I have not heard Frank Viola before so I was intrigued to attend one of his workshops at the Denver House Church Conference. He has an intense personality (not unlike his books) and certainly brings to the table many, many years of simple church / house church experience.
He used this workshop to answer questions that he has been most frequently asked over the years. My personal note is that I am serving as more of a reporter here and will reserve my own comments for another time.
1. What are the reasons that people leave institutional churches? Frank suggested that the best reason for leaving the institutional church is because of a deep revelation of Jesus Christ and his purposes that is powerfully compelling and that causes the person to realize that these purposes can only be fulfilled outside of the institution of church. He acknowledges that most people leave the institutional church for other reasons: they are born rebels, they have been hurt deeply, they are not getting enough of their needs met, they want to be scriptural, etc, etc. But Viola's hope is that these people would ultimately come to the place of seeking a deeper grasp of Jesus Christ as their core motivation.
2. Who can start a house church? Viola admits that he is controversial on this issue. He asserts that spontaneous expressions of church start up all the time by all kinds of people and in all types of settings. He believes, however, that most of these expressions of church will be short-lived. He believes that there is an apostolic calling to plant churches, that those with apostolic callings are needed to bring revelation of Christ to the church, to center the church properly, and to nourish it. He believes that church expressions that spring up spontaneously would do well to bring in outside apostolic guidance and input.
3. I feel called to plant churches; what do I do? Frank recommends three books to those who feel called to plant churches. Two books are by Watchman Nee: "Normal Christian Church Life," and "Release of the Spirit." The third is by Viola himself: "So You Want to Start a House Church."
4. What can we expect in the first year or two in house church? Frank suggest that you can expect to walk through four distinct seasons. If you make it all the way through the four seasons, then you can expect these seasons to re-cycle:
- Honeymoon-- everything is wonderful and beautiful.
- Crisis--conflicts, disagreements, or problems with difficult people. This can cause the church to self-destruct unless they are able to move on to the next season.
- The cross--people in the group are able and willing to take their life and issues to the cross and die to self in the area that is being challenged.
- Tested Body life--real community is experienced (at least for a while).
5. What is the average life span of a house church? Frank says that most churches survive from 6 months to two years. He points back to the seasons just mentioned. Unless churches can navigate through the inevitable conflics and crises, they will self-destruct at a fairly early stage. He again asserts that they might do well to bring in outside help to navigate through the difficulties.
6. What is your view on elders in a house church? Viola asserts that a house church should never start with elders. He points to scriptural examples of this precedent (Paul in the book of Acts). He suggests that those who fulfill the role of elder should emerge naturally and organically as part of the body life growth.
7. What advice can you give us about children? Frank did not have specific advice on this issue. He was concerned about children being cared for. He was also equally concerned about the difficulties of being in community with parents whose commitment to their children supercedes their commitment to the church community. In other words, children need to be neither neglected nor worshipped.
I'm off to more of the workshop.