What is a house church? A high-power Bible study to replace your friendly neighborhood Baptist church? A Chinese thing that Christian sinophiles like to copy? I’m not really into revolution and radical excitement, and professional prophet types inspire me to special sorts of loathing. When I discovered The Luke 10 Manual by Steve and Marilyn Hill, I found not a florid rebel leaflet but a battered army handbook from an old and venerable war. It can be sharp and edgy, but it bears a practical focus on the essentials.
Stephen and Marylin Hill are church planters with experience in Central Asia, Europe, and North America. Centering on Luke 10, where Jesus sends out the seventy-two ahead of him to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9, ESV), they expound a cohesive and practical vision for the individual, the church, and for Christian mission. The Hills plot out a way of doing things that shortens the distance between talk in church on Sunday and the consummation of the Christian life. The book was originally written to help Central Asian Christians focus on Jesus’ mission and escape the tentacles of Western institutionalized Christianity. They note that several friends “have asked why we spend so much time dealing with the context of western institutionalism and charismatic expressions of church life if this book was written for the east. Simply because western charismatic expression is everywhere!”
The book holds a number of damning criticisms for the way church and mission are presently done. It addresses everything from the simple cost of maintaining church buildings and Christian institutional infrastructure, to prosperity gospel preachers and their various schemes. Stephen Crosby’s review at the front of the book highlights the authors’ “clear prophetic edge that enables [them] to say the necessary hard things without polemic venom”, but it is hard to lay down heavy words without at least a little thud. The book offers practical counsel on how to stick to Jesus’ mission and not get snared in institutionalism or caught by predatory preaching: learn to rely upon Jesus Christ alone.
The authors present Jesus as Lord and encourage you to fully rely upon and obey him. They emphasize Jesus’ on the job training of disciples rather than formalized education and certification, demonstrating that anyone can live to obey Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Planting house churches is indeed a potent way to carry out ministry locally or abroad. The book even holds some shocking conclusions regarding how to pray for missions. At the beginning of chapter two (“Wasted Prayers and the Geography Problem”), the authors state,
It may be controversial to point out that Jesus did not command us to pray for the lost but that is the truth. He did not ask us to pray for the harvest. The cries of the lonely, the abused, the tortured, the fearful, the sick, the addicted, the raped, the starving, the oppressed and the afflicted are continuously touching the Father’s heart. The cries of the lost are effective, powerful and never ending prayers.
Jesus saw the fields as spiritually white and more than ready. They need no more spiritual preparation. We need to hear their prayers! They do not need our prayers. They need our obedience.
Focusing on the supreme victory of Christ’s death and resurrection, the authors emphasize that God has already given Christians the power and authority that they need to carry out his mission. They just need to go, and planting house churches offers a way (if not the way) forward.
This authors regularly assert that the methods they present are Jesus’ methods. They go from early church history to the present day and demonstrate how the institutionalization of Christianity co-opted Jesus’ simple and reproducible model for drawing others to the knowledge of God. Having recently finished reading a tome on Roman history, I found the book’s treatment of history to be remarkably accurate, even considering the tilt of their argument. While I believe that there is a purpose for institutional Christianity, I must concede that the best way to read this book is to seek instruction rather than to try to assimilate its message into the status quo.
This book has stunned my thinking about missions and ministry and I will have to finish digesting this book in order to proceed. While I do believe that institutional Christianity holds a great deal of good (and you can even see that the authors extensively cite sources generated by Christians working in institutional contexts), some big things do have to change and this book offers a way out. The chief thing is to commit ourselves not to a revolution in the established church but to a lifetime of serving others on their home turf, not luring them onto ours.
I urge you to get this book and think about what it would take to make this sort of ministry happen. If you are a pastor or a church leader, maybe you can at least shake some of your young people on fire for Jesus out of the local church to get them living for Jesus’ mission here and now through planting house churches. As the goal is to minister to the lost and the hurting in Jesus’ name, house churches may be the way to go.
Also check out the blog where I found the review that tipped me off to this book. You can get the paperback or the ebook on the Barnes and Noble website or directly through the publisher. I have not yet seen it on Amazon. I plan to do a followup post on this one to further develop my thoughts on this book. If you have read the book, tell me what you think.