(This post is a follow-up post to last week’s State of the Church talk… if you haven’t read that or heard the audio at bloomchurchdenver.com, it might be helpful to do so)
Hey Bloomsters –
So it occurred to me following last week’s “State of the Church” talk that there were perhaps a few… or many… or most… okay, maybe all of you, who walked away from our gathering going, “YES! – Gardens of resurrection, house churches, infecting Denver with the kingdom, etc etc etc…. I can get behind that!” and then had this thought occur to you, “So what the freak is a ‘garden of resurrection‘ ?”
In reflecting on said ambiguity, I thought it would be good to take a couple weekends to dive straight into our philosophy of house church – the what, why, and how – as a way of clearing away the fog and helping you discern where and how you fit in that picture. Once again, we had some audio issues this past weekend, so, until we get that all worked out, let this blog post suffice… and PLEASE, if Bloom’s your home, be sure to read this.
To retrace our steps ever so briefly – We believe that we are called to build a church in which formational and missional concerns drive the discussion, rather than “How do we put more butts in the seats on Sunday?” That is not to say that “numbers” do not matter. It is to say that there are certain kinds of numbers that matter, and some that don’t, and we want to make sure we’re always clear on which is which.
To that end, we could say it like this:
The Vision of Bloom is to become a congregational network of house churches (“gardens of resurrection”) spread throughout the Greater Denver area, infecting it with the Kingdom.
We conceive of a church in which the “gathering” is a result of our commitment to Jesus’ call to make disciples and live in his mission, rather than the other way around.
Our dream is to have the Greater Denver area:
- Saturated with “gardens of resurrection” (house churches)
- Which gather regularly and regionally in order to
- Journey together into their common identity in Christ as the family of faith, cultivating themselves in ever-fresh ways into the work of God in the mission of Jesus, both personally and corporately
So then, the question becomes, “What exactly is a house church?” We define it thus:
House Churches are…
- Communities of radical formation into the way and life of Jesus (gardens of resurrection life)
- Which exist to journey together into their common identity in Christ as the family of faith
- With the goals of:
- Being formed both individually and corporately for deeper engagement with God’s mission, and
- Multiplying (giving away) what God is working in their midst
That is to say, we see Bloom house churches maybe a little differently than your average church “small group.” Our house churches really are what they claim to be – living, local expressions of the Body of Christ composed of people who are doing life together in such a way that they really, truly, operate as a “family of faith”, being formed together for the kingdom. They are places of love, safety, accountability, hospitality, welcome, formation, identity, mutual service, sharing… the list could go on and on, and you get the point. This is “ekklesia” folks, in as robust a New Testament sense as we can imagine.
So why do we do it this way? Well, the truth is that whenever a gathering of believers starts to transcend the living room (moving more and more into the arena of “public space”), something is lost. That’s not to say that “public space” is bad. Heck, we do a public thing. IT IS TO SAY THAT THERE ARE CERTAIN KINDS OF FORMATION THAT CANNOT TAKE PLACE EITHER BY ATTENDING OR “SERVING AT” A PUBLIC GATHERING.
Even more, we tend to think that there are certain kinds of formation that can’t even be touched by doing your typical “small group Bible study” or “men’s accountability group.” Having to be in a “family” does something to you that even being in a “small group” can’t.
NOW THAT IS NOT TO SAY THAT (geez with the caveats here, right?) what we’ve stumbled into at Bloom is the ne plus ultra of how to do spiritual formation in community in 21st century North America… it’s just to say that we’ve tried to follow the Spirit in fleshing out our convictions here at Bloom, and this is what we’ve come up with.
That said, what we love about what the Lord has led us into is how robust it is. Sometimes, attempts at building community in the local church suffer from being too narrow or reductionistic. They’re focused ONLY on accountability. Or ONLY on study. Or ONLY on fellowship. Or ONLY on reaching the lost. Or ONLY on discovering your gifts. Or ONLY on service. Need I continue? What we tend to think is, “Why can’t we have it all? And wouldn’t it be good for us to belong to a community which embodied all these concerns?”
All right, now I’m rambling… so if you come to a Bloom house church, what actually happens? Let me break it down for you, piece by piece.
A meal is served. When the family gets together, we don’t just go from 0 to 60 on dealing with all the deepest, darkest secrets of our lives. We eat food, debrief on the day, reconnect with each other, and laugh like buffoons. It’s a time to decompress out of the helter-skelter of the day and into the warm glow of community.
We gather in the living room, welcoming everyone. Again, there is a gentleness to it all. We don’t crack open Romans and start throwing punches over “does hilasterion mean propitiate or expiate!?”. We say hi. We welcome newcomers. We breathe.
We give thanks. We spend time giving anyone and everyone a chance to give thanks for things that have gone well for them of late… we do this because it trains us to “name the goodness” that comes into our lives as a gift straight from the hand of the Creator. That is to say, nothing good has ever happened to you that God was not totally involved in. God is never further away from you than your last breath. That goes a long way towards defusing the despair that so often seeks to engulf us.
We engage the Scriptures. But we don’t do it in a way that puts us in a position of power over the Scriptures, debating this or that jot and tittle. Instead, we dim the lights and have someone read the Scripture for the night (often this text has something directly to do with our identity in Christ) over us. They read it slowly, carefully, meditatively, MINISTERING the text to us. When they’re finished, we sit quietly and let the “word” of God resound in the chambers of our souls. We don’t analyze it. We AWAKEN to it. And as we awaken to it, we give thanks, or pray, or speak words of encouragement over the group. God’s word truly becomes “living and active” in this moment. We read the text one more time to bookend this moment, and then we move on (always resisting the ever-present temptation to linger too long at one station… there’s a self-control that’s demanded here).
We discuss. But truly, the “discussion” is the smallest piece of our gathering. And this is VERY “on purpose.” There are few things that Christians love more than getting together with other Christians to talk about God or the Bible or Theology for several hours and then go home feeling like they’ve done something. The truth is that they’ve done nothing, or maybe, if they have done something, that something tends to be negative. From our perspective and in our experience, over-much discussion has the effect of pushing us OUT OF the realm of submission and obedience and INTO… well, into a whole bunch of really negative things, not least our narcissism. So we limit our discussion time to a very focused topic that engages us for obedience.
We pray… for two things. FIRST, we pray for whatever needs and concerns may be present (and there are always many). We pray for grace and help and mercy and healing and discernment. We take time, if the Holy Spirit prompts, to speak words of hope and encouragement to each other. We ask for light to break into the darkness. We pray, with the Psalmist, that in all of it the person would find themselves “taught by God” how to walk and live faithfull.
SECOND, we pray for “persons of peace” – folks outside of Christ who, through our relationship with them, it would seem that the Holy Spirit is working to draw them into the kingdom. We pray over those folks, for the person in our group who is connected to them, and together we ask the question, “Are we supposed to enter this story, Lord? And if so, how?” We’re eager to manifest the kingdom to them, and pray for grace to know how exactly to do that.
We take Communion. Our gatherings are bookended by our “tables.” The first table where we encounter each other. The second table where we encounter the Risen Christ. We do this because in so doing we’re formed to remember that God’s Gift to us always precedes whatever we think about and do for and offer to him. We do this because in so doing we learn to refer all of our lives over to God and his work in, through, and for us. That is to say, we do this because through it we find ourselves “gospeled” over and over again. This keeps our gatherings from ending in moralism or self-helpism. We end with God… which is why:
We close with the Doxology. We bless the One “from whom all blessings flow”, joining with creation in giving praise to the Triune God. We do this because this is where our Story ends – with COSMIC THANKSGIVING. We enter the realm of the eschatological… the transcendent… the eternal… by ending our gatherings there.
And so the family gathered… we started in the kitchen… we wound up in the deepest recesses of God’s goodness and love and holy beauty. And what we have found is that something about doing this together forms us – individually and corporately – in PROFOUND WAYS. We find ourselves, together and separately, becoming more and more the beloved children of God.
How does that sound to you? I imagine that it sounds fantastically pedestrian. We think that’s part of what’s beautiful about it. No sound and lights. No gimmicks. Just God and his people together, in “the beauty of holiness” through which we are formed together for his goodness and love.
So there you have it, Bloomizens… next week we’ll be talking about what makes all of this “missional” and how we understand that word, so you won’t want to miss it. In the meantime, be reminded that there are FOUR NEW HOUSE CHURCHES STARTING UP, and if you’re not connected to one, we’d be glad to facilitate that process for you. Just let us know.
As always, much love goobers…