(a) Personality problems
Personality problems will crop up in house groups as persons with spirits of rejection, Jezebel and other related spirits may attempt to control or manipulate the group. Occasionally, its own members betray a group. Strong but sympathetic leaders are necessary and a good knowledge of deliverance and inner healing is very helpful. Wisdom will become important where personality problems arise. There is no way of preparing for everything that may come your way and leaders will have to rely on the Holy Spirit. In a real sense, relationships often bring stress, disagreements, arguments, and other problems. This is natural as God has designed trials to perfect us. There are almost always personal problems and friction whenever there are numbers of people in small or large groups. It is said that when David went to fight Goliath, he picked up five smooth stones out of the brook to use with his slingshot. 1 Sa. 17:40. He killed Goliath with one of them. The five stones symbolize the five-fold ministry and also a “finishing” or maturing of the saints. In order to become smooth, the stones went through a lot of bumping against one another throughout the years. One cannot be perfected in a monastery or cave; one becomes a finished product in the outside world after years of learning how to love and forgive others.
On the other hand, there should be as much training as possible with each succeeding wave of leaders. If training is to be had, preparation must begin now. Tracts, articles, tapes, books and sermons should be published in bulk, in preparation for huge numbers of converts and the need for teaching materials. We will address this aspect later.
Each house group should become so intertwined among the membership and so close in relationships that people who are forced to move away from their houses during times of persecution, would be automatically and naturally welcomed to stay at the houses of other members. That is one of the reasons why the relationships with other house groups, even in outside areas should be fostered and vigorously pursued. Divided we fall; united we stand! There may well be a time when all the house groups in one area will be closed down by the coming one-world government. Shutting down a house or meeting site is not the same as shutting down a house church of saints. A church is not a house; it is people. Shut down a house and the church will move to another location.
The saints should be encouraged to open their homes for meetings. Meetings do not have to be restricted to the house of the leader. House groups can also join other house groups for meetings wherever practicable.
VI. OTHER CONCERNS
A. Group Leadership
As mentioned earlier, certain groups do not believe or support the idea of spiritual authority in which there are leaders who must be submitted to and obeyed. Some house groups are arranged around a democratic type of autocratic local structure. That is, everything is voted upon by all the members and no one particular person is the permanent leader. A person is chosen each week or month to lead the flock and no one person can lead the house group down a particular path without the consensus of all. The proponents of such groups cite the fact that of the 25,000 written records generated during the first three hundred years of the Church, very little is mentioned of “pastors” and “bishops.” They conclude that there were no church “leaders” per se and everyone was a leader. This is faulty reasoning as other titles may have been used and neither is there mention of the a doctrine of “everyone is a leader” or “no leaders” or “leader for the week.”
This author disagrees with that theory on several grounds: (1) the Bible clearly delineates bishops, shepherds and elders and people possessing certain characteristics and having particular responsibilities. As Oswald Sanders says in his book entitled Spiritual Leadership, whenever a group comes together, the cream will invariably rise to the top and one or more persons will be natural leaders through gifting, abilities or otherwise. Even in a group that claims that everyone is equal, one or two will end up being “more equal” than others. (2) Taken as a whole, where there are no leaders, there are no authorities or responsibilities. Where no one is responsible, the group stagnates. To say that everyone is responsible is not realistic since some will always become more responsible than others. (3) Where there are no acknowledged spiritual authorities, there is no need for submission or obedience and although it sounds people-friendly and democratic, no one will learn true humility and obedience. To say that everybody is responsible still does not answer the question of whether there are spiritual authorities in the universe created by God that need to be obeyed.
Some groups that profess to have no leaders are more social than spiritual. It is understandable that those who see their house group as a social group find no need for a leader and more need for a coordinator instead. These are usually evangelical groups that find no need for “spiritual” authorities since they do not believe in spiritual things anyway. They reject any paternal authority even in the families that make up part of their group, choosing instead to allow the children to have an equal vote with their parents and others in the group, in connection with the activities of the group as a whole.
A number of these groups reject leadership over them because of past abuses by church leaders. However, abusive authorities who misuse spiritual authority should not negate God’s principles on spiritual authority and His governmental system. A police officer who abuses his position should not result in the elimination of all law enforcement bodies or the police department. This is not to say that leaders should be dictators in any way. Our Lord explained in Matthew 20:25-27,
Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.
Certainly, every house church leader needs to lead according to the principles laid down by our Lord. There are no dictators in God’s kingdom, but there are shepherds who are willing to lay their lives down for the sheep. We are after a strong, vibrant church able to stand up against tremendous persecution and attacks from the enemy and that will not fall away in the face of death and extreme pressure.
B. Deliverance and Inner Healing
Deliverance and inner healing should be a vital part of house group practices. There are a number of reasons for this: (1) initiating and maintaining revival may be dependent on binding up the ruler spirits over the area of the house group; (2) Satan and his demonic kingdom will war against the saints in the end times (Rev. 13:7; Da. 7:21,25); (3) God is looking for His end time army (Joel 2:1-11); and (4) individuals within the group need to be cleansed of all filthiness and uncleanness.
Often, the root of personality and relational problems is demons. The spirit of rejection twists and distorts personalities because of the need to be loved and admired. Unknowingly, people create responses to others through that ugly spirit. An angry person most likely is a rejected person with unforgiveness. Knowledge of deliverance and inner healing will greatly facilitate bonding.
Another reason is the amount of spiritual maturity needed to conduct deliverance and inner healing. One leads to the other. The ability to conduct deliverance and inner healing may not necessarily require one to be totally mature spiritually, but it does demand a higher degree. Conversely, if one continues in deliverance and inner healing, his gift of discernment, wisdom and so forth will be sharpened. Often angels appear at a deliverance session and one learns to depend on the Holy Spirit for revelation. Spiritual ears and eyes are opened more acutely in the process.
C. Titles and Positions
There is no elite priesthood and each house group leader is the same as any other member, except that God has chosen him and given him spiritual authority to lead and feed the sheep. However, since there is a need to identify the leader, we will choose a title for his position.
The New Testament uses the word “pastor” only once and only in reference to the five-fold ministry. In the Old Testament, “pastor” or “pastors” is used eight times. The door is open for other titles. However, in order to avoid confusion, since the title “pastor” has been used for centuries, it is convenient to continue to refer to house church leaders as “pastors.“ Again, the word “overseer” is used only once in the New Testament and twelve times in the Old Testament. It actually refers to elders and bishops. Ac. 20:28.
The Greek definition of “overseer” is: “a superintendent, i.e. Chr. Officer in gen. Charge of a (or the) church (lit. or fig.): - bishop, overseer.” Strong’s Concordance #1985. The use of the word “overseer” is much more general and can refer to households, tribes, and other groups. The title “bishop” is being used by some denominations and churches to delineate a higher title than pastor. As stated, however, we favor the continued use of the title “pastor” since this title brings immediate recognition and understanding to the modern mind.
D. Working Leaders
There is no requirement that a house group leader be compensated or given a monthly stipend for his/her work. In fact, the Bible indicates that house group leaders had secular jobs. Aquilla and Pricilla were tent makers and the Bible points out that the apostle Paul participated in tent making when he stayed with them. Ac. 18:3. Each house group leader should have his/her own occupation outside of the church. However, some upper echelon leaders may be given a salary where they are working full-time by necessity for the church during the day and traveling or otherwise occupied in church work most of the time. Some “hybrid” situations may be in order where the house church pastor is paid something every month and also works outside of the church. One supplements the other.
The elimination of large church groups and buildings does away with the need for full-time clergy to maintain a large membership and buildings. Minimal administrative duties are required in a house church format and no monies are required to pay for church maintenance. During times of revival, it will be no different since each house will be limited in size. Large sums of money are not required. Pastors can support themselves. We realize that this may create a problem with pastors and church workers who are already receiving salaries. There may be circumstances where a group can contribute to the income of a leader or even a member where the need arises. However, the house church format does not make it essential.
This is not to say that tithes, offerings and sacrifices are suspended. On the contrary, the saints are commanded by God to tithe. The tithes and offerings, however, are not diverted to a building fund, salaries or equipment purchases. Instead, they can be used directly for evangelizing and other expenses in expanding the kingdom of God.
During times of persecution and during the abomination of desolation (Mt. 24:15), large churches will find it extremely difficult or impossible to survive. Their members will be in hiding and income to maintain the large-church operation will shrink dramatically. Foreclosures and legal actions will ensue. According to the book of Daniel, the apparent church will be destroyed. Of course, even house groups will be forced into hiding. House churches, however, will not struggle to make ends meet. It will be either business as usual or time to flee.
E. Names of Groups
Following the Bible example, there were no names given to house groups. At most, groups were known by the name of the house owner or leader - the church at the house of ______ at _________, is often used in the Bible. Some promote the use of only the Church of Jesus Christ at ____________. However, since there may be more than one house church in the area, it would be more exact to say, “The Church of Jesus Christ at the house of __________________, at ________________.”
VII. EVENTUAL AUTONOMY
As is experienced with house churches in mainland China, each group will eventually operate almost autonomously. This is made mandatory because of circumstances: (1) the difficulty of moving around during martial law; (2) the need to go underground; (3) house-to-house searching by the government and the need to be on the move to escape detection. Of course, this is the most extreme stage but one which is inevitable. As previously shared, when this writer was ministering in mainland China a few years back, many leaders were in hiding and the government was conducting intense investigations and searches.
Several things are somewhat apparent when researching the history of the early church. First, although house groups were autonomous, they were in close communication with one another and underground churches devised a system whereby fugitives and visitors were hidden, fed, clothed and protected. A communication system was created and the saints drew closer together by necessity. Resources were pooled and became a common source for churches in the area with particular needs. A more modern example is found during World War II, when the French underground was famous for its ability to smuggle allied troops to safety after they were shot down behind enemy lines or escaped from enemy prison camps. There was an underground network in the midst of the enemy.
Persecution causes the saints to draw closer to the Lord and dependence on the Holy Spirit will become an utter necessity. In China, the Holy Spirit is given free rein and many wonderful stories of miracles have surfaced. God’s true church emerged out of the chaos and oppression and out of the blood, prayers and tears of the saints. Persecution brings out the noblest in the saints and draws them closer to the first century church in heart, thought and deed.
It has been said that when the Bamboo Curtain was finally lifted after over fifty years, Christian missionaries anxious to minister in China, thought that the church in China was devoid of any understanding of the Bible and probably spiritually impoverished. To their utter surprise, the underground house churches in China were even more spiritually advanced than their counterparts in other parts of the world.
We should be unafraid of the seeming autonomy to come and view it as not so much people being uncontrolled and independent, running around like chickens without heads; but rather being led almost entirely by the Holy Ghost. We need to trust God that when He initially put the New Testament church together, He knew what He was doing. Our job is to prepare and train the leaders to become spiritually mature, to provide training aids that they can pass down to other potential leaders, and allow the Holy Spirit to move and direct each house group.
VIII. CONDUCTING THE HOUSE MEETING AND OTHER CONCERNS
There are many possible scenarios. The Bible indicates that the house churches of the first century not only had Holy Communion, but ate entire meals together, going house to house. Their meetings were also held during week nights since having daily dinners obviously included more than Sundays. A number of things are implied: (a) the saints were excited and desired fellowship; (b) house groups intermingled with other house groups; (c) everyone in a given area knew one another; (d) people shared their resources; and (e) there was much love and unity to go around. Ac. 2:44; 4:32.
The important thing is to allow the Holy Spirit to lead the meeting and all activities. There is a time for praise and worship through singing (although not completely necessary), for corporate and individual prayer, for sharing and giving testimonies and lessons. Teaching is important also, along with ministering to the members’ needs. The proper mix is dictated by the Holy Spirit with no set routine or structure. Each member should come to a meeting prepared to take an active role by participating at each gathering. This is the vital ingredient of an “open” church. Of course, new members need to be trained and given proper amounts of time to feel comfortable. As they absorb knowledge and begin to move in the Spirit, their roles enlarge.
Preparation and cleanup is a group effort. No prima donnas can sit by idly while others work or serve them. Constant training of interns and potential leaders by each pastor continues. Evangelism is a necessary activity during both revival and times of persecution. As the group reaches capacity, plans to divide into two groups are put into effect. This may take place sooner than expected; therefore, training of potential leaders must be both continuous and quick.
There are many other factors and things that can be discussed, but should be left to the training centers or Holy Spirit; such as, how to conduct evangelism, different kinds of services, preparation for survival, networking, counseling, bonding, handling of tithes and offerings, and so forth. However, we trust the Holy Spirit to guide each group.
We discuss other concerns in Attachment M.
IX. RECOMMENDED COURSE OF ACTION
Before embarking on a house church course, determine God’s timing. There is little doubt intellectually that this is the proper direction, but seek the Lord for His timing and strategy. At each step along the way, pray and ask God for wisdom and guidance. Seeking His will is a never-ending endeavor.
On June 24, 2004, during prayer time, one of our intercessors had a number of visions. In the first vision, he saw our vocational training center in the Philippines. There was no roof on it and every time furniture was moved in, a whirlwind swept it away. No one was inhabiting the center. He then saw our Bible college and it was empty. Then, he saw our mission house and it was all boarded up and empty. Next, he saw our sanctuary and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw people there. However, they were not there to worship God. They were socializing around square tables and talking. Lastly, he saw a huge and beautiful church with large columns. When he looked closely, he saw that the columns were comprised of many single-family dwellings or houses.
I believe that God is showing us that there will be a time when the organized churches will be made illegal - the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet. Mt. 24:15. The empty vocational training center, the empty Bible college, the boarded up mission house and a sanctuary taken over by the Gentiles speaks of the abomination of desolation when worship of Jesus (sacrifice and oblation) will cease. But, the true church of Jesus Christ will not only survive but will prosper in the light and presence of God through house churches. House churches will make up the true Church in the end times, just as they did during the first three hundred years of existence. The vision is a confirmation.
1. Implementing the Plan to Institute House Churches
Before the house church concept can be successfully implemented, a number of stages must first be accomplished.
Paradigm Shift in Attitude. There must be a paradigm shift in attitudes and intent. Leadership must abandon old attitudes of “temple“ worship and programs geared to fill the building. There may be some members who will resist change or who will not agree. Consequently, teaching and training the congregation is necessary to change their minds. Once it is determined that house churches are indeed what God wants, educate the congregation, including the staff and members, and keep them informed about each step so that misunderstandings are eliminated. Solicit input from the saints to create an atmosphere of partnership and gain additional insight. Once the membership is adequately informed, and agreement is established regarding the need to implement the plan, the next step can be implemented. Invite other trusted pastors and Christians to share their thoughts about house churches and if they agree with it, allow them to take part in preparations.
Have the prayer base of the church pray that all members will catch and spread the vision. Pray that a wave of enthusiasm will sweep the church. Throughout the process, pray that the Holy Spirit will lead and take over each house church.
Training and transition. Institute a program to train house group leaders and even five-fold ministry. Not everyone who volunteers will be qualified, however. Qualifications should be clearly understood, as found in 1 Timothy, Chapter 3. Love and humility must be prime characteristics of a house church leader. All persons with personal ambitions and self-glorifying agendas should be eliminated. Pride and carnal minds are dangerous to the house church concept, especially during times of stress and persecution. Unity and obedience to spiritual authority must be encouraged and developed. Self-proclaimed pastors and apostles, and the like, are too prideful and rebellious to teach submission, humility and obedience.
All qualified members should submit to training. This is based on the supposition that during a revival, every soul will be recruited to teach and lead, although not necessarily as a pastor. During the Azusa Street and Welsh Revivals, it is reported that even brand new Christians had to be used after minimum training because of the great numbers of new converts. Indeed, the fields are ripe for harvest, but the laborers are few.
However, it is wise to start with people who are known leaders and innovators and who are zealous. Every house church pastor should be gifted in pasturing and nurturing members. They should be apt to teach and also to train successors and other house church pastors-to-be. A house church pastor must be evangelistic in heart. If he/she is not particularly skillful, he needs to be an encourager, at the very least.
Outlines and publications. Existing teaching outlines need to be streamlined and shortened. Current outlines and manuals are too voluminous and intended for use in a Bible college where an entire semester or modules of three months’ duration could be devoted to each subject. The six foundational truths and other subjects such as Spiritual Authority must be taught within a period of three months or less, assuming training sessions two or three times a week. In addition, put together audio and video tapes, manuals, tracts and other publications to form a training kit that can be used in the Philippines and everywhere in the world to produce, at the very minimum, a Spirit-filled saint well on the way to maturity.
A training kit that can be reproduced and distributed to the four corners of the earth is highly desirable, notwithstanding the need to translate and other modifications.
These training aids should be published on a continual basis and accumulated while there is time to do so. They will serve as the basis of sound doctrine during revival and persecution. In China, such publications were precious and few and the saints laboriously copied them by hand and distributed them surreptitiously.
Initial Training Center. Establish a central training center to which others can come to be trained. Theoretically, each currently-existing church desiring to change their church structure to house churches, can serve as an initial central training center. If the movement succeeds, open other training centers according to need. At the outset, set up a monitoring system whereby each house church leader reports weekly as to the goings on in his/her particular group. Traveling representatives can visit each church from time to time. The central group must eventually grow as the house churches multiply. Consider appointing five Regional Leaders, each with jurisdiction over five Zone Leaders. In turn, each Zone Leader will have five District Leaders under him/her and each District Leader will have five Area Leaders under him/her. Each Area Leader will have five house church pastors under him/her. In declining order, the following would be the organizational breakdown:
Formulate report sheets for every level to use to report to the next higher level every week. These reports will help monitor and guide the house churches. One recommendation is to use computers and e-mails where possible or available. The house churches in the book of Acts did not find a need to report because the five-fold ministry kept a close eye on them.
One important consideration will be the tithes and offerings. In America, the federal and state governments require that a church organization apply for a tax exemption that allows churches to receive tithes and offerings without being taxed by the government. It also allows a tax payer to obtain a deduction for his donations. The application process is a legal one and quite involved. Requiring each individual house church to apply for its own exemption would be difficult and expensive. It is recommended that each house church deposit its tithes and offerings with the central training center (“CTC”) each week. The CTC will pass the tithes and offerings through its bank accounts and books. The central training center should, of course, be tax exempt. Ten percent (10%) of all tithes and offerings should go to the CTC to fund its activities, since the CTC does not have “members.” As the regional house churches grow outward, the CTC will incur additional expenses in monitoring, training and sending out teachers and five-fold ministry.
The CTC must then weekly return the remaining 90% to the house churches. This could be done in two fashions: (1) the CTC can have the right to re-distribute the monies where the CTC leaders determine are best in order to take care of the needs of poorer house churches, or where extra monies are needed to cover certain expenses; or (2) to immediately give the 90% back to the house church where it originated once the amounts are deposited and recorded in the CTC‘s books of account. Giving the CTC leaders the right to re-distribute the tithes and offerings is biblical since the early saints sold their houses and gave all the proceeds to the apostles to distribute according to their sole discretion. It was used successfully in Fiji where the author ministered for a number of years.
In countries that do not have such tax requirements, it would still be wise to pass the tithes and offerings through the CTC because of the need to fund the CTC. One other method is to have each house church give 10% of its weekly collection to the CTC and keep the rest.
Training must eventually include other outside church leaders who want to initiate their own house churches. A word of caution must be understood at this juncture. There should not be competing house group systems in the sense of different doctrines and focus. The house group format could also be abused and used by cults, evangelicals and even Roman Catholics. The format itself is just a structure. The real purpose is to produce a true church in doctrine, practice, power and heart and we must strive to protect the truth vigorously. In this regard, we do not encourage the inclusion of denominational churches into the house church system. This will bring quick confusion and division. It is unlikely that denominational churches, both evangelical and Pentecostal, will ever give up their pet doctrines and denominational beliefs. It is the author’s experience that whenever there are denominations present, arguments ensue and the meetings end with division.
We are clear that we do not presently have all truth. However, we can at least clear the playing field and allow the Holy Spirit to determine truth.
In recent years, it is reported that denominational missionaries from the West have invaded the underground house church system in mainland China and established their own brand of church doctrines and practices. As a result, the once-pure house church system is being divided and confused. House churches have begun competing against one another and even fighting. In one recent case (year 2005), several saints in one house church killed others in another house church and the Communist government has labeled all Christians as criminals of society. Consequently, persecution increased.
While it is probable that there will be renegade religious groups who will take advantage of any revival/harvest and steal innocent sheep, we need to bring as many outside churches in line with the vision God has given us. Minor variations may be acceptable, but major fluctuations should be avoided. Most important is that everyone is willing to work together and not claim exclusive ownership to any flock of sheep or attempt to add to their particular denomination or church. This may be somewhat tricky in view of the fact that we are not trying to create a denomination but rather, desire to give God back His true church. In a real sense, our lack or disinterest in controlling others will release the Holy Spirit to do His work. After all, it is His church.
We need to perpetually train teachers who will, in turn, train house group leaders outside of the central headquarters. These teachers will initially roam around to train house group leaders in the areas where they live. We do not expect each house church leader to be completely mature, but he/she must be willing, flexible and teachable. Perhaps this is the meaning of the two visions we received about many people coming out of our training center cheerfully waving a piece of paper in their hands. In the other vision, a huge angel was standing over our mission house with a piece of paper in his hand. These two visions were received on the same night. Graduates would be entitled to receive a number of training kits to distribute in their ministry areas.
In connection with doctrines and practices, we remain open to receive the opinions of others. We pray that the days of Jeremiah the prophet will not be duplicated. In the Book of Jeremiah, there was a great revival going on in Judah. The temples were filled to capacity and coffers overflowed with money. However, the prophets prophesied falsely and the priests bear rule by their own means. The people loved it. Jer. 5:31. They were covetous of one another. Jer. 8:10. The priests did some good, but they misled the people, saying, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” Jer. 8:11. Another word for “peace” is “prosperity.” In spite of the great revival, God was angry at His people because they refused to seek Him and continued to worship strange gods. “Notwith-standing the Lord turned not from the fierceness of His great wrath, wherewith His anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked Him withal.” 2 Ki. 23:26. God allowed the Babylonians to destroy His people and temples. How ironic that the Book of Revelations talks about Babylon the Great ruling in the end times.