This Is How WE Do Church!

Tonight I received the following email from one of my old college students from 10-12 years ago:

Hi Shah and Karen! 🙂

I just wanted to stop and say thank you.

Thank you for teaching me through opening your home to me, and thank you for living what you have been speaking about for years! Luke and I were just talking about the power of prayer and I was recalling that my eyes were opened regarding prayer when I came into your home on Thursday nights.

I have learned so much from the seeds that you both planted in my life and in my heart. When you showed me how to know, and experience the Living God, my life was forever changed; and now my children are learning about listening and obeying God’s voice in their early years. So, THANK YOU for choosing to follow Jesus and teaching me to do the same!

I always smile when I think about you guys 🙂

With love,

Karia

Karia was referring to something Karen and I have been doing at our home since 1998, a gathering of a handful of believers seeking to be Christ-like. Some are quick to say, “You mean a house-church?” No, I don’t like to call it a house-church because most house churches consist of regular church services with the hope of one day having their own buildings. I call these, “buildings wanna be house churches.” We don’t want a building.

  • It’s not an open meeting. You can only participate if you’re invited.

A while back I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for several years. After the regular pleasantries, our conversation went something like this:

“So, where are you going to church these days?” To which I replied,

“I don’t. We have our own house meetings.” Without losing a breath he said,

“I’m gonna check it out one of these days!” To which I said,

“You’re not invited…”

You see, one of the main reasons for our gatherings is to establish a community where the believers can build relationships based on honesty, trust, and transparency, which will eventually lead to accountability. There’s no way one can build such a community with people who just want to, “check you out”. We have no desire to increase our numbers at the cost of shallow relationships. We have mega churches for that.

When I invite someone, I make sure that there are three expectations of him or her.

  • They have to attend every meeting regularly.

One can’t build a sustainable, trustworthy relationship with those whom he/she sees occasionally. Being in the business of community building, I want our meetings to consist of people who, short of an emergency, see each other every week. If this makes any invitee uncomfortable, they don’t have to accept my invitation. On the other hand, if one agrees to the terms, but doesn’t follow them, he’s asked to stop coming. I invite and un-invite people to my house.

  • They’re expected to come prepared.

The first hour of our meetings is filled with lively discussions about the chapter of a book we all are supposed to have read the week before. This is a book that the participants had all agreed upon. With new groups, I choose the book, but eventually it’s up to the group. It has never ceased to amaze me how differently each individual looks at the same paragraph of a book, and because of that, how much we can learn from each other. Finally,

  • Once they move on, they’re expected to strive to start a meeting based on the same principles.

This is a house gathering and not a cult. We have no desire to, by hooks and crooks, keep members from moving away. I know that eventually some people need to move on with their lives. Therefore, when that time comes, my hope is that they will start another meeting wherever they go built on the above principles. Again, the goal is not to have a network of small groups all over town with Shah overseeing them, but to see the same blessings people have received at our meetings being propagated everywhere.

Our meetings are built around the discipline of Lectio Divina. In Latin, it’s pronounced, lec-t-o divina, which means divine reading. It’s one of those Christian disciplines that has been with us since the Early Church. My purpose in this post is not to explain the practice of Lectio, but to show the focus of our meetings,

  • To enter into a deeper bond with God through silence and meditation on his word
  • To build godly relationships
  • To learn from one another—There’s no one-man-band show

To allow each individual to practice his/her spiritual gifts —This is the time when we recognize/discover and respect each other’s gifting.

  • To allow the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us into praying for one another

I challenge any Sunday service to offer any of the above with some measure of consistency.

Is it possible that today God-fearing, Christ-loving believers are walking away from the church because they want deeper relationships with their Creator and his created ones? They want a gathering where they’re allowed to use the gifts God has given them? That they long for a place where they aren’t afraid to be honest and transparent revealing their sins and weaknesses to those around them?

Are Pastors Ready To Give Up The Pulpit?

pastor preachingFor hundreds of years, communication has flowed pretty much in one direction, from the top down. The industrial revolution brought great change to societies as new businesses grew in size and hierarches of management helped things flow efficiently. Instructions and directives were given at the highest levels and workers were expected to comply.

The church has followed the same organizational structure for more than two thousand years. The Catholic Church has its hierarchy of pope, bishops, cardinals, priests, etc. Protestant churches have their denominational leaders, district supervisors, division leaders, and pastors. And pretty much communication too flowed in only one direction, from the pulpit downward. However, at the turn of the 21st century this flow of communication was disrupted.

Many factors have caused this disruption. These include the invention of the telegraph, then the telephone, and now new digital technologies. This last factor, I think, is one that has changed the world the most because it affects people at all levels of society: young and old, rich and poor, from every culture and nation. The invention of the computer, the internet, cell phones, social media applications, blogs, web sites, have given more people the ability to change societies, governments, and businesses—technologies have given everyone a voice. Let me give a few examples.

All social media applications allow people to voice their opinions about products, services, companies, injustice and more. Much of the Arab Spring was organized through the use of Twitter. These days, American businesses have whole teams of people monitoring social media channels listening to their customers. News organizations listen to their viewers through any and all social media applications. And why have the above organizations devoted so much effort and resources to listening and understanding their constituencies’ complaints and preferences? Because they have learned that if they don’t listen and keep their customers happy, they will soon be out of business. But what about churches? Are pastors listening to their congregations?

It seems they are not, and lots of people are communicating with their feet. People are no longer willing to sit, watch, and listen. In my last blog post, I wrote about the “Nones,” and the “Dones”. Among this group are those who are “done” sitting in pews listening to somebody preach at them. In both Catholic and Protestant churches, weekly attendance is declining. Comments from people who no longer attend church say that they are tired of the pulpit/pew divide. But it doesn’t seem pastors are listening because according to the Pew Research group, more and more people are becoming unaffiliated with a church.

Customers, or using church terminology, congregants now harness tremendous power. They have a voice and want to use it. What will it take to create open channels of communication in the church? Are pastors willing to give up the pulpit, stop preaching, and start having conversations? Are they willing to accept a church that is less structured, with less hierarchy, and open to change?

                                                                By Guest Blogger, CK Miller

Don’t Control Me, Encourage Me!

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.09.52 PMRecently my son, Air Force Captain, Todd Afshar, posted this video on Facebook. I watched it with tears in my eyes. I marveled at the courage of the young soldier, but even more at the encouragement she received from her fellow soldiers, which reminded me of the following story and how much the followers of Christ are in need of encouragement from each other.

In 1978, I established the first Iranian Christian organization in the United States. It consisted of several house churches. I was a civil engineer during the day and a church planter/evangelist at night.

At the time, I desperately needed all the help and moral support I could get from the Christian leaders I knew, but the support was quite few and far between. After all, majority of the American leaders I looked up to, were mono-cultural. They had no understanding of what I eventually coined as “reversed contextualization”.

My philosophy was very simple. If every oversees-missionary is taught to share the Gospel within the context of the culture he/she is sent to, why not develop the same approach in reverse towards the displaced people whom God has brought to our doorsteps in America—in my case, the Iranians?

One of these leaders was the director of missions for the denomination I belonged to at the time. On numerous occasions, I called his office with the hope of getting an appointment to meet with him, but I never heard back from him. The only person I ever got the chance to talk with was his secretary, Pat.

About 15 years went by. I was conducting a workshop on Muslim evangelism at a convention when I ran into Pat and had the following conversation.

Me: “Pat, please remind me, how do we know each other?” I’d completely forgotten the genesis of our relationship.

Pat: “Don’t you remember? You used to call me all the time when I was Matt’s secretary.” And, then she continued with the following story.

Shah, I’ve never told you this, but one of those days when you’d called to talk to Matt, he walked into my office as I was talking to you. Although, he didn’t know you, from my side of the conversation, he knew I was talking to you. That’s when he leaned over my desk and whispered, “Hang up on him!” I shook my head and refused to do so, and again, he demanded the same. Eventually, he stomped out very angry.

Later, after I’d finished talking to you, he walked back to my office and said,

“Next time when I tell you to hang up on him, you hang up on him. Do you know why I want you to hang up on him? BECAUSE HE IS RIGHT, AND WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT!”

Can you imagine how encouraged I would have been if the man had at least said those same words to my face? If he’d said something like, “Shah, you’re right, but you’re way ahead of your time and our denomination. We don’t know what to do with you.”

Thirty years ago, all I wanted to tell the man was what will soon become the church’s war cry—Let’s reach the world for Christ one next-door neighbor at a time. Remember, you heard it here first. Yes, I was mostly talking about Iranian neighbors, but the principle still applied.

In any case, the man refused to meet with me. Was it arrogance, ignorance, pride, or simply a desire to control that prevented him from having a cup of coffee with a man who desperately needed that leader’s support and encouragement? Or was it the fear of not having an answer/solution to my question? After all, shouldn’t a Christian leader have an answer for every question thrown at him? Wouldn’t an, “I don’t know!” reveal a weakness that a mature Christian leader shouldn’t possess?

I am sure there have been times when I’ve come short of following I Thess. 5:11 mandate, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” For that, I’m deeply sorry. May the Lord have mercy on us to be better encouragers. Let us not forget that we are all in this together.