So, you don’t want to wade through the 80-odd pages of my dissertation. That’s fine; unless you particularly get off on academic prose, I can understand that. Here’s a kinder, gentler version.
First, nothing I wrote should surprise anyone who’s involved in house church work already, in Japan or elsewhere, although it will make some points that they may not like.
- It’s actually hard to define “house church”, and very few of them document what they’re doing anyway - they’re usually too busy out doing it! So after looking at the history a bit, I define a house church as a group that’s influenced by apostolic/five-function ecclesiology, (although not all are) simple structures, and a focus on mentoring.
- Everyone involved in promoting house church as a concept wants to claim that that they’re “just like the New Testament.” This is because when they read the New Testament through their present experience, they see house churches there, because that’s exactly what they’re looking for. The reality is more complicated.
- Growth rates are exaggerated by enthusiastic proponents, but true growth rates are really difficult to measure anyway because nobody’s keeping score. You may not know all the churches in your network, let alone all the Christians.
- Within house churches, there are no “leaders”, but there is “leadership”. What I mean is that leadership is a function, not a role; anyone may express leadership by furthering the goals of the group. The goals of the group normally involve evangelising, mentoring and discipling others, and so leadership and discipleship are pretty much the same thing.
- The principle of leadership in Japan is group cohesion - keeping everyone together and keeping relationships well-oiled - as much as it is about getting certain tasks achieved. This is also how leadership worked in the first-century churches as well, through the paterfamilias system.
- So what the house churches are doing, with everyone involved in furthering the goals of the group, makes good sense in their cultural context, and is actually pretty close to the New Testament Church too.
- This style of leadership really makes sense in the postmodern context, and it will happen more and more over here too.