House Church & Community

Home Sweet Home

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I trust in the Lord that listens to his children and has an infinite and definitive plan. He has a reason to challenge and cultivate my family in the very place he has called us to be planted, be it permanent or temporary. God has us placed right here for a purpose. Not just in Dayton, or at Apex, but in the very neighborhood and home where he has moved us.

In a military family, being the newcomers to a neighborhood is a common reality, and one I fear I may never get used to.  Dave and I knew we would move to Dayton, Ohio after he completed his PhD. He was assigned to teach at the Air Force Institute of Technology in his field of study. I had never been to Ohio, but before we met, Dave had lived in Dayton while completing his master’s degree at AFIT. In the last nine years I’ve heard many stories of his time spent at Apex, his house church, his accountability partners, and his experiences there that solidified his testimony of salvation.

In early summer 2014 we visited Dayton to find a house. Our two young children, daughter Cameron and son Jack outlined very specific instructions for our house hunting. They wanted indoor plumbing, a black refrigerator, and a freezer filled with ice cream- vanilla and strawberry to be exact.  

As an introvert, I am attracted to homes that offer a hint of privacy and isolation. In Texas our home backed up to a city park; in Japan we were surrounded by rice fields, and in Colorado we were buffeted by forested green space. In turn I let my mental and creative energy develop as my closest companions.

And then we went house hunting in Beavercreek. Clearly isolation would not be an option, neither would a six foot privacy fence in the backyard.

Dave, on the other hand, saw nothing but possibilities in the suburban lifestyle we were destined to embrace. My children were eager to see their new home with open, grass-covered lawns and other families nearby with kids of all ages. My quiet isolation traded for merging property lines and (imagined) neighbors and kids knocking on my back door to come out and play. My windows would face the windows of others, exposed to external view and (perceived) judgment.

We spent a considerable amount of time preparing for the move in prayer. May God increase my dependence on him.  May I embrace the opportunities of frequent and impromptu hospitality. We prayed for our unknown neighbors, our nameless friends, and our future home at Apex.  I prayed for quality friends and playmates for my kids. Through God’s grace during that time I felt my heart begin to soften.

At home, my two-year-old son took it upon himself to leave our back porch to walk across the back yard into the adjoining yard and introduce himself to the family as they prepared their backyard supper.  I had to follow him, what else could I do?  The family welcomed us and invited my kids to stay and play for a while. I left with a local events magazine and a page full of notes for family activities and festivals in the area, as well as, an open invitation for the kids to play.

I gave my phone number to the neighbors on one side of us that have a young baby. Both parents work full time so they employ sitters during the week. After a few days of unpacking boxes my phone rang with a panicked call from the mom at work. She was forced to call in ‘the back up to the back up’ sitter to watch her baby for the day and through her hidden camera at home she could see the baby was terribly unhappy. She asked if I would walk over under the guise of picking up some garden vegetables to investigate the situation. I jumped up and ran to her front door, overwhelmed with gratitude that this new acquaintance trusted me enough to request my help with the care of her child.

The neighbors to the other side had been elusive. I met the husband and wife for a brief moment on moving day, but I hadn’t seen them again during our first week. One afternoon my GPS directed me to the local post office and I followed the crowd of people to the back of the interminable line. The woman standing in front of me was in military uniform and I thought I recognized her. She caught me looking and turned to face me. It was my elusive neighbor. “I’ve never been to this post office in all my years of living here,” she said to me, “but I thought I would try it today.” Oh how the incredible mystery of God’s bigger picture continues to surprise me! I voiced silent thanks that the line wasn’t any shorter.

I don’t believe in a God of coincidence. I trust in the Lord that listens to his children and has an infinite and definitive plan. He has a reason to challenge and cultivate my family in the very place he has called us to be planted, be it permanent or temporary. God has us placed right here for a purpose. Not just in Dayton, or at Apex, but in the very neighborhood and home where he has moved us. I hope and pray that in the days and years to come here in Ohio that my heart will remain soft. Maybe these neighbors are the newest members of a house church in our living room someday. God only knows. For now I ask simply ask that I may become the neighbor, trusted friend, and writer that God has called me to be- with an adequate supply of vanilla and strawberry ice cream available in the freezer, of course.

 

Author: Carrie Kempisty

Going Deeper

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Going deeper began to be about living within the understanding that this was something quite bigger than meeting a need and being done; it was a call to treat and love each person as a family member.

Glen Shelley and his house church are making moves in the city of Dayton. They are living missional lives right here, right now.

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What began as packing and delivering backpacks to the homeless downtown before Christmas has turned into a regular, heart-invested, intentional pursuit of the people of Dayton.

“After our first time doing the backpacks we met a man named Darrel and a few others and we decided to ask them to visit our house church,” explains Glen.

Taking time to get to know these people led to having meals with them and ultimately culminated in a separate house church on Monday evenings simply to love them well.

Glen sat with Devin and Eric, two of Glen’s house church brothers, around a table at Panera Bread, sharing their story with me, and the passion became contagious.

“It has been a catalyst for going deeper in relationships with them,” says Glen. “We met a gentleman named Darrel; he needed food, but it was clear that he needed companionship just as much.”

They came to find out that Darrel was sleeping under a bridge. It was in the collection of these pieces of their lives that Glen and his house church knew they needed to, and desired to, be much more than simply people who dipped in and out of their lives.

“They are not projects. Each person we meet and take time to know has expectations – they can be hurt, they can be disappointed; they are real humans and they need real human love,” says Glen.

Their house church was faced with a serious question head on – what does it mean to go deeper?

Going deeper began to be about living within the understanding that this was something quite bigger than meeting a need and being done; it was a call to treat and love each person as a family member.  

Since this outreach began and this house church has been formed, they have found themselves being asked to think outside of themselves.

“I got a call at 9 PM from someone that needed a ride home, but he was in Indianapolis. It had to stop being about my comfort level being disrupted and more about showing someone I cared,” says Glen.

So they piled into the car and drove to Indianapolis and brought him home. If there is one thing they’ve learned through this act of obedience, it’s that the viewpoint should never be “us versus them,” but always all of US.

Glen and his house church have seen more than anything that everyone has a story; “these people didn’t wake up one day and choose to be homeless. They are not ‘less’ by any means – there are circumstances and fragments of a storyline being written that lead people to their current situation.”

“We don’t want to pound anything into them; we just want to love and care for them. We just tell them, ‘we just wanna love you,’” says Devin.

It started with backpacks. It became fellowship and shared meals; relationships are being built and poured into and now, they are able to see integration to larger fellowship. Members of the house church are starting to come to Apex and pursue baptism, as well.

“When we are not with them on Mondays, there is constant communication,” explains Glen. “They need to be picked up, they might need money for bus tokens, sometimes they simply need someone to talk to, to listen, to hear them.”

As a final thought all three men have come to, and rest, at this powerful point – they’re real people and they have real needs.

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? –Isaiah 58:7

 

 

Author: Steph Duff

Photographer: Hilary Tebo

A "Recovering" House Church Shepherd

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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. apex anthologies

“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.

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“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.

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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

 

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