We had our first experience with a small house church last night. I have been waiting for some breath-taking, massively emotional, spiritual experience (how American of me), but it never happened. Rather, as I was falling asleep last night and when I awoke, I found myself mulling over the experience; and as I think more about it, it becomes richer and richer.
Forty or 50 of us crowded into a small room. Friends were greeting one another, and new people were personally welcomed. We sang songs for a while with the aid of recorded music (that would not have been in the first century) and then a guest speaker from Taiwan spoke. This church does not have a regular pastor right now, so they share the teaching times and make use of itinerant speakers, which of course is extremely first century.
But after the speaking time, it became extremely interesting. My host (an American) was introduced. It was clear that they felt great affection for him; after all, he has repeatedly travelled long distances and had committed his life to them. He then introduced me as his teacher from 25 years ago (the people have great cultural respect for teachers), but when he said I was his Greek teacher, the reaction was so strong that I had to ask someone what on earth he had said. It has always struck me strange how Greek teachers are viewed overseas with a special level of respect. (Hebrew too I would suspect). I brought a greeting and they were very kind.
And then the new people were introduced. What struck me as interesting was the deep need they have for connection. They are very much the minority, and in some cases the persecuted minority. They live and work pretty much in isolation from the others of faith, and so they desperately need the connection with other believers. Church isn't something you do when it is not nice at the beach; it is life.
I was also struck by how courageous these visitors were. They did not know the people in this house church. They were taking a risk, but they needed the connection and the risk was worth while.
Then we shared a meal. I remember begging my former church to welcome new people (and familiar friends) into their houses and to share a meal, not just with old friends but with other brothers and sisters, because that is what we were: family. But here, it is a given. They want to share. They need to share.
And then we broke into small groups, huddled in cold rooms, and many of the people shared their deep needs, sins, and frustrations. They started by talking about the sermon, what they had learned, but more importantly how they were challenged. For these believers, the end goal is not knowledge. The end purpose is to be changed, transformed, and to encourage one another in the process. While many of them felt defeated, in fact they are much more spiritually healthy than many of the people I have ministered to, because they see their sin, clearly and precisely.
And when I shared about grace, they openly wept. In a culture that values external success, and a culture that has been devastated by the revolution that eradicated the spiritual, their hearts are broken and open. I shared Yancey's definition of grace: "there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less." God just loves you because he is a God of grace, and how he relates to you is not based upon your performance.
A good word for us all.