“Imagine taking a vibrant healthy house church that builds into people's lives and under my leadership it dwindles to nothing and dissolves.”
Josiah Stroh is a “recovering” house church shepherd. Recovering, he says, from the inherent challenges associated with being a leader, but also from his false ideas of what leadership truly is.
It was only a few years ago Josiah began searching for community, for deeper relationships with people than he was exposed to at the Sunday gatherings. A family invited him into their house church; however, almost immediately, the house church had grown too big and went through a multiplication that left Josiah still struggling to connect with other people.
He visited a different house church. He was instantly impressed with the leadership team and how sincerely the people really cared about each other. Josiah jumped in and even joined a quad for accountability. “Unfortunately,” he said, “that house church dissolved when the leadership couple moved out of town and the second leader couldn’t take on the responsibility alone.”
Josiah transplanted to yet another house church. “The tendency of these house churches is that they split a lot. You can see where we are going with this - more splitting.” However, at the same time, he was encouraged to shepherd his own house church and completed training under the instruction of an Elder.
It was perfect timing since shortly thereafter his house church at the time had a three way multiplication. Josiah became the co-shepherd of one of them.
“I know I went into leadership with preconceived notions. Growing up in the church I had a certain bias of what a house church shepherd was. I thought I had to come up with a sermon and be in charge of content every week. And there is some of that, but there is also a lot of pastoring, investing in people’s lives, and taking time to disciple people.”
“It went well for awhile. I had two other couples leading, until the host family moved out of town. The second couple in leadership also moved a few months later. Our leadership team had been so good at sharing the load of responsibility, balancing strengths and weaknesses, but then it boiled down to one person: Me.”
As the sole host and shepherd of the house church he watched as attendance dwindled. “One person essentially being responsible for a whole bunch of people is not healthy and not the way a house church is supposed to be. Because of that, people weren’t comfortable and they left. I felt burnt out, frustrated, and wasted, like a complete failure.”
“Being a leader can be very wounding. You are dealing with people and there are high expectations on you. After that experience I didn’t want anything to do. I joined the other house church that had split out from my previous one as a safe place to process through my failure.”
Josiah began healing by serving his new house church in little ways, not being in charge or responsible for anything, just taking care of people. “I had entered leadership as if I were leading bible study as an academic endeavor. I didn’t get the family concept or the service aspect. Leadership in the kingdom of God is not leadership as the world sees it. The leader’s job is to be the first server, not the one in front. For me especially, it’s always a fight to be reliant on Christ, to let God be God and not try to be in charge. It was a good lesson to simply care about the people around me, to find out their needs and meet them.”
“Because who really leads a house church? The true leader is Christ. It’s God who brings people together, builds their gifts, and causes them to pour those gifts out. It’s also God’s decision of who comes and goes. Jason Wing likes to say that all organic things die, so there are house churches that are raised up, they grow, and sometimes they die, and that’s a good and healthy thing -- it’s not anybody’s fault. I mean, there were some things that we could have done differently, but it’s really a freeing thing to realize that that’s what it means to be a house shepherd. It’s not necessarily being in charge of everything, it’s being available and willing to serve as God calls you to serve.
Three months later, Josiah was drafted, as he calls it, into leadership again. This time, he said, was different. He’d joined a team. “There wasn’t this expectation that I was the main man. My attitude was no longer I have to figure all this out, or I need to make this work. It’s not on me or us; we’re relying on Christ, and loving each other like family. A family who fights but also plays together. God showed me that we don’t do house church as small group, but as family, and when we approach it that way we lead, serve, and care for each other better.”
Josiah’s house church has attracted, served, and discipled many people and has grown to the point where they will need to … you guessed it, multiply. It happens. He admits that ideally a healthy house church that’s discipling people should plant seeds and multiply. It’s a chance to nurture another group of people building into each other’s lives and watch them grow. Jesus’ words in Luke 8:15 seem to summarize Josiah’s journey of growth as a house church shepherd: “The seed that fell on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop.”
Author: Carrie Kempisty
Photographer: Sarah Maigur