Ohio Trip 6: Fruitful Tensions

Before visiting my next home group Wednesday, I ate lunch with the teaching pastor and the executive pastor of Apex, along with one of the elders overseeing some of their house churches. They had just come from a meeting in which they were hammering out a strategy for presenting their story at the National House Church Conference hosted in Dallas by House2House about a month from now. Their greatest challenge, as I understand it, is to find a common mind among the two very different mentalities within their “hybrid” fellowship. Some of them feel more at home in the traditional, centralized, top-down model of ministry as seen in the Sunday morning worship service. These folks would like to see a uniform training process implemented for all their house church leaders (like Xenos in Columbus has always used). But others see that as too controlled, not “organic” enough. The “decentralized” camp resists systematized, uniform procedures and wants more freedom for organic development among the house churches. It would seem that these strange bedfellows are cooperating for now, which is an encouragement to me. I heard someone call this a “fruitful tension.” It fits.

After lunch I visited with the elder who first called for Apex to transition to the house church model, Rennes Bowers. Everyone should have at least one encouraging, paternal brother like Rennes to talk with. He’s an interesting brother with an interesting story. A fireman by trade (Captain of his company), Rennes (rhymes with Guinness) has simple/organic church roots going back to the Jesus Movement. In fact, if I understand correctly, he’s the brother who introduced Jon Zens to house church way back in the early 70’s. And what a champion of organic church Jon became! Along with Robert Banks, he’s one of the most established scholars we have.

Rennes was very encouraging to me about my writing, and boy do I need cheerleaders at this point! My take on things tracks really well with his since we’ve had so many of the same influences. He also had some really helpful things to offer–some perspective balancing words of wisdom that I needed to hear.

For example, my conceptual model of the Christian life is so lopsidedly mystical at this point that I hardly see outreach or evangelism in the New Testament when I read it. But somehow it struck me right when I heard Rennes talk about how Jesus first gathered people to himself, then sent them out again to share what they had received. Rennes’ own heart has always been geared towards others and he has obviously spent most of his adult years sharing Jesus with so many that it comes naturally to him. That was encouraging for me to see and hear.

At dinner time, somewhere between 12-15 college students from Wright State showed up for the home church meeting. We sat at two long tables, lined up end-to-end, and ate some delicious beer-soaked “brats” (which I’ve never had before). During the meal, as Rennes has taught them to do, they shared “Jesus stories,” one by one. Jesus stories are instances of encounter with God during the last week (or month or whatever) in which you get to either share Christ’s love with someone who needed it, or otherwise you saw God at work somewhere, maybe even in your own life. I think everyone there shared at least one, with many of them sharing a couple.

I was touched by their sincere openness to God’s leading in their daily lives. Here was no theoretical chit-chat about loving God or loving one another. This was experiential. It takes me a few days for anything significant to sink in, and with each day that passes I find myself affected more and more by their example, and by Rennes’ modeling of spiritual parenting. I think I’m beginning to see some of what it was I set out to find this week.

When the meal concluded we passed around a loaf of bread and some juice, and Rennes asked me to share some about the symbolism of the one loaf. Another young brother shared about the blood of Jesus. We also prayed for one another and for the people we encountered in our Jesus stories. I liked that. After we cleaned up from dinner, we relocated downstairs to the finished basement for the rest of the meeting. Rennes read out a passage from 1 Corinthians 12 and the group discussed what it meant to be Christ’s body, with differing gifts in a community. Students shared about things they understood and experienced as parts of the Body of Christ, and they shared prayer concerns and prayed for one another for a good while.

Another neat thing Rennes does is to place a giant OSU pillow in the middle of the room. When the group wants to pray for a specific need that someone in the group has, he’ll get that individual to kneel down on the pillow in the middle of the room while everyone else gathers around and places their hands on him or her. This reminded me of how our group demonstrates its solidarity by standing together when we sing, like a big huddle or group hug. We call it “clumping,” or as our British brothers once called it, “coagulating” šŸ™‚

I think I enjoyed this meeting the most because it was the most “open” and participatory one of them all. For the record, I’m losing my confidence that leaderless meetings are THE correct way to meet. For instance, when most of the folks in the room are young or maybe new believers (or some of them aren’t believers at all), more leadership is needed. But in the end I’m still sold on meetings where most people share at least something during the meeting.

I’m sure I also enjoyed the meeting because I just love being with college students. There’s something ideal to me about people in that stage of life, with just the right mix of open, eager receptivity and a developing sense of unique identity. Gotta get back around college students again somehow!

On another personal note, I’m growing in my appreciation for layering of maturity levels in a church. Put another way, I need people ahead of me in the Lord to who I can go for counsel, and I need people for who I can serve that function as well. People ahead of me and people behind me. That’s the best way to live.

As I think back to the sweetest phase of church life that I can recall, it was when we had a group of college students regularly driving down (an hour and a half!) to be with us. It’s not that we were doing any deliberate “discipling’ or anything like what folks in these hybrids are so committed to doing. We just got to spend good quality time with them, and it felt like life was shared–maybe mentoring happened despite our laissez-faire approach to things.

Well, this post is long enough.

Thursday and Friday were conference days. I’ll talk about them in the next few posts.

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