The move from solo traditional church to a house church network has required me to rethink issues of church leadership. In short, I am attempting to negotiate a new identity from "Pastor Bill" (the "senior pastor" of a local traditional church) to Bill, the Director of a church network. The latter is a much more apostolic role -- i.e., it is much more about leading leaders who empower the people they directly influence than it is about me pastoring the entire flock in the manner most familiar to a traditional church structure.
All of us in VCMN are adjusting to this shift in various ways. I remember a conversation I had with one of our house church host couples who, after finally sensing the call to open their home, asked me who I would be sending to act as the group's leader. I wasn't sure. I began to think of people I could send to the group to be the leader, but I had a nagging feeling that this was the wrong way to approach things and the wrong precedent to set given our network formation. Eventually, the couple came back to me with a new message: they had figured out on their own that they were called to lead the group they were hosting. I heartily and instantly agreed that this was right. Up to that point, we had been trying to simply reproduce traditional church in a home format -- sort of a miniature church. But that is not a reproduceable or empowering model. The fact is that this couple -- like thousands upon thousands of people sitting in the chairs or pews of traditional churches -- were PLENTY qualified to care for a house church group. They had been Christians for YEARS, had been involved in church and missions ministry, have adult children in full-time ministry but, even then, we all stumbled for a second over the issue of whether they should "lead" the group they would host.
How many churches are stacked with leaders of all ages who (as my friend Charity put it) are in a college from which they never really graduate? They hear sermon after sermon, sing song after song, maybe even find a niche of service in the church, but if you asked them whether they were "leaders", you would likely get a puzzled look in their face. "Oh, we're not qualified to be leaders", they might say -- but they'd be wrong. I am convinced that the corporate church notion of leadership is stifling kingdom ministry in everyday places and causing multitudes of perfectly good and qualified leaders to remain blind to their gifts and opportunities.
As house church leaders, my friends are responsible to make decisions about the spiritual direction of the group they lead (in collaboration, of course, with their group). They are called to provide basic spiritual care and support and have backup in people like me should higher level or thornier issues of pastoral care come up. They are true leaders, truly leading a small group of people who are discovering their mission, growing in faith, managing challenges -- all without being told what to do or how to do it by their "upline". This model is endlessly reproducible and will support untold numbers of new community-based ministry outlets if we will trust the Holy Spirit to organize leaders, groups and their ministry focuses in ways that express God's timeless mission instead of everything needing to be highly centralized or heavily "top down".
It's rather like a home school model. In the home school model (as I understand it) the assumption is that "non-professional" moms and dads are equipped and supported to be their children's teachers. I suppose this is because it is assumed that no one knows their kids and the their learning styles better and, if properly resourced, supported and connected with others, are perfectly capable of making eduacation happen in everyday places (homes and the like). Traditional schools, by contrast, are "top down" affairs. The assumption is that the experts know education best and they tell the teachers what to teach and how to teach it. Resources are centralized and authority is heiracrchical. No one would say these schools don't produce students and no one should say that traditional church don't make some disciples. But the explosive growth in home schools -- and the growing boom in house churches and other simple church models -- remind us that there is another way that is effective (some would say far more effective) at using kingdom resources to fulfill the kingom mission.