Job One: do not organize yourself around your anxieties.
It is a deathly habit that will chain you to futility, limitation, doubts and depletion. Like a black hole in outer space, anxiety will pull you into its bottomless gravity until you altogether disappear. It may be tempting to think of avoiding your fears as real work, but don't take that bait. Remember that churning with anxiety - anxiously mulling things over in your mind - does not actually improve anything. It is not progress. It is not problem-solving. For all the time and energy you give to it, it gives you nothing you can use in return.
You have another choice: you can organize yourself around the Almighty God.
Rest assured that the gravitational pull of grace is more powerful than the gravitational pull of anxiety. And from where does this grace gravity emanate? From God Himself.
"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you". In that biblical call we find an alternative to living in reactive response to our anxieties, fears, and imaginations of catastrophe. God's call is for us to organize ourselves around Him. Doing so is the primal, foundational act of faith.
Once settled into that all-important divine alignment, we still will have our challenges to face, decisions to make, and threats to manage. When anxiety was at the center, we found ourselves drifting either into total paralysis or staccato bursts of emotional thrashing. With Christ at the center we can see clearly, think clearly, assess resources and options clearly. "In this world you will have tribulation," Jesus said, "but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world."
This continues the conversation Dave and I had while serving together on a pastoral retreat care team in Idaho in April.
Bill: What expectations does Vineyard Central place on people who attend the various house churches? Can you just come out and “hang with the family” indefinitely?
Dave: Our expectation is that everybody will have a role. You can’t just show up week after week as a non-participant. We want to help everyone get to the place where they are able to identify what their role will be to everyone else in the group. Each group helps to name and identify the gifts they see in people and call them to deploy them. By four months in, most people should know their role pretty clearly.
For example, at our house church my Mom – prepares and serves communion and my Dad is the treasurer. He stewards the funds we collect, processes everything through our central system and returns our checks back to house church. (Note: Half of the funds collected from a given house church as contributions are returned to the house church so they can be utilized missionally).
Bill: What are some of the other roles people might take in a house church?
Dave: There are musicians, an apprentice leader, another apprentice leader, outreach coordinator and so on. Everyone can do something.
Bill: Sounds like this depends on the ability to “know and be known” which must be a key value to your community over and above mere attendance.
Dave: For us it matters that we become a transparent community that has conversations of consequence. We don’t dance around the bush. We have a check-in time. “What’s going on, how is God moving in your life”. When I see transparency, I affirm and point-it-out. We want more of it.
Bill: What would a typical schedule look like at “Hearth” (name of the house church Dave leads)?
Dave: Typically, we meet from about 6:00 to 8:00 or 8:15 at the Speckled Bird Café. Some of our other house churches do a full blown dinner. Ours doesn’t yet. However, we do invite people to show up thirty minutes early and “brown bag” it before the official start. There is a check in time and then a time of worship in song. For our Biblical instruction, we have taught our people the technique of Lexio Divina as a way of helping them to strategically listen to the gospel. In the four months we’ve been together we have gone through James, Colossians and Ephesians – one chapter per night. We help them to prepare for an encounter with God and His Word. Be still. Slow down your breathing. Listen for God’s voice. What lingers after you read the passage? What stirs in you? What stands out? What do you want to tell me?
Then, we’ll ask: “Does anyone have anything to share after sitting with this passage?”
In addition, we’ll add a 10 – 15 minute teaching every other week. These are vignettes on particular topics that are led by me or by others.
Of course, there is always a time to pray together. We’ll break up into groups and pray for one another. Often, our opening check in time will drive some of this.
“I’ve got to meet these people!” I said to myself after reading the old issue of the Cutting Edge Magazine online.
The theme of that particular issue of the Vineyard’s publication for church planters was “Out of the Box Churches”. The issue featured the church led by Dave Nixon and Kevin Raines and their team in Norwood (Cincinnati), Ohio. I was intrigued, to say the least!
Vineyard Central, the name of the church, was begun as a traditional church plant but quickly shifted to a house church network after the fire department condemned the space they were using for Sunday worship services. Now, many years later, the Vineyard Central community continues as a house church network – and more. Their very useful website is at: www.vineyardcentral.com.
You can imagine how excited I was to find that I would be spending 10 days with Dave Nixon as a partner in the Vineyard Pastoral Sabbath Retreat care team this month in Idaho. While there, we managed to carve out some time together to swap some favorite music (I turned him on to Fleet Foxes and he introduced me to recordings of his daughter, Kim, a wonderful singer/songwriter!). We also talked about house church – him being the veteran, and me being the starry-eyed beginner. Here are some excerpts from our discussion:
Bill: What is the current status of house churches at Vineyard Central?
Dave: When I resigned from leading the ministry in 2000 (to take on some other roles within the community), we had ten robust house churches. After eight years, we shrank back to three. Six are being reestablished. House churches live or die by their leadership. Without really good ongoing training and mentoring, they will not sustain. Leaders need to define the culture of the churches. This is critical.
Bill: How and when does everyone come together at once?
Dave: We have tried different rhythms, but currently we meet once a month (Vineyard Central owns St. Elizabeth’s, a historic former Catholic church structure in their neighborhood). Most people – 60% - will come to the monthly festival. We hope to see that number rise. These gatherings are called “festivals” and loosely correspond to the Christian calendar (Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, etc). Each month has a theme such as community, hospitality, neighborhood, and so on.
Bill: How important is it for the house church groups to know their purpose?
Dave: We expect each house church to be the church in all aspects and not just a Bible study or “kinship” group. We ask them to spell out and make explicit the purpose of their group. We are called together to worship, express the values of Christ’s new community – mutual care – and we are emphasizing the missional aspect of each group more. I have told the leaders of the groups: “If you cannot establish a mission as a home church, it questions the validity of its being”.
As a house church (their particular HC is called "Hearth"), we are committed to exploring, identifying, birthing and supporting expressions of hospitality in West Norwood. We might get behind something we didn’t start if it expresses the heart of the Kingdom of God.