It’s time for house church. Picture this:
We were gathered around the dining table, two couples, a single mom, two kids, two toddlers, and a teenager. On the lazy susan at the center of the table sat my laptop, with our dear friend’s face on the screen. (She’s homebound and so we Skype her in for church. We spin her around on the lazy susan so she can see who’s sharing in the discussion.) Kids were sleepy and cranky, Dads sleepy too from long hours at work. Everyone was distracted it seemed. I was presenting our lesson and it seemed like no one was paying attention or interested. Then it happened…
Termites invaded our church time. (In New Orleans, we are blessed seasonally with swarms of termites. These pesky creatures swarm (think plagues of Egypt) and are especially fond of light.) In the midst of what seemed to be a particularly chaotic church time already, we began to see termites flying around us. People around the table began smacking their hands together in an effort to annihilate the intruders, but to no avail. They just kept appearing! I looked down and saw, to my horror, that there was just enough space between our door and the threshold to admit a veritable flood of termites, drawn by the light over our dining room table.
At this point, we descended into all-out armageddon as we tried to stuff something in the entry point and kill the termites already invading us. Everyone was on their feet, kids alternately screaming and giggling, teenager totally grossing out. A few dead termites landed on my Bible as I tried to figure out what to do. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to stomp my feet in frustration at the absurdity of a termite swarm on an already out-of-hand evening. I wanted to quit.
I fought the tightness in my stomach and the lump in my throat, barely controlled the irritation in my voice and finished the lesson in our much darker living room. I was relieved when it was over. It had felt like nailing jello to a tree!
In hindsight, we’ve laughed a lot over our little invasion. But I’ve been wondering to myself just why it got me so irritated. I think there are still a few old habits and ideas stuck inside me. Ideas that I picked up in a brick-and-mortar church but really have no bearing on church done at home:
1) You must sit very still and quiet as the preacher preaches his sermon. You must not get up to go to the bathroom unless absolutely necessary. A reverent quiet must be maintained in “the Lord’s House.”
I think this is one of my main obstacles to being positive and confident about what we do to worship at home. The reverent hush in a church building is a precious thing, dear to my heart and comforting to the soul. That said, the rules and regs of church are really simple etiquette for any type of formal meeting or performance. The same rules apply for a play at the theatre, an opera, or even a matinee movie. As we worship together at home, there really is no need for the type of formal behavior expected at a traditional church meeting. Yet I stress out when we can’t maintain absolute quiet, or I feel like no one cares when all eyes aren’t trained on me as I’m attempting to share a scripture verse or Bible lesson. Why is this?
2) Noisy, wiggly kids shouldn’t be disrupting the church. They should be escorted out or maybe taught in children’s church.
This again comes back to etiquette for a formal meeting or performance. At home, we are teaching our children about worship, about God, and about how to follow Him, and I want them to be included in our “services.” Yet I can’t escape the fact that I’m not going to accomplish the totality of their spiritual training in a two hour meeting each week. What did the early church do with their children? As I consider this idea, a scripture comes to mind where God commanded the Israelites to teach His commands to their children. He instructed them to talk of these commands as they come in and go out, as they wake and go to bed. I think I’ve had it backwards. Teaching my children about Jesus is something I need to do 24 hours a day. I must do it at bedtime, wake up time, mealtime, bathtime, and playtime. If the children miss something at our church services, or can’t quite sit through the whole time, well, what’s the big problem if I’ve spent every possible waking moment teaching them of Jesus at other times?
3) You must “get fed” every week by the preacher’s sermon. Sunday services are your source of spiritual growth and so if you don’t receive adequate encouragement, exhortation, learning, and so forth, then your preacher is probably doing something wrong.
I hate the phrase “get fed” when it comes to church. Part of my spiritual training by my parents and even my childhood pastor and his wife included the instillation of enough scriptural knowledge to enable me to “feed” myself!! I feel it’s a poor excuse to say “I’m not getting fed” as a way to blame one’s lack of spiritual growth on the church one attends. That said, I also know that there was a time that Jesus commanded Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” I know that there are those in my home church who need leadership and teaching. So during a chaotic moment when no one seems able to focus or when termites are swarming, I feel inadequate as teacher. I know that the scripture commands us not to forsake meeting together, and further exhorts us to continue doing so to encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25) There are times of great learning that occur at our home church, and yet I return to the idea that, much in the way a child is spiritually trained, discipling of other believers should take place constantly, not only during one weekly timed meeting.
4) You need “good worship” in order to really connect with God. If your music doesn’t compel people to stand, sing enthusiastically, lift their hands or shed a few tears then you haven’t “let the Spirit flow.”
This one’s a doozie! The phrase “good worship” is like nails on a chalkboard to me. As an experienced church musician, I know, love and appreciate the church music. I also know that chill bumps are induced as much by well-timed dynamics, well placed acapella measures with triumphant instrumental re-entry, or well-chosen instruments as they are by the “flow of the Holy Spirit.” Don’t get me wrong. I love to worship God through music. It’s biblical, it’s wonderful, it’s fulfilling. There have been times I know the Holy Spirit has enabled me to play or sing a song in a very supernatural way, and I know I could not repeat it of my own ability. I just can’t help feeling ashamed of the direct correlation placed in today’s church between the quality of music and the “flow” of the Spirit. I know the scripture tells us to play skillfully on our instruments to the Lord. I know there is merit in giving God the best of our abilities. Yet sometimes I’ve worshipped through music, with sobs, with tears, with mistakes. It didn’t sound good, but it WAS good. There’s a difference between “good worship” and professional sounding music. At home, all the trappings of mics and drum sets, sound boards and screens are stripped away. Music takes some of its most primitive forms as our little group finds ways to use it as we worship together. Again, I wonder, shouldn’t music be more prominent in my DAILY interactions with God, my family, and those I disciple. Shouldn’t it go beyond the performance during a service?
There seems to be a theme here. A theme that would apply whether one worships at a traditional church or in a home or wherever: Spiritual growth, training, and worship is a LIFESTYLE. Church meetings, wherever they are, are simply one PART of what we should do as followers of Jesus, most specifically for the purpose of encouraging each other.
This definitely lessens my stress when I think about trying to structure our home church meetings. They are a valuable tool in our spiritual growth, but not the “be all, end all” of our interactions with God. I knew that embracing home church would be a lifestyle change for me, but I can’t help wondering if embracing the idea that our spiritual lives should permeate our WHOLE lives in an all-consuming way might enhance the church experience for anyone, no matter what their church situation. If church is our only method of spiritual practice, then when church meetings go awry (as they often do at any church) we are left with nothing to fall back on. But if church meetings are simply a wonderful tool to assist us in our spiritual growth, not our only source of spiritual nutrition, then we are much more free to be ourselves, worship together, and handle the occasional termite invasion.
Those termites might be pesky alright, but they’ve sure given me some theology to consider! Let ’em swarm!