Book Review-House Church Manual

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House Church Manual William Tenny-Brittian

Emotional Response-1

Scholarly Response-2

I was given this book by a colleague to begin a conversation we are having about house churches. With a title like House Church Manual, I assumed this would be a great how to guide for starting a house church. Unfortunately, that is not what I gleaned from reading it. Parts of it were helpful how to’s. Much more of this book reads like an infomercial for The House Church Network. I wanted more how to start/lead/sustain a house church and less use this specific form and attend this specific class.

This manual makes me feel like I am an alien who was dropped into a new place with a new language. This is not a good feeling for a pastor reading a book about church. Everything has its own acronyms. Everything is mentioned and (partially) explained in a different chapter or appendix. The first chapter is titled Basic Training, and yet, it seems like an introduction before basic training would have been helpful. Or maybe talking about the important parts of a house church and ending with basic training for starting one.

I love some of the ideas shared here. A prayer walk around one’s neighborhood is a way to pray for your neighbors and possible even get to know one’s neighbors. I love focusing on relationships within a faith community and with those who aren’t in our faith community. I love that meals are a central focus of the faith community. I love that each member of the house church is given the opportunity to do a spiritual gifts inventory to help discern where he/she is gifted and can best serve (44-45).

This book left me with many questions-

There was a big push for house churches to join together to form a network. This way the small groups could do everything a big group could do. It is beginning to feel like a non-house church. Which made me wonder what is different about this model? Wouldn’t those who object to the institutional church also object to this way of being church?

Why are children not included in worship? It seems like a house church is an ideal place for all ages. And although the guide encourages children to be part of worship, there are sentences like this one. “Toddlers and young children may stay in the same room and be given quiet toys or art supplies to keep them occupied during the House Church worship service” (22). Is it really our job to simply occupy children so the adults can worship? No, it is not!

According to the House Church Manual worship is to include praise, prayer, Scripture discussion, offering, and communion. Why only praise? I think it would benefit those leading a house church to read Bryan Sirchio’s book on worship music.

This book encourages growth in a house church by everyone inviting their “friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors (FRAN)” and when those people have all been invited to begin to build “an expanding network of friends (ENOF)” (26). While I believe we have good news to share as Christians, I don’t think we need to see every person we meet as a potential recruit. I believe we are called to see everyone we meet as a child of God. For me, there is a big difference in those two things. This book presented an us/them mentality. We (the believers) are trying to save them (the unbelievers-also called “irreligious and unchurched” by this author). To me, this is not a healthy way to view the world.

Discipleship development is seen as a self-discovery process. You might work with a group to discern together how the Scripture impacts your life. I am a big fan of people reading the Bible. I am also a fan of reading with a commentary or other study aid because there is some difficult stuff in those 66 books. And everyone has the capacity to make the Bible say what they want to hear. Reading as part of a community with the help of those who have studied the Bible is a great way to stay faithful to the text. “Most discipleship programs in the institutional church are dependent on a mature disciple of Jesus teaching a written curriculum to less mature disciples. The problem with this is that the discipleship becomes confused with “knowing stuff” rather than in obedient behavior and a growing relationship with Jesus” (42). I’m not convinced obedient behavior was Jesus’ goal for us. Knowing stuff or at least knowing how to access stuff is important too!

“Prayer includes God in whatever the pastors and churches are doing” (47). This statement might make you think that without prayer God is not included. I think a better way to say this is-Prayer reminds us to keep God at the center of what we are doing and reminds us to notice that God is already present. It reminds us to look for God at work in our lives.
I wonder if all house churches baptize by immersion. This was certainly the way the author expected it to be done (52).
It felt like there was only one way to be a Christian. Must everyone look and act the same to be a faithful follower of Jesus? This book assumed that there were things that Christians did not do. It was too much personal piety for me and concerned me that “we” would judge those who aren’t like “us” (55).

The author was proud of the fact that this method does not rely on clergy nor require seminary training. And while I understand that many churches cannot afford seminary trained clergy and student loan debt for seminarians is crushing and limits our choices for churches we can serve, I was offended by much of what he said about not needing clergy. I know I read this personally and that probably wasn’t his intent. It felt very personal to me. The learning method of the house church network is Interactive Learning System (ILS). “ILS does not depend on professors or professional clergy. Instead, it relies on self-study, group input, and group accountability to maintain high standards of learning” (59). I struggle with this! And each of the courses titles begin with the word practical as in Practical Bible Overview, Practical Theology. Now, it may be that they were continuing their cute naming technique, but it felt to me like they were saying this is practical and seminary isn’t.

And my final question is about small churches and large churches. People who feel called to church ministry are encouraged to do an internship instead of going to seminary-on the job training, cheaper, better training (according to the author). And you should choose your intern congregation wisely because, “If he or she happens to be the pastor of a small congregation, he or she will have little trouble thinking small and ministering to a small flock. But when the congregation grows, only those who have experience in larger congregations typically have the skills necessary to continue their pastoral journey with that congregation” (65). This quote made me angry. My only questions as a result of this quote are what did you just say and what did you mean to say?

Here are a couple of quotes that I thought were worth remembering and pondering.
“The five purposes of the churches- Worship, Outreach evangelism, Relationship building, Discipleship, and Service” (3).

“Jesus gave us the Four Greats-
The Great Invitation: “Follow me” (Mark 1:17; Matthew 16:24).
The First Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
The Second Great Commandment: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
The Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28: 19-20)” (11).

I cannot recommend this book. I think you could find the information you need for starting a house church without reading this book.

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