The Backdoor to House Church
I am the assistant pastor of a network of house churches.1 On Sunday mornings, we meet in two locations—one in a northern suburb and the other in a southern suburb. Throughout the week, we host Bible studies and small groups in private homes located in several different cities scattered throughout the greater region. My duties primarily involve preaching, leading worship, teaching Bible study, discipleship, and pastoral care. In addition to my pastoral work, I am bi-vocational as adjunct faculty in religion and humanities at three different colleges in my area. Even though I am passionate about house church and deeply value the strengths of house church, I never intended to end up where I am at currently. You might say that I ended up in house church through the backdoor.
The family I was born into raised me in the United Methodist Church (UMC). As a young child, we attended two different Methodist churches in the city. As my sister and I grew older, my family started attending a larger Methodist church in our suburb that had more programs for children, teens, and families. My involvement with the Methodist Church was a big part of my spiritual upbringing and remains, to this day, a formative force in my life. I was baptized, confirmed, and married in the UMC. My family attended regularly, and I was a very active member as a teen and young adult. I participated in youth group, youth choir, praise band, mission trips, and the like. Both my undergraduate (Ohio Northern University) and graduate (Emory University) studies were completed at institutions founded by the Methodist church. Along the way, I received college scholarships from my local congregation and the denomination. I even had the privilege of earning my master of divinity degree at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology because of a generous scholarship offer.
Given my personal history and strong connections with Methodism, one would naturally assume that I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church today, but that is currently not the case. My wife and high school sweetheart was not raised in the Methodist church and does not share my lifelong attachment to the denomination—she was raised in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. When we moved to Atlanta for me to attend theology school, my wife suggested that we begin attending the Vineyard church. We quickly fell in love with Trinity Vineyard Church, a church we found simply by searching for the closest Vineyard to our apartment on Google maps. Trinity was a vibrant faith community of young urban dwellers that featured a beautiful blend of old and new traditions. During our time at Trinity, I was given the opportunity to work with them for a year as an intern, and the pastor mentored me individually on church planting. Along the way, a funny thing happened, though. Trinity Vineyard Church began the process of shifting from the Vineyard to the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA). Today, the church is called Trinity Anglican Mission. This shift began right around the time I graduated from theology school and completed after my wife and I had moved back to Ohio.
When my wife and I moved back to Ohio after I completed theology school, I was in a funny spot with church. I hadn’t attended the Methodist church in several years2 so I wasn’t connected there. The church I had loved in Atlanta had just begun the process of leaving the Vineyard so I wasn’t connected there any longer. The church I had loved in Atlanta wasn’t fully Anglican at the time I left so I wasn’t exactly connected there either.3 In short, I was essentially a pastoral free agent. Based on the encouragement of my father-in-law, who was already practicing house church at that time, my wife and I began inviting people to our home for church. Seven years later, here I am.
The first night we had church in our home, we had about twelve to fifteen people. My personal desire was to see that congregation outgrow the house church context. I saw those first dozen or so individuals as the seed of something bigger. In my head, I saw us outgrowing my living room and growing into a church much like the one we had attended in Atlanta and loved so deeply. I had visions of renovating an abandoned warehouse downtown, creating spaces for artists, and opening a coffee shop. I could see us growing large enough to plant new churches in other neighborhoods around town. I imagined us writing our own music and publishing our own devotional materials. Our worship would be the perfect hybrid of all that is good and beautiful about both contemporary and traditional styles. Our theology would be creedal and rooted in C.S. Lewis’ “mere Christianity.” But, alas, we never grew beyond the original dozen, and we never left the cozy confines of my living room.
After two years of hosting house church in our home, my wife and I decided it made more sense to combine our house church with her father’s house church. Instead of trying to do the work of the ministry on my own, I thought I could help my father-in-law out for a little while. Seven years have now gone by since I graduated from theology school, moved back to Ohio, and started inviting people into my home for house church. Seven years later I’m still doing house church, not in my own living room anymore. Seven years later, I’ve gained an appreciation for the strengths and the beauty of house church, something I never intended to be involved with. Seven years later, things look different than I once imagined, but I can see God’s hand of providence, and I can see why God led me through the backdoor.
(Note: This is meant to be an introduction to me and the first in a series of articles on house church. I plan to explore what I see to be the strengths of house church in my forthcoming articles.)
Jarrett Dickey teaches as adjunct faculty at Sinclair Community College, Miami University Middletown, and Edison State Community College. He teaches classes in the areas of religion and humanities. In addition to teaching, Jarrett is the assistant pastor of a house church, where he helps with preaching, teaching, worship leading, and discipleship. Jarrett married his high school sweetheart, Hannah, in 2005, and they now have four small children. Jarrett holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Ohio Northern University and a master of divinity degree from Emory University, Candler School of Theology. His hobbies include guitar, hiking, bird watching, crossword puzzles, sports, reading, and writing. You can follow him on Twitter @jarrett_dickey.
(1) The members of my house church have respectfully asked that I not publicly post the name of the church or the physical locations of our meetings on the internet. This is because we prefer that guests and visitors learn about our church through the flesh-and-blood, word-of-mouth human network, rather than through the internet or social media.
(2) Technically, I am no longer a member of the UMC. Since I didn’t attend or give for a period of five years, my name was read out of membership with the denomination.
(3) Although, it must be noted that one of the Bishops of the AMiA did speak over the phone with me several times about the possibility of church planting. Honestly, I was turned off by the thought of inheriting many disgruntled and disaffected Episcopalians if I planted a new church with the AMiA.