David S. Lim
How do the house church movements (HCMs) in Asia understand their biblical vision and actualize their mission strategy? The answers to this question comes from the perspective of an Asian (Chinese-Filipino) house church leader who has been trained as a biblical theologian and has been advocating for HCMs in Asia since 1987 and fully practicing house churching as one of its key leaders in 2001.
Most of the leaders in the HCMs in Asia have been meeting annually since 2006 in regional and continental summits to pray, fellowship and plan together on how to make disciples of all the peoples and nations of our vastly un-evangelized continent and beyond. Asia continues to have the most number of unreached peoples living in regions dominated by major religious faiths and political ideologies with almost negligible Christian influence. Can the Christ-following minorities of Asia really reach out to our Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Communist, and secular humanist neighbors effectively, so that the Great Commission can be fulfilled among them, even in our generation?
The Asian HCMs believe that by God’s grace, we can be the major force in Asia’s harvest in partnership with churches in our respective neighborhoods and countries. Actually if HCMs were considered as one denomination, we would be the largest in Asia perhaps as of two years ago. And if our Lord tarries, at the rate of our multiplication nowadays we may soon be the largest church body as large as all the denominational churches in Asia combined in the next two years.
Our Vision: Kingdomization or Societal Transformation
Asia’s HCMs believe that God desires His people to bless all peoples to inherit eternal life in heaven and abundant life on earth (= shalom/peace) as they obey Him as their Creator and King through their faith in His Son Jesus Christ. He thus made a simple plan for world redemption called “church planting movements” (CPMs) or “disciple multiplication movements’ (DMMs) by which all peoples and nations will be made into disciples/followers of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. By His grace, all HC networks seek to work with all Jesus-followers to realize His reign on earth until He returns to set up His eternal kingdom (Rev. 11:1).
We shall pray and work for “kingdomization” or “societal transformation,” by which the individuals, families, communities and institutions in our nations will be enabled to relate with each other and with other communities with biblical (= God’s kingdom) norms and values. We seek to build Christ-centered transformational communities that are growing in righteousness and justice marked by self-giving love (Greek: agape), where every house and workplace is a church. Righteousness refers to right relationships (usually using one word: “love”) with God, with self, with all people (esp. those already in the Kingdom, Gal. 6:10) and with creation.
Our goal is for all peoples to accept the biblical worldview and behavioral patterns, which shall have been contextually institutionalized into laws, policies and structures. This will be achieved through the processes of evangelization and disciple-making — to form Christ-centered and Bible-based communities in places of residence (neighborhoods) and in places of work or study (schools, factories, government offices, banks, stores, etc.) — where God’s word is discussed, applied and lived out relevantly in their daily life. Any section of creation can be sanctified and transformed by prayer to God in Jesus’ name and obedience to His word (1 Tim. 4:4-5). Thus there is actually no need to build Christian or church buildings, for all properties of Christ-followers belong to (and should be used for) His kingdom (Jn. 4:21-24; Acts 7:48; 17:24-28)!
Biblical Basis of our Kingdom/Transformational Mission
We also hold the following seven (7) biblical basis of our Kingdom/transformational mission:
- God intended His redemption plan to be spread to all nations (from Jerusalem) in the quickest possible time – for His desire is to save all (2 Pet.3:8-9, 1 Tim 2:3-5).
- For rapid fulfillment of His desire to save all, God’s plan of world evangelization must be simple, so simple that ordinary believers, including new, young and/or illiterate believers can do evangelism (Jn. 4; Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 5:1-11). The gospel message is simple, too: “Jesus Christ is Lord who alone gives eternal and abundant life,” which any believer can share with others, esp. their family and friends and school/work-mates!
- The quickest way possible is to mobilize as many believers as possible (if possible, every Christ-believer), perhaps by the millions to evangelize and disciple the nations. The Great Commission is given to all believers. This is the priesthood of every believer in practice (1 Pet. 2:9-10; cf. Exod. 19:5-6).
- Each believer can and should be discipled to become a disciple-maker. It is possible to plant and program the right DNA into new converts, so that they will grow and develop into reproducing Christ-followers for the rest of their life by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim.2:2).
- Life is relationships; all the rest are details! To disciple means to equip Christ-followers with just three relational skills: (a) hearing God through prayerful meditation to turn His word (logos) into a word (rhema) to be obeyed (2 Tim.3:16-17); (b) making disciples through leading a “house church” in Bible reflection and sharing, thereby each one learns how to do personal devotions (or “Quiet Time” = lectio divina) with fellow believers (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Cor. 14:26); and (c) doing friendship evangelism to share what they learn of God and His will with their networks of non-believing kin and friends.
- These millions of reproducing believers can be produced through mentoring (or better, “discipling”) by disciple-makers (= servant-leaders) who seek to equip all believers (cf. Eph. 4:11-16) right in their house church meetings, usually in their residences and workplaces. Our Lord Jesus trained his twelve apostles to do this “master plan for world evangelization,” and they did it (Lk.9:1-6; 10:1-24). The Apostle Paul did it, and in eight years he testified that he had no more people (both Jews and Gentiles) to evangelize in the northern Mediterranean area (Rom.15:18-20, cf. Ac.19:1-10)!
- Kingdomization can be done effectively and strategically through the disciple-making movement (DMM) or church planting movement (CPM) mission paradigm, so as to produce “people movements,” especially if combined with Community Development and C-5 (high contextualization) strategies, which many missiologists label as “insider movements” (IMs) nowadays (Talman & Travis 2015). And it will be done: Our Lord Jesus told his disciples, “Fear not little flock! For it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Lk. 12:32). We have found like-minded partners in the campus evangelism, marketplace ministry, community transformation, business as mission (BAM) and tentmaker movements in Asia and globally.
Our Simple Strategy: Disciple Multiplication Movements (DMM)
House churches (HCs) are actually “disciple-making groups,” which may also be called “simple (or organic) churches,” “basic ecclesial communities” (BEC), “office cells,” “care groups,” etc. It is any small (not more than 20 adults or 10 couples, preferably as “two or three” for intimate sharing) Christ-worshipping and Scripture-honoring body of believers who have covenanted to meet regularly and are willing to be held accountable for their Christ-centered lives to one another.
HCs focus on the “disciple-making” process, which starts when a believer finds another one (old or new believer does not matter much) who care to pray and work together to build up one another (1 Cor. 14:26; Heb. 10:24-25) and to help each other fulfill the Great Commission (Heb. 10:24-25). They will seek to turn friends into converts, through “friendship (or incarnational) evangelism,” and then also into disciples by inviting them to become HC members.
“Disciples” are those who are willing to be mentored to form a more Christ-like character, equipped to discover and minister with their spiritual gift(s), and trained to do evangelism and lead HCs. By then, the disciple should have become a “disciple-maker,” empowered (given authority) to lead his/her own HC network. The HCs may be (a) residential, where its members meet in homes, living out their faith in their neighborhood, or (b) professional, where its members meet in their place of work or study, and witness to their faith in the marketplace.
EXPANSION. HCMs grow through “cell multiplication,” normally in less than a year, by starting one or more similar groups, in love, to make more disciples for Christ. This happens intentionally, as members are encouraged to disciple new believers in new (their own!) HCs, or, to pair up and start new HCs in their contexts. At the start of each HC (say, the first month), it is best that they meet as often as possible (if possible, daily!) After several months (maximum of three years), HCs of “HC leaders” can meet less regularly, say, monthly and then quarterly, and later annually or even just through correspondence and social media (email and Facebook)!
PROGRAMMING. The weekly program in HC meetings are informal, flexible and contextual, with the free mixture of activities according to the needs and giftings of the participants, as set by the leader(s) in close consultation with all the members. Activities include: prayer, Bible reflection, fellowship (try to include a simple/potluck meal together always!) and sharing, collection and stewardship of resources for community service and missions support. Following 1 Cor. 14:26 pattern of meeting, all members come prepared to “disciple (or teach, encourage, confess sins, etc.) one another,” as they participate in building one another in their body-life together.
For Bible reflection, the leader facilitates discussion by prayerfully choosing an appropriate biblical text, and as it is read three times (with one-minute pauses after each reading), and then just asks the group to answer two questions: (1) “Which verse (or word or idea) in the passage is most meaningful for you? Why?” And (2) “How can we apply what we have learned for the good of our family, friends and/or community/workplace?”. To train their members to be disciple-makers, they just add another question, (3) “Who are the two people you can share our lessons with?” and expect them to report what happens in the next meeting. These members are encouraged to not bring their contacts to the HC, but to form and lead new HCs themselves.
For sharing time, they can answer any or all of these questions: “What has God done for you lately?” “What has God been teaching you lately?” and “What have you done for God lately?” Emergency issues should take precedence over planned activities. Hence, between opening and closing prayers, each HC grows spiritually together (literally) “as the Spirit leads”!
Our Cross-Cultural Missions: Effective Tentmaking
Since 2005, the Philippine Missions Association’s (PMA) flagship mobilization program has focused on equipping and sending overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to be tentmakers who catalyze simple disciple multiplication movements (DMMs) to bless the nations. This is similar to the Back to Jerusalem mission of the major HCMs in China where they envisioned tentmakers sent like ants, bees and worms, rather than as lions and elephants (Hattaway 2003).
To show how DMM works on the ground, here is one training module called “Tentmakers Crash Course,” which describes effective tentmaking as consisting of seven steps, all of which can be done in 6-10 months by beginners, and in less than a month by experts:
- Make a second home. When they arrive in any new place, they should find a “person of peace” (Lk.10:5-6) and settle down in such a way the people they will invite later will feel comfortable to visit their new home. This includes loving the people, learning the language, appreciating the culture and religion, and following their cultural customs as much as possible (1 Cor.9:19-23)! They should never criticize their host culture (esp. politics and religion) in front of them, even in private.
- Make friends. They must aim to make 2-6 “best friends” with the networks of the “person of peace.” They start by being approachable and sociable. They must be good conversationalists by being good listeners. They must spend much time with their new friends, making most of their interests their own, too. They must give gifts in special occasions, be hospitable and invite their friends to eat, cook or even sleep overnight at their place. Above all, they should help their friends in their time of need!
- Make friends with leaders. They must try to make 1-2 leaders to be their friends, too. Upon arrival, they should visit key leaders and give them a gift or at least offer to help in community affairs. They must do their jobs well, as excellently as possible, and give extra free service sometimes. They should participate in community activities, volunteer as member or officer in working or planning committees, and share any suggestion for improvement with their leader-friends, and proceed only with their approval.
- Make converts. When opportunity arises (and there will be plenty), they should be ready to share Jesus with these friends (1 Pet.3:15). According to their need or concern, they can share their testimony with them: how Jesus works in their life. Then they can share about the life and teachings of Jesus that are relevant for them (each one may need a different emphasis). Once they are sure that the friends truly want to follow Jesus as their leader, helper, forgiver and/or guide, they can invite them to be baptized; and when they freely consent, they can baptize them in private! The key is to be sure that the friends have changed their allegiance from idols (religious or material) to Jesus! If trained, they can opt to wait until the time is ripe for the converts’ whole family or whole community to be converted and baptized together!
- Make disciples. They then must disciple the 2-6 converts in one-on-one and small group discipling relationships. The more times they spend together right after their conversions, the better. There is no need to use any materials; they just urge the new believers to read the Bible in the language(s) they understand, and discuss their questions and insights with them. They must trust the Holy Spirit to speak to them through the Word, and they will have the wisdom to guide them to learn from the Bible (cf. Acts 20:28-32). For “Bible sharing” sessions, they just choose a short passage and ask, “What does this text say in our own words?” and “What is God telling us to do in this text?” The goal is to bring each one to spiritual maturity in Christ-likeness (Col.1:28-29), which is to live a life of obedience to God – a life full of agape-love/grace (out of sinful self-centeredness to sacrificial service for others, esp. the poor, cf. Matt. 22:37-39; 25:31-46; Gal. 6:1-10; Heb. 10:24-25).
- Make disciple-makers. As they are discipling their new converts, they should encourage the latter to make their own converts and disciples from among their own friends, relatives and neighbors, a few individuals or groups at a time. Their disciples can start discipling their own disciples by just following what they have been doing with them. The new disciplers just have to be a couple of steps ahead of their disciples! They should lead their own group and not bring their disciples to the tentmaker’s group. It is best that they do not even visit their disciples’ groups. After all, they will be growing spiritually faster as they lead their own group in our life-based interactive mutual learning model of disciple-making.
- Make a planned exit. To disciple is to Model, Assist, Watch and Leave (M.A.W.L.)! This is actually step no. 1: to plan to exit as soon as possible, so that our disciples “graduate” to be our equals – disciple-makers and servant-leaders in their own right! The tentmaker’s role is just to be a mentor, guide or coach for a while, and then stop meeting them regularly and tell them, “Greater works you will do without me,” just like what Jesus told his disciples when he was about to leave them (Jn.14:12). They must not be surprised when their disciples (esp. the leader-types) do better contextual witness and multiplication than them! Of course, they can keep in touch with them by correspondence and visits, as Paul did with his disciples. Then God can send them to another unreached area, so that they can repeat the same process there.
In most Asian HCMs, we emphasize that DMMs aim to plant “people movements” by equipping disciples to multiply simple biblical Christianity — contextualized, holistic and transformational “indigenous churches” that are truly replicable: self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating and self-theologizing. We will be planting “churches” that will be copied by future generations of Christians, so we should avoid transplanting denominational churches (= complex Christianity) which are often non-contextual (= foreign-looking, if not actually foreign), hence have almost always produced marginalized Christians who are separated from their communities — despised and rejected by their family and friends, not because of the Gospel but because of their extra-biblical forms.
So, we prefer to encourage our disciples not to attend an international fellowship or denominational church, if there is any, perhaps except in special occasions. They should just focus on making disciples and multiplying “simple churches,” for where two or three believers are gathered prayerfully, there is the church (Matt. 18:19-20)! They should encourage their disciples to just “gossip Jesus” and multiply small “disciple-making groups” among their friends and kin in their neighborhoods and work-places. They are to just do this spiritual “network marketing” of the Gospel from city to city – till every home and workplace in the world knows and obeys Jesus.
Our Historical Development: National House Church Networks
The Christian world came to know about HCMs mainly through the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution (1966-69) in China when the almost extinguished Christianity emerged as “unregistered churches” in the rural areas and some cities. Most of these HC networks have grown exponentially to as large as 7-8 million, especially in the central and southern provinces of China, and estimated to be about 100 million strong nationwide by 2012.
When we convened in Manila for the first Asian HCM Leaders Summit in 2006, we knew that 75% of China’s HC networks have become mainly “micro-churches” that have the clergy-led, hierarchical and “edifice complex” ecclesiology, so that if religious freedom comes to China, they will be building Christendom structures as soon as possible, as is evident in many cities and regions of China since 1990s. Yet six of the leaders from the “pure 25%” were providentially present at the summit as they joined 40 others from other countries: Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand and U.S.A.
The first Phil. HCM Leaders Summit was convened earlier in Manila in 2005. Since then they have met annually in 20-30 participant summits to encourage one another and plan together for expanding the movement nationwide and beyond. We have met in Quezon City (2007), Cebu (2008), Cagayan de Oro (2009), Tagaytay (2010, when we were joined by 5 HC leaders from USA and Australia), Valencia (2011, when we adopted the name “Star Grass Coalition”), Novaliches (2012, when we chose “healthy lifestyle” and “organic farming” as our entry-points into communities, the latter similar to “apostolic gardens” of the largest Indian HCM today), Babatngon (2013, when we adopted Creative Community Foundation Inc., CCFI, as our main national development organization), Iloilo (2014), and Davao (2015, when we formed the Phil. Community Supported Agriculture Network and joined the Phil. Movement for Transformational Leadership).
At the first Asian Summit in 2006, we already learned that among ourselves there were several HCM training modules ready for use across Asia: Bruce Carlton’s “Project Thessalonica,” Tony Dale’s “Getting Started” with DVD, my “Tentmakers Crash Course,” Roberto Claro’s “A Higher Purpose for Your Overseas Job,” Mitsuo Fukuda’s “Upward, Outward, Inward,” Robin Corner’s “ Simple Church,” Navigators’ “Insider Ministry,” Center for Community Transformation (CCT)’s field visits to their house-fellowships, and various Chinese HC Trainings. The most significant training program may be Claro’s “A Higher Purpose” that trains overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to form “circles of three” wherever they go to live and work in Asia or elsewhere.
61 delegates from 13 countries (now with the addition of Australia and Vietnam) made it to the 2nd HCM Summit in HK in 2007. Concurrent sessions were organized around the general topics and were followed by a training session on how HC meetings were conducted in India in the networks coordinated by Victor & Bindu Choudhrie and their team. Country reports were followed by times of prayer for each country (including those were not represented at the summit). Equally important were free times when the delegates simply took time to build relationships and get to know each other.
The 3rd summit was held in 2008 in Bandung, Indonesia, where a number of CPMs and IMs were spreading (not much can be shared here due to security concern). It turned out to be almost a global one, with more than 80 participants and the presence of Wolfgang Simson (Germany), Wolfgang Fernandez (Latin America), and a “cell church” leader, Ben Wong (Hong Kong). Much time was given to listening to messages from these recognized leaders, and discussing and praying in response to them. Some of us were able to visit some IM leaders in the area and in Jakarta. As we accepted India’s offer to host the next summit, we discerned that it was time to call for an international one.
So in November 2009, the Indian network of Victor Choudhrie hosted the First Global HCM Leaders Summit in New Delhi, where every continent was represented among the 135 participants. From Asia, we missed the delegations from, but heard good reports of CPMs in Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Middle East and Central Asia. A representative from each country served in the “steering group,” as we sought God’s guidance on how to fulfill our vision and mission most effectively. (This group met again a few months thereafter in Kuala Lumpur, and discerned to focus on catalyzing DMM in Africa for the next two years).
And so in August 2012, 35 participants made it to the 4th Asian HCM Leaders Summit in Tokyo, Japan. This time we had participants from Nepal, Singapore, Cambodia, Australia and Central Asia, with some from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan not making it due to visa problems. We were shown the easily replicable Japan-developed “Upward, Outward, Inward” (UOI) training as co-facilitated by a Central Asian and a missionary-to-Japan trainers. We also learned from the reports from those networks that were effectively reaching poor communities through combining CPMs with community development. Then the Japanese HCM also held their national summit focusing on equipping those who were involved in the dramatic breakthroughs after the tsunami disaster last March 2011 (with testimonies of Jesus appearing in visions) can turn the HCM in the affected northeastern region into a national movement.
Meanwhile the Southeast Asian region held its first HC Leaders Summit in August 2013 in Singapore, with delegates from Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia. Its second summit was held in February 2014, just before the 5th Asian HCM Leaders Summit in Bangkok. Most significant was our discovery of a fast-growing HCM in Thailand, called “House Network Church” led by Sinchai Chaojaroenrat, who had pastored two mega-churches in Bangkok but has become an advocate and effective leader of CPMs (which he called “zero-budget church planting”) in Thailand that had begun to spread to Cambodia and Laos. We accepted his offer to host the next Asian and Global HCM summits in Thailand.
So the Thai HCM hosted the 6th Asian HCM Summit and the 2nd Global HCM Summit in the premises of an African migrant church in Bangkok in May 26-27 and 28-30, 2015. New delegations came from Central Asia and Africa, including 9 from China. Some of the key leaders decided to become more focused in our involvement in secular societal structures, esp. in the academic, business and political sectors to “plant Jesus” and transform communities and the marketplace for God’s kingdom.
We look forward to holding our 7th Asian Summit in February 2017 in Manila, after the Southeast Asian region hold their 3rd one in August 2016 in Jakarta. Moreover, the Indonesian delegation offered to host the 3rd Global HCM Summit in 2018 in Bandung, which we all welcomed: how symbolically significant to hold the next global HC summit in a Muslim-majority country, after the first in a Hindu-majority nation (2009) and the second in a Buddhist-majority nation (2015)! The Asian HCMs are hosting the global HCMs to keep their focus on frontier missions among the unreached!
Since HCMs form networks that constitute a flat structure, where every HC and every HCM is autonomous and has direct access and responsibility to our King Jesus, these summit conferences of HCM leaders aim mainly to reflect the unity of the HCMs, and to nurture the personal relationships esp. between the older and younger leaders in the various HCMs in Asia – across their vast ethnic, cultural, generational and linguistic differences.
Due to security concerns, many details of HCMs in restricted countries cannot be shared in this article. Across Asia today, HCMs and IMs are producing transformational communities that are led by local Christ-followers who have not been extracted from their relational and religious communities. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Asian HCMs will be catalyzing DMMs and IMs in Asia and beyond, for we believe that the harvest is indeed plentiful (Matt. 9:37-38) and has always been ripe for reaping (Jn.4:35). Our King Jesus is indeed building His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mt.16:18-19)! May God find us faithful in working together to realize the kingdom of God effectively in Asia and the world in our generation!
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Dr. David S. Lim served as the National Director of PMA, and the National Facilitation Team, Chairman of the PMA’s flagship program: the Philippine Missions Mobilization Movement. He is also the President of China Ministries International-Philippines and the CEO of Asian School for Development and Cross-cultural Studies. He is also the Board Chairman of Lausanne Philippines, and serves in the Steering Committee of SEANET. firstname.lastname@example.org