However, the research team director at the North American Mission Board notes that he's more concerned about those who don't see house churches as an authentic expression of biblical ecclesiology.
"The greater problem," he says, "for the biblical house church is the millions of believers that consider their brick, institutionalized, non-multiplying church to be a more biblical model than the fifteen people meeting in a home with a passion to grow and multiply." Citing the SBC's initially negative response and eventual acceptance of the house church movement, Cole argues that every denomination will eventually have to deal with the reality of the trend. The response, he believes, will often hinge on the denomination's view of clergy and education.
"The anabaptist denominations with a history of strong lay leaders will thrive in this new environment," he notes. "The reformed denominations that require a high level of clergy education will have more challenges. However, even in the Reformed Church in America and other established presbyterial denominations, we're seeing the movement happen—but it has to be more grassroots."
Larry Kreider, international director of DOVE Christian Fellowship International (dcfi.org), a network of cell-based and house churches, envisions a future in which partnership between house churches and megachurches is the rule rather than the exception. In his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, leaders of both models meet for prayer and partnership.
"We have a leadership team of church leaders chosen by the body of Christ in our own area," he explains. "On that team are megachurch leaders and house church leaders—all working together to honor one another."
FROWNING ON TITLES
As Stetzer hints in his article, any discussion of the house church movement naturally gravitates toward leadership—particularly the concern that a lack of leadership is an invitation for chaos and heresy. While few house church advocates deny the need for leadership, they often define it in radically different terms from their counterparts in the traditional church.
"I would call myself 'pro-leadership,' but 'anti-positional leadership,'" Cole says. "When your authority is based on the position or title, and you need a position or title to lead, chances are you're not a real leader."
Tony Dale and his wife, Felicity, who lead a house church in Austin, Texas, are the founders of House2House magazine (house2house.net) and have written several books on the simple church movement.
"Leadership does not demonstrate itself in titles and positions," Tony argues. "Our idea of leadership is that of a father who longs for his children to overtake him."
Dale admits that this model is not unique to the house church movement and even points out abusive situations in which house church leaders have exerted Machiavellian rule over their domains. However, he argues that the traditional church's strong distinction between professional clergy and laity is designed to keep people in "perpetual spiritual infancy."
Conversely, house churches often function from a bottom-up structure. While there may be one leader who directs meetings, leads worship sessions or mediates conflict, participants usually have a say in the weekly activities and long-term vision of the group. For other home churches, this role rotates or is shared among a group of leaders.
Likewise, many in the house church movement embrace the values of the apostolic and prophetic movements. They militate against the more "governmental" expressions of ecclesiology often associated with the New Apostolic Reformation. "I agree with C. Peter Wagner that we desperately need apostolic and prophetic types that the church is built on," Tony Dale notes. "But I would completely reject any concept that this is governmental. It isn't the force of their personality. It isn't that they are classic great leaders. It's what they do by laying down their lives that prepares the groundwork for what they're going to accomplish."
Dale cites the house church movement in China—much of which was carried forward by women and teenagers. For house church advocates like the Dales, the movement is a hothouse for a new type of leader that leads from brokenness and weakness rather than personal charisma.
"Under the old paradigm of church," Felicity contends, "success is measured by growth, whether that is in numbers, finances or real estate; in the new paradigm, success is based on faithfulness. God is looking for leaders who walk with a limp; those who, like Jacob, have fought with God and surrendered unconditionally to Him. They have learned from the disappointments and challenges of following him through good times and bad."
But even its strongest advocates suggest that the house church movement could endanger itself by resisting leadership in an effort to redefine it. Many would suggest that George Barna's equation in his book Revolution of two guys playing golf as church is dangerously minimalistic. Barna himself notes that the small-group movement has long struggled as an effective means of growing people spiritually because of a lack of good leadership, and he believes that the house church movement will have to face the same issue.
For a limited time, we are extending our celebration of our 40th anniversary. As a special offer, subscribe to Ministry Today magazine and receive 50% OFF our normal discounted rate!
What are you doing to actively reach new people? On Platform is a series of four one-day sessions held throughout the year that teaches you how to use platforms like blogging, social media, book publishing, podcasting and more to grow your audience. If you're serious about growing, Click Here.