Four Childhood Experiences That Fueled My Desire for Participatory Church

The following is an excerpt from my e-book House Church Reflections, which you can download free here.

As I reflect on my childhood, I recall four experiences which planted seeds in my heart which contributed to my desire to help start a house church.

First, I remember participating with a group of Christians from south Alabama in a night of singing hymns on the beach.

I think I was 15 or 16 years old and just happened to be visiting that weekend.

Although I don’t recall many details, I remember how amazing the experience was.

For reasons I couldn’t explain, even though there were fewer participants than we were used to, the singing sounded better, the words of the songs seemed more meaningful, and people were visibly enjoying the experience and participating.

It was easy to worship that night.

The second experience that I recall was also from my early teenage years.

My parents would occasionally have these weekend business seminars in cities around the southeastern U.S.

Many other Christians attended these meetings as well, and a group of 20 or so would often assemble in someone’s hotel room on Sunday morning, before traveling home, for collective worship.

I recall those being special times. There was much joy, rejoicing and even some tears shed during those assemblies.

What stood out to me then as a teenager was how much more I enjoyed having “church” outside the normal confines of a church building.

The third experience was that, for about a decade, my parents hosted our church for an annual singing at their house just prior to Christmas. I recall those experiences fondly.

I think this was really the first introduction I had to mutual participation during church meetings, though I did not know it at the time.

Individuals would request songs and occasionally share thoughts about certain lyrics or Scriptures related to a particular song.

I recall being amazed at two things:

  • How much more alive everyone seemed in that setting, and…
  • How much more the women spoke up (not leading, but requesting songs or offering an occasional comment).

    I recall thinking, “Oh she would not have spoken up if we were meeting at the church building.” At the time, I didn’t think about why; it just seemed humorous to me.

Lastly, when I was about twenty years old, I participated for over a year in a weekly Tuesday night men’s Bible study.

Two single guys, one of whom was a coworker, hosted the class at their apartment. The participants, who numbered about 15-20 at its peak, came from diverse backgrounds. Most of us attended different congregations.

Leadership responsibility was rotated weekly and often the leader would prepare their topic or text to study and communicate it in advance. I grew more spiritually in that group than I had at any previous period in my life. It was a wonderful experience.

I also remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable at times during these gatherings.

Some of my beliefs and views were challenged and I realized that there were often other perspectives about certain topics and doctrines that I hadn’t considered.

It was humorous at times because a few of the guys were quite expressive when they sang hymns and this was very different than I was used to. But I came to realize these men were sincere in their expressions and it seemed obvious that their hearts were into the singing. They were worshiping.

It was in these men’s Bible studies that I first recall experiencing the impact of time for prayer in a group setting.

Everywhere I’d been before then, it was “opening prayer” and “closing prayer,” and often you could recite the leader’s prayer alongside them because they repeated the same phrases.

No, this was different.

We took prayer requests and took time to lift each up to GOD. Our prayer time was sincere, heart-felt and genuine.

I knew those guys cared about me and I loved them too. In fact, one of my dearest friends today is a guy I met through that men’s Bible study.

That group also taught me about true, biblical confession. We had a rule that what was said in the group stayed in the group. When we stepped through the front door, there was complete trust.

Those men opened up and shared their struggles and sins in a way I had never experienced previously. And I watched them grow and overcome their recurring temptations, as did I. That group helped me overcome some pretty tough struggles in my marriage and home life. I will forever be thankful for that experience.

These four experiences each provided me with a taste for what “church” could be. Little did I know, they would one day prove foundational in a search for something deeper and more substantial than what I had known.

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