Kid Friendly Home Churches

By Jill Crisp

Jill is from  a network of fellowships in Australia

We call the time we do things with the kids ‘whole church activities’ rather than marginalizing it by calling it ‘children’s activities’.

0 – 5 Year Olds

We make sure that they are given attention by more people than just their parents.  If they are ignored by others, they are very likely to act up and try to monopolize their parents.

One adult or a couple of older kids, sometimes plays ball with them outside, to use up some of their excess energy and give them the feeling that they are worth spending time with.

We have colored pencils and paper on a low table for them to draw with, while people are talking. (We have found that texta colours and crayons can make unfortunate marks on carpet and furniture, so it is best not to make them available to this age group.)

We have found that a ‘difficult’ toddler will often benefit from an adult, who is not one of the toddlers parents, but who is prepared to be a ‘special friend’ to him or her.  This involves the adult paying this child special attention in meetings but not being monopolized by him or her. It starts the child on the path of positive interactions with adults when perhaps most previous interactions were negative (‘don’t do that!’, ‘be quiet.’ ‘get away from there!’).

We have a box of ‘quiet’ toys for the little ones, in the room where church meets.  Because they don’t play with them all the time, they are likely to be more interesting than the ones they could bring from home. Noisy toys like ‘corn poppers’ and hammer toys need to be put out of sight before the little ones arrive. This age group seems to learn about Christian life by EXPERIENCING Christian love and attention from other people in the group more than from hearing about it in teachings.

The little ones in our church love action songs.

6 – 10 Year Olds

We have acted out whole books of the bible, a chapter or so at a time, for the benefit of this age group (older kids like this too).  Over the years we have done Acts, Matthew’s gospel and are now planning to try Exodus. (Sometimes we skip over the very philosophical parts, which would be difficult for the children to understand.)  Everybody seems to enjoy this kind of exercise.  The smaller ones love playing Jesus or some kind of a ruler because it reverses the role they usually play in life.

The adults benefit from doing something physical and the stories stay in people’s minds because we have seen them unfold before us.

This age group is often happy to share a prayer time with the adults, where everyone says a one-sentence ‘thank you’ prayer.  In general, however, our 6 to 10 year olds hate to sit through long adult prayers. For this reason, we save up our expansive, peaceful praying to a time when the adults are alone together.

 11 – 15 Year Olds

 The children in this age group in our church, love special church outings.  We have a tradition of going once a year into the foothills near Canberra to pick blackberries and have a picnic.  Also, around this warm time of year we have an afternoon of boating and sailing together on the lake. Home church camps at the beach are also very popular.

We are just beginning a roster with adults and children alike being responsible for different home church activities, e.g., choosing the songs, accompanying songs with musical instruments, getting the food heated and on the table.  11 to 15 year olds often seem to have practical skills that can benefit the church.  We have discovered that it is worth looking for them in each child.  Perhaps they are enjoying cooking at school and would like to cook something for everyone.  Some of our girls learn singing and are able to lead us in part-singing.  It has been quite a heavenly experience at times.

Some of our kids, at this age become morose and a bit uncooperative in church (Probably because they want to be somewhere else with their friends.  Other times I think it is just because they are tired from high school, home work and a heavy social life.).  I find that I have better ‘spiritual’ talks with my teenager, when crises and questions come up at home than I do at church.  Because these are the real and important issues of life,  I try to make time to listen and talk when she is ready to speak.  This is hard, but I think it has paid dividends over the years. Adult mentors from within home church are good for kids of this age and older.

Life Together First Century Style

This is a description by a Bible scholar/historian concerning what typically would be the “gathering together” of early believers. I don’t know about you, but it kind of puts in perspective the whole idea about “church meetings,” programs and questions like “What do we do with the kids.”

The worship of an early Christian house church probably centered around the dinner table. They don’t necessarily all sit facing forward like in a church building that we think of today but rather they’re in someone’s dining room and the center of their activity really is the fellowship meal or the communal meal. The term communion actually comes from this experience of the dining fellowship…. We need to remember that dining is one of the hallmarks of early Christian practice almost from the very beginning. All the gospel traditions tend to portray Jesus at the dinner table as a very important part of his activity. Paul’s confrontation with Peter at Antioch is over dining, and when we look at the context of the letters, especially First Corinthians, the role of dining in fellowship is central to all of their religious understanding and practices.

“We also know that all other aspects of worship that we think of as going with early Christian practice probably happened around the dinner table as well. Paul refers to one person having a song and another person bringing a prayer. Everyone is contributing to the banquet whether it’s in the form of food or in the form of their piety and worship. They all bring it to the table…. Some of them bring prophecies or charismatic gifts, and these too form some of the concerns that Paul deals with in some of the letters. Sometimes charismatic gifts also produce tension within Paul’s communities. We hear at times of Paul having to discipline people or suggest that the congregation discipline people by kicking them out of the fellowship dinner because he doesn’t like the ethical behavior of some people. We hear of questions of dining with pagans and going to dinner parties where the meat might not be of a suitable sort, so there’s all kinds of questions that come up in the context of this house church environment in Paul’s letters.”

Taken from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/congregations.html

Love vs. Organization

By Hal Miller

In a recent dialogue about the issue of leadership, authority and organization, Frank Viola, author of Rethinking the Wineskin and Who is Your Covering? [NOTE: these two volumes are out of print, but they have been revised and combined in the newer book, “Reimagining Church]. observed, “I know a number of groups that have ‘tried’ to employ the New Testament model of leadership, especially in the 1970’s when this sort of thing was quite popular among charismatics, and many of them have found that it didn’t work.  Consequently, today, when New Testament church principles are brought to their attention, their response is usually: ‘Oh yea, we’ve already been through all that and it just doesn’t work.’”

In a related conversation, Robert Banks, recognized authority on home based churches,  said, “It does trouble me that, proportionally, [organization] comes up so often when, biblically speaking, it is not as central as certain other issues. For example, how often [do we discuss] what Paul says is the most central, enduring obligation we have in church, that is to ‘love’ one another?”

Keeping the Focus

I have concluded that these two comments are closely related to each other. Like Robert Banks, I’ve come increasingly to think that our penchant for wanting to get the organizational problem “right” represents a missed focus. The apostles’ admonition to the churches is, in general, “figure out how to love each other,” not “figure out how to get your organization right.”

Getting your organization right (and I would include here discussions of spiritual authority, church government, apostolic succession, papal infallibility, and a raft of other topics which depend on your denominational heritage) simply isn’t that important compared with figuring out how to love each other.

More importantly, those get-the-organization-right concerns end up sapping the energy that should go into worrying how to concretely love, and blurring the focus that we should give to learning to serve each other. That’s not a necessary thing, but it is a reality.

I suspect that this is one of the underlying reasons for the failures Frank Viola and others observe. Many champions of so-called “New Testament models” have been so focused on getting the organization right that they have missed the fact that a church unfocused on loving simply isn’t one. It isn’t one even if it exactly replicates some putative “New Testament model” of government or church organization. And churches that aren’t [focused on loving] don’t usually work for long.

In considering issues of organization, I believe two things need to be considered at the outset:

#1: What actual “cash value” will any conclusions have for the core business of the church, that is, loving? In other words, if we happen to get the organizational problem right, what good does it do us in our core mission?

#2: What do we lose if we fail to get the organizational problem right? This is more than just the same question flipped ’round. Here, the issue is: if I worry myself thoroughly about loving, and continue in the same pathetic, unbiblical, corrupt church government that I always have, what have I lost? Not in abstract terms, but concretely and specifically, as I’m walking with these others in my home church.

I resonate with Robert Banks. Discussions of organization are often discussions misplaced. I wonder whether that misplacement is one of the core reasons behind Viola’s observation that many (or most) of those who tried to get the organizational problem right in previous decades flopped. In my view, we’re better off trying to figure out how to love God and one another. That’s certainly a harder problem. But if we keep getting drawn, like bugs to a light bulb, into other issues like getting the organization right, we’ll be able to give our children a completely untouched field of exploration—learning how to love.

A Practical Example

When our family was in England earlier this month, we spent some time with a church in the East End of London. Organizationally, they’re quite a mish-mash— lots of home-church values; a paid guy who does some pastor stuff; no elders exactly but a set of leadership teams; nominal charismatic worship; age integrated church life . . . you get the idea? In other words, in a simple-minded way, they’ve tried to learn whatever they could from whomever they could. And they ended up with an organization that would make any good purist retch and run away.

But they’re quite wonderful people having the time of their lives trying to love God and each other. What were they learning? They were working through Ephesians trying to figure out what it meant for them that God’s purpose in the church was shown in Jews and Gentiles being one Body.

Now the East End is the underbelly of London. It’s largely immigrant which in their case means Pakistani, Indian, and sub-Saharan African. In that polyglot kind of world, being one body, Jew and Gentile, translated pretty directly into learning to love a collection of people very different from yourself.

And their opinion was that in the East End, church labels had come to mean nothing. Pentecostal and Evangelical and (even!) Anglican churches were walking more or less happily along with their little mongrel band learning to be one body, Jew and Gentile. God’s purpose — one body—loving—was pretty evident both between the people of this church and between them and the other churches around them.  It was pretty exciting. Those of us in the US are at least a generation away from that. We have that sense of walking together, often, at the grassroots level, from one Christian to another, but it seldom extends to whole churches. Here in America, churches are still too worried about getting something or other right to give their energy and focus to loving. End of story. The relevance is pretty clear to me, but you should draw your own conclusions.

At the time of this article, Hal Miller was a part of Salem Community Church in Salem, Massachusetts <http://www.home-church.org/>. These remarks were excerpted from comments made in an online discussion taken from the House Church Discussion List (HCDL).

 

Building community in Jesus

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