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Well, I did add you to my "blog-lines" last time so I came back "on purpose".

You seem to be in my head right now. I am struggling with this....a lot! I am hungry for that "church" that does not exist to feed itself...

I am not a big reader of Christian fiction, but I will check out this book.

Thanks again for words I needed.

Matt Dabbs

It is so strange to me that the people who push hardest for doing it "just like they did in the first century" are the biggest critics for having church in homes - which is "just like they did it in the first century." Many blogs have talked about how form influences function in our acts of worship. This is also true in how we do ministry - we form our ministry to fit offices, computers, cell phones, planners, etc and we see our function shift and adapt to fit these means of getting things done. Thank you for the reminder of keeping our focus in the right place.

John Dobbs

Wade...beautiful expressions of discipleship here. Thank you for illuminating what so many of us feel. Is "institutionalism" a necessary evil? In some ways I think we escape it only to create a new institution. It's hard to break out of being in sync with everything we know. Still, if we do not keep pointing the way to Jesus, we and those around us will slide off into self-worship that oozes with comfort and wows with success.


I found your blog through Jim Martins. I read that book last year and really enjoyed it. What I took away from that one is that the preacher began patting himself on the back for the numbers of people coming in the door instead of nurturing the souls who were already there.

Bigger, better, more exciting, more technologically advanced, cooler kids programs are all fine, but we can never lose our focus on the quality of souls instead the quantity.


Great post.

I think we must move on get past the idea that we have to everything the way they did it in the 1st century. The church needs to quit dreaming of the past and be a relevant church in the 21st century. Changing lives now. Sure it would be nice to have church houses. I remember worhsiping at a church in Lubbock that met in homes on Sunday nights and Wed. Nights. We felt close. Then their is the group dynamics theory. We need to understand that things change and are relevant for thier place. How are we going to make disciples? Worship? The things they did in the 1st century would they be effective today? Are we dreaming of better days instead of saying okay Christians wake up...We are living in the 21st century...Now we are going to be effective and make a difference in our world just like those who made a differnce in the 1st century. We are 1st Century Christians we are 21st Century Christians...When will the church understand that is what I want to know.


I meant to say we aren't 1st century Christians we are 21st Century Christians. When will the church undestand that. When will preachers stop emphesizing and stressing this is the perfect church of the 1st century and we should do everything they did. I know as a preacher I am going to say, okay are we living in the past? Are we living in 1st century? Let move on...


One thing I find consistent with the 4 bullets listed in you post is money. I find it interesting how many times the discussion of money and how to handle it and what to spend it on can send many brethren into an arguing frenzy.

Good Post.



You are so true and you haven't even entered into full time ministry yet. Wow. I have seen money becoming a major factor in churches. I have seen people bribe elderships, churches fight over how much to go toward differnt things in the budget. Money can be the root of all kinds of evil especially for the church. It can also be a blessing if used wisely. Imagine how much good has been done with spreading the gospel, supporting childrens homes, helping in benevolence. Wasn't Percilla rich? Didn't she use her house and money for God's glory.

I find it interesting that when talking about restoration issues people who have money focus on it the most. I know money plays an important role in ministry, in ministers lives and can be used for such good. Again, we aren't living in the 1st century. Its the 21st century. I believe we should make the best of what we have now and use it for His kingdom.

Wade Tannehill


Glad you came by "on purpose!" I've never read any Christian fiction, but this book was recommended to me by an elder's wife who said she prayed for me as she read it. So of course I had to see what that was all about. I'm still not sure why she was praying for me, except that the preacher in this book came to a church as a young idealistic husband and father of a toddler--like me when I came to where I am 8 years ago. I'm now forty-something with a touch of midlife crisis, but not nearly as troubled as the poor guy becomes in this book. Maybe the elder's wife was praying that I don't finally lose it. I don't know. Anyway, my wife read this book to me at night after the kids were down. We often find this more enjoyable than TV.

As for the church that doesn't exist to feed itself, hard to find, but I still have some idealism left in me.

Wade Tannehill

Matt and John,

Just how institutional do we have to be in order to adapt in the 21st century? I don't know. I am not a stickler for restoring forms to an exact first century replica, although some forms have theological significance (i. e., baptism by immersion). But while it may not be necessary to restore all outward forms, some forms, like house churches, serve well in restoring a dynamic that existed in the 1st century. If all we do is come to an assembly where we all face the same direction, we have become an audience and not full participants. I'd like to see the church move from spectators to more participatory worship. I'm a firm believer in having a larger assembly complimented by a good small group ministry.

Anyway, Thank you both for your comments. Very insightful!



You know that I am totally for small groups. I think it is a great way to build relationship and grow a church. I know the church I went to in Lubbock was great. We met in home but when we got to a certain size we had to split into other groups. Some of those that were comfortable in one group didn't like the change and stayed with the group that they were comfortable with. Group dynamics plays a factor in growth. We must understand that when doing home churches and outreach ministry. There must be communication in the beginning that when the group gets to a certain size we are going to form other church houses. If not it will cause problems. I hope I didn't come across negatively brother. I am just tired of those who glamorize the 1st century wanting to change what think or like. They often forget that we have to make a difference in our world. They also criticize others for trying other methods that are trying to be the church of the 21st century. Relate to the world is a must.

Sorry again if I sounded negative. I hope you get my point.

Excellent post and great discussion.

Wade Tannehill


Thanks so much for coming by and for sharing your great insights. Isn't Jim Martin great. He has been my friend for nearly two decades.

While some preachers fall into the trap of the fictional preacher all by themselves, I think some may feel responsible for church growth because the church has put the pressure on them to primarily be "producers." I thankfully do not feel that pressure where I currently preach (I have other pressures, but we won't go there right now).

But I think you're right on the money. The spiritual formation of souls is much more important than all the whiz bang programs. Making disciples is not a matter of merely swelling the numbers, but of helping people to be progressively transformed into the image of Christ. Any program should be a means to this end and evaluated in that light.

I think if spiritual growth is prioritized, then numerical growth will come as an overflow of that, with the congregation taking an active part and not just the preacher. But without the spiritual growth, numerical growth just makes an unhealthy body bigger.

Matt Dabbs

We have replaced "sharing our lives" with "doing church." We have replaced the heart of the gospel with checkboxes. We have been so eager to get it right and follow it to the very letter that we left behind the heart and soul of what it is all about. The Bible says sing, so we sing. It says baptize so we baptize. It says they took the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week and we do that. We have become reductionists. We have reduced our 100% consistent practices to only those things that can be accomplished in a once a week action that requires little or no investment or change in our lives. Generally speaking if it doesn't fit on the Order of Worship, we don't do it!

What have we missed? What about the "one another" passages? What about getting beyond the surface level in our relationships? What about transformation? What about loving our neighbor and loving our God? What about practicing hospitality? What about being the people He calls us to be? What good is coming into a room of strangers (who God happens to see as our family) for an hour a week and getting a whole bunch of actions right and then leaving, never to see those people again until next week? When we move to a checkbox mentality, we move away from God. When we take our faith outside the walls of the church and into each other's lives, we move closer to God's intention and his heart. We need to be so in love with other Christians that we can't wait to see them again. In fact the longing to be with them may actually motivate us to call them during the week or see them when they are sick or have them over for dinner or even share with them what we are struggling with!

I get so tired of attitudes that say: Let's hope what God wants of us doesn't take more than an hour to accomplish. Let's hope nothing makes us uncomfortable or challenges the way we live.

This all reminds us that there is so much work to be done. This starts with us. It starts with us modeling a better life. How can we blame people for a lack of hospitality if we are not willing to start the ball rolling? This really challenges me to do better. Thank you Wade.

Wade Tannehill


Very well said!


Amen Matt! I wish I had read that before I taught a class last night....I would have read it to them....not that it would have made any difference....their minds were made up when they got there!

Wade Tannehill


Is that cynicism I'm hearing? I had to double check your comment to see if that was me who said that. It sounds almost word for word like what I have said in regard to my classes and sermons on many ocassions. How I can commiserate with you.

Jim Martin

Thanks for the introduction to both this book and the author.

You express the problem very well. You are right. Good post!

John Dobbs

I guess I can use Wade's blog to AMEN Matt's comment!

ben overby


Another insightful blog as usual. The wave that will hit the church in the US over the next two decades will be a migration away from institutional churches and into house churches, or simple churches. There's nothing we can do to stop that movement (supposing we were crazy enough to want to), a movement that's already sweeping across the UK, Canada, and gaining ground in the US. It would seem God is going to force the church out of the pews and into the neighborhoods, even if some go kicking and screaming. What some see as a threat, I see as an opportunity. Our facilities can still be utilized to God's glory, but the shape of the church has simply got to change. Our identity has got to shift from a group that comes together to do all our religious stuff, to a group that comes together to be provoked for love and good works so that we can go out and be the church on the streets where we live and the offices where we work, planting simple churches in houses out on the edge where life is happening and too often passing us by. The early church wasn't primarily about doing certain things, rather they were concerned about being a particular people--the sort that loves enemies, feeds the poor, yearns to heal the sick--people who look like Christ and models for the world the new creation God is bringing into being.



Thanks Wade. I needed to think about this today. It is hard to keep a proper focus. Balance takes effort. I find myself at times wanting more numbers and yet I set out in ministry to be a church without walls.


Wade Tannehill


I had not made the connection that all my bullet points come down to money. It's a significant observation though. Just think of what we could do for the poor and the unchurched if we were not so shackled by bills. For some churches debt is the ball and chain that inhibits progress. Good thoughts. Thanks.

Wade Tannehill


I'm glad you came back and qualified your earlier comment, because I was about to qualify it for you. Although I know you better than to have thought you were anti-small group (you used to be in the one at my house in Kansas) it did sound as if you were saying, "Who cares about the first century. Let's just be as institutional as we want to be."

And you know me better than to think that I believe the slavish imitation of a pattern is the mark of the true church. What I think is more important than the restoration of forms (as you have addressed on your blog) is the restoration of a dynamic that attends to accountability, sharing, confession, and mutual support. To get there, I think restoring the first century house chruch in some form is imperative.

I've read a lot of material on small groups, but I've concluded that some of the "expert's" suggestions should not become hard and fast rules.

My "small group" now consists of 22 people. Nobody wants to leave. When we've tried restructuring no one was happy. There is more than one way to do things. For our specific and unique situation (and everybody's is specific and unique) I think a 22 member group is fine.

Thanks for coming by.

Wade Tannehill


Thanks for coming by. Affirmation from one of your caliber gives me a lot of clarity. I've always had immense respect for you and I value your insights. Thanks again.

Wade Tannehill


Amen! In an increasingly post-Christian society which seems to be going the way of Europe, coupled with post-modern distrust of institutionalism and authoritarianism, I don't think the church has a choice but to move the direction you suggest. The wave you speak of is one I definately intend to ride.

Wade Tannehill


Thanks for coming by. There is nothing wrong with more numbers as long as we're making disciples and not just doing a head count. But as you know, when numbers become the primary focus, we are in trouble. Disciples are not as easily produced as widgets--especially in our current culture.


Wade, another great post. Thanks for your words. I scanned the comments and didn't hear anyone else mentioning this yet, so I will. One name that readers here should get acquainted with is Robert Banks, a NT scholar who has written, among other books

"Paul's Idea of Community" scholarly, sheds a lot of light on house churches of the NT era.

"Going to Church in the First Century" an accessible, non-technical description of, well, the title of the book.

"The Church Comes Home," the most practical of the three titles. Lots of candid discussion about being a house church.

Wade Tannehill


Thanks. I didn't know anyone knew that much about house churches in the early church, but I have sure been hoping someone would recommend something. I'll have to update my want list since this is one of my special topics.

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