See also Spectrum’s interview with Milton Adams.
Although the history of Christian Spirituality is vast and wide, we kick off the “History of Spirituality” subcategory of this column by reflecting on a movement that, although old and timeless in the Christian Church, is relatively new within Western Adventism. Our reflection will focus on the momentum of the house church phenomenon, and the spiritual implications it has for modern Adventists.
Not very long ago, while speaking with one of Adventism’s leading evangelists, the two of us concurred on our expectation that house churches will soon sweep through North America, Europe, and other parts of the Western world. The question facing us as a church is, “How will we respond?”
We thought of three possibilities:
1) We will embrace a very old, new idea and take the risk of empowering a lay-led movement that is reminiscent of apostolic times.
2) We will be threatened by the house church movement and do everything in our power to “keep it” from the people.
3) We will use the popular “house church” lingo in an attempt to ride the wave, while denying the biblical theology of “church.” We will simply make some cosmetic adjustments that limit the lay power of a grass-roots movement.
Which path will we take? The verdict for Adventism is still out.
Paul, one of Christianity’s greatest missionaries, concludes numerous letters with “greet so-and-so and the church that meets in their house.” But when he writes to Philemon, he addresses his letter “to the church that meets in your home.”
It is here, in the sixth verse of Philemon, the only New Testament book specifically addressed to a house church, that we find a fundamental principle of spirituality. He says, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Emphasis added.)
After seventeen years spent pastoring conventional churches, I began to question- partly out of a growing conviction and partly from frustration– the premise of my role as religious CEO.
The conviction? After reading Revolution in the Church by Russell Burrill and his expanded research now available in his book, Recovering an Adventist Approach to the Life and Mission of the Local Church, I began to discover that, as a denomination, we ignored the counsel of Ellen White when we began to settle pastors over congregations.
The frustration? I understood the unspoken expectations and the job description church members had for me as their pastor. It was communicated in a number of ways: “Pastor, we pay our tithe so that you can do that.” “Pastor, you didn’t visit me in the hospital” (though I knew they had received numerous visits from church members and lay leaders that somehow didn’t “count”). “Pastor, I have someone I would like you to go visit.” “Pastor, so-and-so would like Bible studies.” Pastor, pastor, pastor. . . . And Paul says, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding…”
When I also considered the trends of Christianity in America as articulated in UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons and The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches by David T. Olson, I began to realize that the spirituality of what we call “church” is not growing and thriving.
But I was not alone in my observation. Commenting on the 20 million Christians who left conventional church to go find God between 2000 – 2005, George Barna says,
The new revolution differs in that its primary impetus is not salvation among the unrepentant but the personal renewal and recommitment of believers. The dominant catalyst is people’s desperation for a genuine relationship with God. The renewal of that relationship spurs believers to participate in spreading the gospel. Rather than relying on a relative handful of inspired preachers to promote a national revival, the emerging revolution is truly a grassroots explosion of commitment to God that will refine the Church and result in a natural and widespread immersion in outreach.
People are desperate to find and experience God. And when they do find him, the natural outcome is immersion in outreach, because now they have something worth sharing that is real and authentic in their own lives.
Having spent just nineteen months immersed in “Simple Church,” a new network of Adventist house churches, I have found this to be true. And it is precisely at this juncture that we must take a close and concise look at what the house church movement can contribute to Adventist spirituality:
First, spiritual revival
Simple Church lay-missionaries often tell me, “We realized that if we did not pick up the ball and do the work of ministry, it was not going to get done. There was no one else who would do it.” This is one of the most spiritually transformative revelations that can come upon a layperson, and it is one which I’ve come to believe is almost impossible in conventional church.
Second, a biblical job description for pastors and evangelists
According to Ephesians 4:12, pastors are not to do the work for the people, but are to “equip God’s people for the work of service.” For this to actually happen, conventional church needs to be restructured so that our theology and functional structures compliment, rather than contradict, each other. A biblical house church model naturally addresses this and places all of the work of ministry into the hands of lay-people. The result is personal ownership in the message and mission to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19).
Adventism has much to lose by not embracing the house church movement. It will lose revolutionaries and 21st century lay missionaries (disciple-makers) who are willing to rearrange their lives, resources, and influence around sharing the everlasting gospel of Jesus.
It will also lose out on potential Kingdom-growth, because obviously more disciple-makers means more disciples–which means more disciples-makers, and so on.
The verdict is indeed still out for our denomination. My prayer is for a spiritual revival to burst forth among God’s people within Adventism, such as has not been seen since apostolic times. May we be faithful.
Milton Adams is director of the Simple Church Network. He is a pastor, house church planter, and Adventist innovator currently employed by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
To learn more about Simple Church, go to www.SimpleChurchAtHome.com
You can also attend the March 21 webinar, “Simple Church – What is it? Why consider it? And how to start it” by registering at https://www.gotowebinar.com/register/115929592