"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Compare House Churches to Institutional Churches

I often receive correspondence from people who've read my book Fraudulent Authority, asking me questions about how an institutional or traditional church can operate if there is "no authority" vested in the office of pastor or in "male elders who rule over God's people."

First, I explain that there is a difference between spiritual authority and legal authority.

A police officer who stops you has legal authority, but he or she is not your spiritual authority. So too, in any church that petitions the government for 501-C3 non-profit status (incorporation status), there are people that the state recognizes as the legal authority of that church.

It's not the pastor. It's not the people. The state recognizes the trustees of the incorporated church as the legal authority.

Most Christians don't realize that if a traditional church faces a lawsuit, the trustees of the church are the ones who go to court. Insurance policies cover the church for liability, but trustees answer to the court on all legal matters.

Emmanuel Enid has a leadership team that is composed of the chairpersons of our seven standing committees (Finance, Personnel, Missions, etc.) and five trustees, plus the Lead Pastor. No person on this Leadership Team, including the pastor, has spiritual authority over anybody else.

But we recognize that the state places legal authority in the trustees, and civil authority in the pastor (e.g. marriage ceremonies, special exemptions on taxes, etc.).

There is no spiritual authority over anybody in the church except Jesus Christ.
Jesus called them aside and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave." Matthew 20:25-27
Half of our Leadership Team is composed of females, and the other half is composed of males. The best leadership decision we've ever made as a church in the last 50 years at Emmanuel Enid is placing gifted, humble women of character in positions of leadership. 

All business decisions between quarterly church business meetings are made by the Leadership Team. But no one person on the Leadership Team considers himself or herself greater than, lord over, or ruler of any person in the church of Jesus Christ. 

We leave rulership to Him.

House Churches vs. Traditional Churches


Once people begin to understand that all spiritual authority is invested in Christ, and His Spirit becomes the sole ruler in the hearts of His people, then the next question that arises goes like this: 
"Well if that's the case, wouldn't it be better for Christians to meet in homes and do Kingdom work than to waste money on traditional churches where preachers act as if they are God's vicar on earth?"
It's a good question.

I pastor a fairly large church, but I'm sympathetic toward house churches.

I also understand more than most that the church where I pastor can do far more to impact nations and people groups cooperating in massive mission efforts than a local house church. But, truth be known, house churches can participate with other large 501C-3 non-profits and participate in some of the same humanitarian and gospel work that we do at Emmanuel Enid.

So let's talk about the pros/cons of house churches vs. traditional churches.

Graeme Cooksley of Australia has read Fraudulent Authority, and he is involved in a house church. He also has leadership experience in a large, traditional church which possessed a good understanding of proper servant leadership (e.g. pastors or elders who refused to rule over or control people).

Graeme has given me some insight into the pros and cons of house churches vs. insitutional churches, and he's given me permission to share it with you.
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It is assumed that house churches (HC), function with small numbers, often 20 or less. Institutional churches (IC) may be from 20 up to mega size in numbers.

The Meaning of "Church"

The HC concept is that the Christian is ‘being the Church’, (as opposed to ‘going to church’), wherever he/she may be. The follow on from this is that one’s whole life is seen as ministry. This can empower too, as any part of life is seen as missional.
The IC is seen as its members finding their identity in ‘going to church’, often with tribal undertones, and the church often functions along business (think hierarchical tree), or association paradigms. Often, whatever the member wants to pursue, is controlled from “the Top”, both within and without the fellowship. (Note: this last characteristic can be found in HCs too, if dominated and controlling leadership is present in them.)

Relationships

The HC is more relational with the smaller numbers. Good personal relationships between attendees are often the normal, which helps build a sense of community, or family feel.
The IC lack good relationships between attendees, and rather, may provide the anonymity that some may like or prefer, but, it may also leave people feeling alone/lost “in the crowd”.

Hospitality

The HC is often structured to include a meal (start or finish), and if not that, then some form of refreshment and fellowship “around the table” that involves all participating.
This may be more difficult in the IC, and refreshment may lead to friends/cliques meeting (to catch up!), that tends to be isolationist, and often tends to leave others out.


Prominent Personality 1

The HC may have a dominant vocal person that makes group participation difficult. This person may too, be a bully. 
The IC church setting, because of traditional program or culture, does not see this so often, although the ‘leader’ (pastor), may be prominent, even to the stage of gaining a following. It may be evident too, in the IC’s small groups setting. The leader or others in a small group may be a bully.

Prominent Personality 2

 The HC setting generally functions in an “all expected to participate/contribute” setting. Often someone will share or teach, and it tends to be dialogue rather than monologue. Often someone is asked to share “next week”, this is a jump off point. All the attendees are encouraged to be participators, ask questions (nothing out of bounds!), discuss, or challenge any teaching or statement. Duties tend to fall on the persons gifted in that particular area, i.e. functional ministries.
The IC often has a prominent person, generally the “pastor”, and there is a traditional program format that tends to inhibit open individual participation, particularly with ordinances and sacraments, which may require “qualified” ministries. The attendees tend to have a passive/spectator role, apart from corporate singing, and rostered and appointed duties.

Theological Error

The HC may face erroneous teaching, and it often depends on the maturity and knowledge of the others, to detect error and bring correction. Error or suspect matter can often quickly be confronted in a small group. On the other hand a heterodoxical view, or alternative interpretation of text(s) may cause a problem in a small group, either by division, or total acceptance and focus on that theme/topic, thus leading to unbalanced teaching.
The IC may also face erroneous teaching that may not be so easy to correct, especially if it come from a controlling, authoritive pastor, with no or little accountability to attendees, or other leadership. Often IC constitutions or rules may be more man-made than Scriptural, and the IC “cultural inertia” may make change/correction almost impossible, especially if it is a top-down doctrine/teaching.

Meeting Content

The HC setting allows flexibility/spontaneity, not only in meeting together times, but in content, and the opportunity to be led by the Spirit, but in a small gathering, people with certain Gifts of the Holy Spirit, may not be present to contribute to and/or encourage the others. (cf above in Prominent Personality 2: )
Generally, everyone can make a contribution in the meeting, or share gifts and ministries in other ways.
The HC meeting may tend towards topical sharing, and may even be unbalanced by emphasis in one area.
The IC setting tends to be program driven, which may be restrictive, especially to individual gifted attendees. Some may never get opportunity to exercise their gifts/ministry in the congregational setting.
The majority of those in a meeting will be spectators, with only a few participating. Often, in Pentecostal/Charismatic fellowships some of the Gifts of the Spirit may operate, involving a few people (sometimes, even, in an allocated program time span!).
Some ICs often follow a prescribed lectionary program (over, say, 3 years), and preaching/teaching is often linked to those texts and church calendar themes, which can lead to more expository rather than topical teaching/preaching.
In both settings a lack of preparation by participants may affect the gathering.

Finances

The HC generally has little overhead expenses and salary costs for staff. Giving can be utilised fully for external purposes. Giving is not a strong topic or raised very often. (My view is that giving should be Spirit-led, not mechanical, or obligatory tithes. GC)
The IC, often with property, buildings and salary overheads, means that a substantial part of giving is for self-supporting purposes. However, by combining with other IC churches (in the denomination), giving may allow larger money sums be provided for substantial expenditure items, e.g. missional projects.

Accountability

The HC fellowships tend to be autonomous, and may not be open to accountability by others, if error or problems arise. The autonomy may cause a disconnect with other parts of The Church in a city.
The IC may provide a means of oversight and accountability. However, if the IC’s denomination moves into error, then so does the IC, which then may give rise to constitutional problems, if it wants to disassociate with that denominational stand. Likewise, an IC may, or may not, connect with and relate to other parts of The Church in a city. In some cases, the IC may actually be autonomous, and if part of a denominational group, control or relational pressure from that group may not be possible, e.g. the SBC.

Authority

The HC situation may vary: 1. often authority is carried by the fellowship, in that, some decisions are consensus voice, and at other times it may be vested in a person, depending on their giftedness (functional), and the situation. Overall there is a recognition that Jesus is the ultimate authority. This authority is supportive of others’ ministries and callings. 
2. On the other hand, some HCs have a controlling person(s), exercising authority, that tends to brook no dissent and conformity.
The IC tends to have authority vested in those in positional (office) places, and like 2., of the HC above, the authority is authoritive, controlling, and may not be accountable to others. It can lead to “my way, or the highway” scenes with others. The structures tend be hierarchal, often with the hierarchal line extending outside the local congregation, or even outside the geographical boundaries of area and/or country. The IC often has a “corporation” feel about it, and the authority may be exercised more in a CEO manner rather than out of servanthood.

Metrics

The HC measures strengths of relationships, between one another, and more importantly between the individuals and God. The latter is presumed in the (oft asked) question, “What has God been saying to you today? Is there something we need to hear, or act on?” Relationship building occurs outside of the “regular fellowship”, with social get-togethers, 1 on 1 coffee, meals etc.
The IC metrics seem to be around, as a friend was want to say at his leaders’ meetings, “What is the discussion about tonight? Is it the ABC?”, i.e. Attendance, Buildings, Cash-flow! (Some ICs are using facial recognition/computers to track attendance!!) Many ICs are performance driven, numbers/buildings growth being a huge measure of the" success” (of the leader).

Leadership (Touched on in part, in paragraphs above.)

The HC leadership styles vary from group to group, from true servants, to dominating and controlling leaders. Some are in networks or linking, and may even have a hierarchal structure. In the 2 groups I am closely associated with, the leader is more in a facilitator role, and serving. If asked, “who is the leader?”, the response is often, “Whoever is speaking at the moment!”
The IC leadership is generally a dominant model, often a “one man band”, with total control of the meetings, and what attendees can do or not do. That leadership may be moderated by a board, or committee, or elders, depending on the IC’s constitution, culture, and/or tradition.

Growth strategies

 The HC movement looks for growth from the locality, by going out to engage the community. Some may use a prayer walking strategy to facilitate this. Many encourage the building of long term relationships with neighbours with hospitality, or engagement in local activities, and this is seen as missional. Often a local “information” meeting is arranged, and an opportunity is offered, to inform and encourage people to consider HC.
When it comes to church planting, it is relatively easy for a group from the first HC to move to a new locality and start, often with no expense, as all that is required, is in the new house setting. The “plant” may start with only a few people, and in a very simple way.
Personal growth is encouraged, and facilitated, often by a personal discipleship program. Often a “teach a disciple today, let them teach that to someone else tomorrow”, is a growth approach. Also, development comes by encouraging participation (both inside and outside), by asking attendees to bring a word, devotion, tell what God is doing/saying in their lives, present a communion word, or ask questions, with dialogue encouraged to add-to material presented.
The IC looks for growth from the locality, too, but often in the way of inviting people to “come”, to an existing church building. Ministry is seen as specialist (ordained), and often a clergy/laity dichotomy precludes development of personal ministries, or limits what may be done, often the “growth” strategy is to invite non-believers to ‘the church”, for ministry. Growth of persons is often facilitated by a “Bible Study” night, often presented in a monologue, with little interaction, or a topical programed study guide.
A church plant is often a carefully planned, budgeted and implemented strategy. Traditional thinking often requires a suitable building and facilities, musical instruments, a team with the leader, and often 10s’ of thousands of dollars finance for the materials required, and the staff salaries.
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These are some good comparisons of the pros and cons of house churches vs. institutional churches.

My personal conclusions is that one ought to be wary of anyone who categorically rules out house churches OR institutional churches.

Both are beset with traps, and both have advantages.

The main challenge for both types of churches is for those participating to focus on Kingdom work and stop trying to rule others or gain advantages over others through Fraudulent Authority

Welcoming Without Affirming Yet Transforming

For those of us who believe in truth and live in grace, we sometimes find ourselves misunderstood.

Because we welcome and love all the people in our lives,  we are sometimes wrongly perceived as "compromising" the truth.

On the other hand, because we say that adulterous, homosexual, bi-sexual, and transexual behavior is sin, some wrongly perceive us as judgmental.

There is another way.

A Christian can be welcoming and loving without affirming.

It's similar to welcoming into your home for Christmas your 6-pack a day cigarette smoking and pint daily Scotch drinking father into your house without smoking cigarettes and drinking Scotch yourself. You also do not feel the need to affirm to anyone how smoking that many cigarettes and drinking that much Scotch is simply an alternative way to enjoy life.

Loving without affirming is possible.

But navigating LBGT issues as Christians who believe that God's Word conveys eternal truth is not easy.

I have a friend who has written a book that gives superb guidance.

Travis Collins has written a book entitled What Does It Mean To Be Welcoming? Navigating LGBT Issues In Your Church.

Of all the books I've read on this subject, Travis' book is the hands-down best book on the subject!

Travis writes:
"The way of compassionate morality means extending our arms and hearts to people who are making bad sexual choices whether they are straight or gay, but not endorsing those choices.”
The book is divided into three sections. In the first section, Travis asks the difficult questions and shows the importance of having this conversation. In the second section, Travis takes us to the Scriptures and shows us the relevant passages on issues of sexual morality and provides insight into differing viewpoints. And in the final section,  Travis encourages the read through sharing testimonies of people helped by these conversations and challenges the reader to continue the conversation because it's important.
"To love God is to keep his commandments as best we can understand them. To love people is to extend grace. We cannot falter on either.” Travis Collins

Outreach Magazine recently awarded What Does It Mean To Be Welcoming? the 2019 Outreach Resource Book of the Year. 

Travis Collins is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama, and has served as a pastor and missionary for more than three decades.  He holds a Ph.D. in Christian Mission and is a member of the Fresh Expressions US Team.  


I highly recommend What Does It Mean To Be Welcoming?

It will be a lighted path toward welcoming without affirming yet transforming.