Houses That Change the World - Excerpt

  "If we will stop only bringing people to the church and start bringing the church to the people, we will see incarnational and apostolic-prophetic movements emerge that will shake the nations and truly overcome any lingering spiritual colonialism".

Since I have not yet obtained a printed copy of Simson's book, I thought I would reprint some comments others have made as well as some excerpts from the pre-release version. This book looks to be very significant. See for yourself!

Some RECENT COMMENTS on the book..

Ralph Winter. "This book takes exactly the right approach to the most basic problem in missions today",

Prof. Ken Mulholland. "A far more significant book than I expected. It challenges many sacred cows, demonstrates remarkable biblical, theological and strategic insight. The whole church needs to hear what Wolfgang Simson has to say in this seminal work."

Ralph Neighbour. "A monumental and marvelous piece of work! It is going to be a very important contribution to the present situation faced by the church."


The traditional church - biggest barrier to belief

   In a study in 1994 under the title ”Barriers to Belief” in Scotland, says Rev. John Campbell, ”many have indicated that one of the greatest barriers to belief in God is the Church itself.” If the problem is the system, then even our best solution is part of the problem. That leaves even the most dedicated, visionary, passionate and revived Christians trapped in a system which is sucking their very energy and is simply overpowering. The way forward, therefore, may not be hidden in slight changes and adaptations to some new forms in ”Church as we know it”, but in a much more radical rediscovery of the very nature of Church itself.

   The quickest way to ”Church the unchurched” may very well be to ”unchurch the Church.” Bob Hopkins, one of the initiators of the Anglican Church Planting Initiative in England, has therefore recommended to ”stop starting with the Church”. What this implies is that we might want to stop taking today's Churches and its ”worship patterns” for granted. It seems, after all, that God has been waiting for a long time throughout history, ready to give the right answers to those asking the right questions. Housechurches, in other words, are the missing link between spirituality and society, between Jesus and his Body, between heaven and earth.

The structural lie

   Today, 1700 years after the beginnings of those developments - it did not all happen in the 4th century! - , we have become so accustomed with the congregational-type church, that many find it hard to even imagine any other form of ”real church life” or ”worship services”. Those historical events created a powerful system, a uniformed pattern, a sanctioned and later even sanctified structure, which has molded the experiences and the mindset of people over long centuries, and has created a distorted picture of church that is not any more true to its original.

   This whole process canonized and institutionalized a devastating mediocrity, a middle-of-the road-solution, simply functioning in religious and political correctness of the day. The congregational church became a ”structural lie,” because it paints the right message in the wrong colors, casts the right material in wrong forms, fills the water of life into contaminated bottles, takes the redeemed sinners and forms them into a harmless species of nice churchgoers and program participants. It makes heavenly promises, but does not deliver them on earth. It forgot to focus on the extended family as the building block of Christianity, and settled into occupying religious temples, more or less heavily ornated, reciting worship patterns in a small but solid haven of heaven on earth. No wonder that society in general followed the Curch in this development - and started to lose the family focus, too.

   In short, the congregational church became a self-defeating structure, standing in it’s own way, hindering itself, creating the very problems it wants to solve, frustrating and breaking the hearts of millions of people who searched for God and found the congregational-type church, a caricature of God’s supernatural family on earth. Only true spiritual heroes and outstanding characters were ever able to raise their head out of the contaminated bottles of this system and make a difference for some time, as we will see in the history chapter later on. But whatever they changed, whatever they pleaded for, whatever renewal, revival or reforms they proposed until this very day, was swallowed up soon enough by the unchanging system of Christendom, by the structure of church they did not dare to touch.

Five elements of a congregational-church

   American veteran missionary and author Bill Beckham, in his book ”The Second Reformation,” describes a congregation- or, what he calls ”cathedral-type” church like this: ”Since the time of Constantine in the Fourth Century the church has functioned primarily as a ‘Cathedral’. At least five important elements are identified with this ”Cathedral” way of being the church:

1. A Building (a ‘Cathedral’ or ‘Church’);

2. A Special Day (Sunday);

3. A professional leadership (priest, clergyman, holy man);

4. A special service, performed for the people (ceremonies, services, interpretation of dogma, motivation) and

5. A way to maintain itself (tithes and offerings).

   In spite of different types of church government, different architectural designs of buildings, different titles and clothes for leaders, different worship form, and different theologies, churches for the most part have functioned through this ‘Cathedral’ form. Whether Catholic or Baptist, Presbyterian or Pentecostal, ‘High Church’ or ‘Low Church,’ urban or rural, large or small, rich or poor, Western or Eastern, churches have been ‘Cathedral’ in nature. This ‘Cathedral’ system has survived political upheavals, rearrangement of world maps, great social changes, theological heresies, the Protestant Reformation, and numerous movements. It’s adaptability has been nothing short of amazing.

   Using a combination of the Roman governmental and feudal systems, Emperor Constantine developed a church structure that has lasted for seventeen centuries. The ‘Cathedral’ structure has had the capacity to absorb all major movements into its structure without changing its own basic form.” As much as I agree, this does not notice the difference between the cathedral and the average congregational parish church. The cathedral basically reflects the temple in the Old Testament, while the congregational church reflects more the pattern of the jewish synagogue. However, it is true that later on the Church tried to squeezed as much of a cathedral-type church into our average village parish-church, the congregational model of church, as I like to call it.

Advantages of housechurches over traditional churches

   I am aware of at least twelve advantages of a cell-based housechurch movement over a traditional congregational-style church:

1. Discipled multiplication

   Housechurch is a model centred on multiplication and discipleship with huge growth potential, because the ”cell” is the multipliable unit itself. Mentoring, multiplication and discipleship is the heart of the concept. Congregation is not by definition a discipleship model and structurally tends to prevent mentoring and discipleship. Discipleship never really is only ”one-on-one”, it is a function of community. Next to the Holy Spirit, peer pressure may be the strongest teacher on earth, as any parents of teenagers will agree. The housechurches allow for a redeemed use of peer pressure, living out a healthy and loving accountability with each other, learning a new kingdom value from each other and, being friends and family with each other, helping each other to be collective do-ers of a new paradigm, were no-one is left to individual and secret struggles, and therefore quickly matures.

2. Persecution-proof structure

   Through it’s small and flexible way of life and it's ”persecution-proof spirit”, housechurches can develop into an almost ”persecution-proof structure”, - or at least persecution-resistant! - as opposed to the very visible and immovable traditional ”church with a cross on it’s steeple.”

3. Free from Church Growth barriers

   Once careful attention is given to prevent housechurches from moving from an organic to an organizational mode, housechurches can be multiplied through mitosis, an organic cell-reproduction process, and the overall growth of a movement is virtually free from ”church growth barriers.”

4. Involves many more people more efficiently

   Congregations are often program based, where most programmes are organized at the congregational level. They have proven to be quite inefficient and resource hungry, usually involving 20% of exhausted members of the church doing the work for the other, more passive, 80%. In the housechurch, almost everyone can be easily and naturally involved, and ”dead wood is cut out”. Since involved people are fulfilled and therefore happy people, the overall quality - and efficiency - of the church grows.

5. Breaks the pastoral care-dilemma

   The housechurch model breaks the pastoral care dilemma - a known and self-defeating problem of the congregational church: as numbers grow, the pastoral quality usually goes down, because the Pastor cannot tend to all his sheep any more.

6. Provides a place of life transformation and accountability

   The housechurch is an ideal setting to change values, transfer life and therefore transform lifestyles. An analysis of the western church shows that the congregational model is almost totally ineffective at changing basic values and lifestyles. Many Christians end up with the same lifestyle of people around, and therefore become indistinguishable from society and loose their prophetic edge. Housechurches provide a place of radical transformation of values, reordering life, offering mutual and organic accountability, where even a redeemed peer pressure, ”the most powerful teacher after Jesus himself”, is made to function for good, and not for bad.

7. The house is a most effective place for new Christians

   Much has been written about the inward looking mentality of the congregational church, whereby the church and it’s programs is the center, and everything else is rotating around this hub. This structure traditionally resents new people coming in, ”messing up the order and the situation.” The congregation is, statistically speaking, a most unfriendly zone for new Christians, also accounting for unbelievable large drop-out rates of up to 99% in so-called ”evangelistic-follow-up programs”. In contrast, the ”cell” or housechurch is a most effective, natural and welcoming zone for new people to come and stay in touch with the Christian community. It provides spiritual fathers and mothers, not teachers and paper. It also reverses the general direction of the perspective of Christians: instead of getting people to the church, they are getting the church to the people.

8. Solves the leadership crisis

   Housechurches are led by elders, and they are just that: older than most, without necessarily being ”elderly”. Elders do not have to be skilled Masters of Ceremony and learned teachers, but modest and authentic fathers and mothers with obedient children will do nicely to start with. They are by then already many years into living a maturing life and passing the test of time, not freshlings from a seminary able to perform some religious functions. This leadership is easy to find and develop anywhere without time-consuming schools for religious specialists. It depends on initial and ongoing apostolic and prophetic input and support, ministries, which in themselves can be multiplied and therefore match and grow exponentially with a multiplying housechurch movement. Traditional Sunday- or Bible Schools and seminaries are mostly static and addition-based leadership development systems which grow linear, at best. They are an informational system, not a transformational system, as Beckham rightly points out. Therefore they cannot match a multiplying movement of housechurches with an exponentially growing need for elders.

9. Overcomes the clergy-laity division

   ”Nowhere in the New Testament do we find references to a pastor leading a congregation”, says Barney Coombes. The housechurch does not need a Pastor in the traditional sense at all, because elders, functioning together with the corporate giftedness of the housechurch to maintain and multiply the life of the church. This therefore breaks the curse of the clergy-laity division, which the congregational system reinforces.

10. It is more biblical

   We cannot afford to ignore biblical revelation for too long and get away with it. Tradition is a strong teacher, but God’s word is more reliable and simply better. Even in an age of Postmodernism and relativity, the Bible still teaches absolutes. However, the Bible absolutely does not teach us to call a holy crowd gathering on a holy day at a holy hour in a holy sanctuary to participate in a holy ritual performed by holy men in holy clothes against a holy fee to be the New Testament church. God’s work done God’s way still attracts God’s blessing. Even in Moses’ time God exhorted him to build ”according to the pattern”. It is worth to struggle even with our own trusted tradition for the purpose of regaining biblical truth, because it is not tradition which sets us free, but the truth of God’s word.

11. Undeniably cheaper

   The congregational church can be defined as ”plot plus building plus priest plus salary plus programmes”. The housechurch is ”people plus ordinary houses plus faith plus shared life”, which is undeniably cheaper. As congregational-type churches cost enormous sums of money to establish them, and more money to maintain or even propagate the system, the cells and housechurches literally make money, because they produce more than they consume. In an age where there seems to be an endless battle cry for more money for ”the church work”, we should not overlook alternatives and be good stewards of God’s financial talents he gives us.

12. It resurrects the City church

   The church in the New Testament was named according to it’s location, not denomination. With a new wave of housechurches, this also opens up a way back to the ”city church,” literally the Church of the city, all Christians of a city or region together, meeting regularly or irregularly in city-wide celebrations, were the cities most gifted Christians and humble servants of the Lamb forget all the titles and politics, and in a new maturity sacrifice their own name, denominationalism, reputation and single-handed success to the single advancement of the Kingdom of only one King, the Lamb of God.

   Imagine the thrill of the public when this collective city-based and authentic leadership regularly casts prophetic vision, teaches apostolic standards, stands united, blesses each other and speaks to the world with one voice. What the devil has tried hard to prevent at any cost will again come true: that ”the Romans,” ”the Ephesians,” ”the Corinthians,” ”the Church of Jerusalem”, Vienna, Singapore, Baghdad, Khartoum or Montevideo will reconnect with each other, form itself into one supernatural corporate identity and movement under one single lord and master, and speak with a collective and powerful voice to their city and nation.

   What happens at the small level of housechurches will eventually spill over on a larger city-scale, where the church will ”excel at the small and therefore excel at the large”. Instead of Christians being regularly excited top-down through imported motivators and speakers at artificial conferences based on names and topics, the healthy, authentic and infectious joy and excitement at the houselevel will bubble up and express itself citywide, where no one can overhear it any more, and people will repeat the statement made first in Jerusalem: ”You have filled our city with your teaching!” And if ever God should choose to repeat instances like at Pentecost, where 120 upper room Christians suddenly face the challenge to accommodate 3.000 converts in one day, they would be prepared, because the flexible structure of multiplying housechurches would already be in place.

   In many areas of the world, local and regional pastoral fellowships and prayer networks are emerging. I believe this can be the beginning of a regional process, a spirit-led, intuituive and slow convergence of people with likeminded spirits, which creates healthy relationships first, which leads to the formation of a collective spiritual identity, a vessel of unity, into which at a special kairos-point in history a greater challenge can be placed: together taking on the challenge of discipling our city or region - together!

For more or to order online see Houses That Change the World

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• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on May 7, 2003