking care of those in need, widows, and orphans, like the Bible says. Where would our nation be? Where would our world be? Would poverty have been elimintated? Would there be fewer poor people? Would we be more in touch with those who need help in our world, instead of huddled around the fire in our own little hovels, proud of what we can build and the comfort of the new sanctuary chairs? Church is meant to be other. It is primarily a relational endeavor, first with God and then with each other (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”). Church is not some organizational financial endeavor; it is
not like building a Super Wal-Mart. In fact, it’s not even an endeavor at all, it’s an experience. When you meet a friend, you don’t measure them by the size of their bank account or how much money they make. Church is likewise, and no, it doesn’t make cents. It’s not designed to. But it does make sense, if you’re willing to set aside the corporate-ness of what Church has become in our world and look at the heart of what Jesus created it to be.
© John Lehmberg, Make It Loud Consulting