What does preaching look like in a house church?

Tuesday is for Preaching

What does preaching look like in the house church?

A PreacherI want to invite every one who comes to the site today to make a comment. You may not have any experience in a house church. That’s okay. You can still have an opinion. Tell us about it. And if you have friends in the house church movement or a small group that feels like a house church, ask them to drop in with their experience.

I’m not interested in criticism of established churches. I am interested in what the house church experience of preaching is from both those who do it and those who hear it.

Like, dislike or rate the conversation as well.


46 thoughts on “What does preaching look like in a house church?

  1. Anytime two or more are gathered in his name it is a good thing. Smaller groups certainly do have the advantage of a more personal interaction. Large groups have the advantage of greater Christian unity in the community.

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  2. Define “preaching” Marty.

    Most of our meetings are characterized by everyone contributing something, therefore we usually keep our teaching short on Sundays unless the Spirit thinks otherwise. (We have learned not to become legalistic about things to allow for freedom) If we were to allow lengthy teaching, it might be done on another night in another setting.

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  3. Great question Marty…one I’ve been really trying to work through in my core group Bible study. Preaching (at least “effective” preaching) in a house church certainly looks a lot different than traditional lectures – it is interactive and it doesn’t give any lee-way for cutting corners in preparation (because as the preacher you have to understand the text, context, and general testimony of Scripture to be able to communicate effectively in a setting like that). Also I’ve been in home church settings where everyone contributes something but in the end there is no real clarity about what the Word of God really teaches – I’d love for someone to comment on that. How do we allow for freedom and yet affirm order and biblical faithfulness?

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    1. you bring up a good point Andrew. This is a struggle I’ve heard of with many house churches who desire for everyone to be able to participate, but yet want to stay true to the Word of God and sound doctrine. A few thoughts:

      I think we have to re-evaluate what our concept of “order” looks like. The diversity of perspectives, personalities etc… might seem disorderly, but yet its not. Its the true functioning of one body, many parts.

      We need to get away from gathering around correct theology, and move back to gathering around Jesus. Jesus is perfect theology. He said if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. Simple doctrine, for simple churches.

      The focus of contributing in a church meeting doesn’t always mean expounding on those things that ARE doctrinal or directional for the church (“we need to do or believe this”). The purpose of every member functioning is that all of us bring SOMETHING to share. It could be, as Paul prescribed, that only two or three prophets SHOULD speak for the sake of clarity. But two or three is a far cry from the “only one speaking” format we see in most meetings.

      A member of the church may not be a vocal ministry to the community, but that person should very well be able to be versed in the Scriptures themselves to be able to refute heresy should it come, even from the leaders. No one is without excuse to know and study God’s word for themselves.

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  4. Preaching does not exist in our house church, at least in the usual “now is the time for a sermon” sense. It takes the form of conversation interspersed with times of worship in song and in prayer.

    But our congregation is a bit unusual in many senses, most of the members are inmates in a state prison with the exception of a couple of volunteers.

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    1. Fantastic start to the discussion guys:

      Dan, good insight, —the intimacy of the smaller situation allows for an easier personal interaction.

      Rusty, thanks for your input on your personal situation. Not sure there is a need to exclude “lengthy teaching” from the house church.

      Andrew and Bill, Welcome to the conversation here at Chosenrebel. “Interactive” is one of those things that happens quite easily in the house church setting. Good question Andrew on HOW DO WE ALLOW FOR FREEDOM AND YET AFFIRM ORDER AND BIBLICAL FAITHFULNESS? That is something I would like to take up in a later post.

      John, I love that you have a house church of inmates! Does anyone prepare any material from which the discussion starts?

      Rusty wants me to define preaching. I’m going to let the Chosenrebel response community get in the first thoughts on a definition.

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      1. The answer to your question about preparation is a definite yes, but!

        I am frequently reminded of a comment Dallas Willard made as he passed out the lecture notes for a talk that he was about to give. He said, “Here are my notes but I have to warn you that I can only serve what the Holy Spirit is cooking.” That may be the only part of that lecture that is still sticking with me–more of a comment on the state of my memory than the quality of his teaching.

        So, while my wife and I may go in with a passage and discussion in mind, we frequently find that the Spirit has taken the conversation in entirely unsuspected directions and always to the profit of all concerned.

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  5. I love preaching! I love the preparation, the struggle, the conviction, and the presentation. I thought that preaching required a pulpit and a preacher and silent or “Amen!-ing” people listening. In our house church, the preparation, struggle, conviction, and even the presentation are intact. There are some extras, though.

    Now, when I make a point and expound on Scripture, I can look at a person and ask, “what about that?” And the Lord leads the discussion. People think, they take notes, they speak, they agree, disagree, and it’s wonderful. They put wheels on the message right where they sit. They remember what was taught. I still like preaching, but I love what’s happening in the hearts and minds around me more than I like pulpits. A conversation with Marty helped me understand that things that look different are really the same, just different…know what I mean?

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  6. Hi Guys, I’ve never been to a house church. I’m learning about them through this blog. Question: if I go to a house church, as a woman, do I get in on the preaching with my observations and comments too? How does this work w/ the Bible saying women be silent, ask you husband, etc.???

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    1. You’d get in on the conversation here. It’s a conversation, and we are learning. A well-prepared facilitator or leader or preacher or pastor or whatever you want to call the position serves a couple purposes. Off the top of my head, I see them as a teacher of the “Apostles’ doctrine,” as a catalyst of discussion rooted in the Word, and as a moderator in the sense that one keeps the discussion under control.

      We can let false doctrine come up, be explored, discussed and most importantly measured against the Word of God. False doctrine is melted by the Word, and a well-prepared and prayed-up leader will have a firm handle on the blow-torch. Let’s keep our nose to the pages of Scripture and our prayers toward our Lord as we face false doctrine–“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). That happens in my living room, praise God!

      I don’t want to address the issue of women not speaking in church outside of saying that this house church is a community of believers, men and women, who all are respectful toward one another, love one another, and are hungry for a deeper encounter with the Lord through His Word, prayer, song and their brothers and sisters in Christ. Women speak in our church. My wife is scouring the Scriptures as I write this, as she prepares for tomorrow’s gathering. God is awesome!

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      1. God is awesome and from the letters I am reading from your group week to week, there is a sweet fellowship among you. looking forward to visiting some time.

        On another note; have two guys who want to meet in a mentors groups for church planters. I will contact you soon with more information.

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  7. We have been involved in house church for many years now. One of the dangers for people who have come out of a more traditional (legacy) setting is that they tend to do what we often call, “Honey, I shrunk the church!” Someone has been asked to lead the worship, another to give some kind of teaching etc. This misses a foundational premise of house/simple/organic church, that is, that the Holy Spirit has a plan for our times together.

    Statistics show that people learn far more when they are allowed to participate than if they are just fed good teaching. So a discussion based discovery of the Scriptures is a far more effective pattern of learning and of applying accountability for what one has learned than the traditional sermon. After all, the goal is changed lives, not just head knowledge. I think this is why, when you look at Jesus pattern of teaching in the Gospels, in a small group environment He often used questions, either his own or those of his disciples, as a discussion point.

    On the question of women, and their participation within the house church environment, I have just done a series of blogs on the subject. If anyone is interested they are at http://www.simplychurch.com.

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    1. Felicity, Thanks for stopping in again. I have seen this “honey I shrunk the church” approach and have chuckled at its innocent misunderstanding.

      At the same time, I’m not sure that the Spirit’s plan is necessarily disorganized on our part, which conclusion I think some might draw from your comments. (Not saying this is your intention.)

      I am all for a “discussion based discovery” but ‘statistics’ are a shaky footing to build on. We want to know what changes lives AND what passes on the faith once delivered. I think too many in the organic church movement denigrate solid biblical exposition’s effect on supremely anecdotal personal experience.

      You are right to point out Jesus’ pattern of teaching, but this style of questioning can be appropriated in a prepared message by a gifted teacher. Thanks for the link. I, and I hope others, will look them up.

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      1. I enjoy and have been blessed by great expository preaching, yours included! There is value in it, and it is certainly one of the tools in the toolbox. But it is not the only tool. Is that the point of the “honey I shrunk the church” comment?

        How effective is preaching (and how we do “church” in general) in bringing about real transformation, especially in comparison to experiencing life together in relational community?

        It is certainly anecdotal, but my personal experience is that genuine life together in a relational community immersed in the trinitarian presence is significantly more transformational. This has been true whether that relational community was in the context of a large traditional church, a house church, a small group, or intentional friendships with brothers and sisters along the way. It has also been true whether or not there was a gifted teacher within the relational community. The Holy Spirit is always there and if we are in His presence and open to his teaching we will grow.

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      2. Kevin,

        The “honey I shrunk the church” comment by Felicity was a reference to some house churches who seem to think that all of the things they experienced in a traditional church somehow have to be a part of a house church — music, uninterrupted preaching, offering, missions moment, etc.

        This is not what the “house church” movement has in mind.

        I think you are right about the transformative nature of highly committed, covenant relationships of love, accountability, and nurture being highly productive with or without the presence of a gifted teacher. But that doesn’t mean that is the norm, or even desirable. That’s another discussion.

        Marty

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  8. Marty,

    I remember working with a group of pastors in India. We took a passage of Scripture and used a discussion-based pattern to dig out what the Word says. When we finished, the main comment was, “I have read this passage many times and even preached from it, but I learned more through an interactive discussion than I have ever seen before.” That is the comment we receive most frequently when we teach an interactive pattern, whether these are trained theologians or not.

    I totally agree with you that a gifted teacher will use questions to draw out a response and then to teach on the basis of that. I have seen it happen many times too, and it is extremely effective. However, there is often not a teacher with that kind of gifting within a small group. in that situation, the Word itself needs to become the teacher.

    I love what you are doing with this blog discussion!

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    1. Felicity,

      Thanks for your participation and your kind comments. I have greatly benefited from yours and Tony’s ministry. This said, you should know that I am not in the egalitarian camp. I am a confirmed complimentarian on the rolls of men and women. ; )

      I examined the link you gave and found some help that I hope my readers will be helped by as well. At the same time, I found them disappointing. In the first video, Tony, your wonderful husband, mentions that there are alternative interpretations to passages like 1 Tim. 2:11 but fails to give any evidence of what they might be. In part two, Tony says some wonderful things about husbands and men making room for gifted women to exercise their gifts near the end of the video. I am completely in agreement with those comments and yet fail to see how they necessarily lead to a egalitarian position.

      Earlier in the same video, I felt Tony’s two biblical examples were actually completely off point. They in no way supported his contention.

      I would recommend a different link to my readers on the 1 Timothy 2 passage. I think they will find it a more compelling and biblically consistent interpretation.

      http://www.cbmw.org/Journal/Vol-10-No-1/Teaching-and-Usurping-Authority-1-Timothy-2-11-15-Ch-12-by-Linda-L-Belleville

      May God continue to use you and your husband in mighty ways to stimulate a church planting movement that changes the world for our glorious Savior.

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  9. Marty,

    I’m not sure if you just saw the videos or looked at the preceding 8 or so posts. In one of them, I look at what David Hamilton, who has put in extensive study on the 1 Tim 2 passage, says.

    I’m excited with your vision for raising leaders for the next generation!

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  10. Returning to the conversation about what preaching in the house church looks like, we had a discussion at our gathering last night wherein it was stated that a good number of the people missed the weekly sermons. They value the interaction in which we engage during our home gatherings, but there is something about the format or and the features of a sermon preached that they miss.

    So the question now is, “How do we provide both interactive teaching and the preaching that the saints desire?” Paul said, “…preach the Word,” (2 Tim. 4:2) and “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). This is a clear biblical call to preaching. We often argue that Jesus did His discipling in small groups. True. But Jesus also preached to massive audiences, i.e., the Sermon on the Mount. Both are called for in Scripture.

    If the DNA of this fellowship is a collection of house churches, with gatherings over meals, communion, prayer, worship and the teaching of the Word (Acts 2:42), and ministry to each other and to our neighbors, how do we include preaching? Or, maybe there are two more questions: 1) How do we balance the biblical call to preach publicly and to meet intimately?; and 2) Do we even need to balance the two?

    Blessings, Marty! This has been a very thought-provoking and soul-searching experience. Thanks!

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    1. Would it help this conversation if we broke “preaching” into at least three categories? Perhaps along these lines:

      1. Preaching as evangelism, Peter’s sermon on Pentecost as an example. Delivered to unbelievers

      2. Paul’s speech at Troas Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. Delivered to believers and, I suspect, a teaching.

      3. A Spirit led conversation as in 1 Corinthians 14:26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. A perfect description of our evening last night in the prison as we worshiped in prayer, song and sharing the many ways the Lord is working in our lives.

      All have their place in the life of the Church and none should be neglected. Betty and I lead a teaching series, called Missionaries in Bonds, on Friday afternoons, that is intended to equip the men to go out as missionaries into the yard and the living units. Generally a small group and focused on one aspect of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ while incarcerated. Their mission is to live and speak of the transforming power of the love of Jesus Christ.

      We try on a quarterly basis to bring in an evangelist with a high powered (decibel) multimedia concert that will attract unbelievers. However, I don’t put much stock in alter calls. Iit is when the men start joining our worship and teaching times, talking about the challenges of living the life of a witness, then I know the Spirit has empowered them (Acts 1:8)

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      1. Marty,

        We are a little east of Mundelein, 😉 , as in southern Vermont. However as former residents of the Chicago area, and natives of Iowa, we occasionally come through there at least on I-80.

        Or grab a cuppa and call me on Skype at john4ns

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      2. John, my wife and I honeymooned and tenth anniversaried in New England and loved the Vermont area. I am going to be in Schenectady, NY in late Nov. early Dec. training church planters. Maybe I can grab a rental car and come visit then.

        You are always welcome here in your travels through the area. Consider any home I’m living in to be your motel as you pass through. We would love to get to know and learn from you. I’ll try to the skype rout sometime soon. Blessings.

        Marty

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      3. We are less than two hours east of Schenectady and might be able to come that way depending on the timing of your visit.

        If you come this way, there is a guest room that is generally available. We need a little warning because it sometimes is occupied by an ex-inmate in transition back into society.

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  11. Besides one or two instances, scripture uses the word “preach” to refer to proclimation of the gospel to the lost. So I submit that most preaching should be reserved for outside the church.

    Also, for claritys sake, preaching is often associated with large crowds. Which often is the reason people want to preach because of the power and attention drawn to themselves. I know this from experience. Be careful wanting to speak to crowds. I hate to burst your bubble, but preaching has nothing to do with crowds. It has everything to do with the individual.

    On the other hand, teaching and prophesying, should clearly be done toward the believer and in the church. What we see with teaching today is more of a pagan greek oratory method that relys heavily on a persons abilities, education and rhetoric. In contrast to the judaic, rabbi/student mentorship relationship we see in scriptures. For this reason Paul needed to distinguish himself from those men of his day by saying “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” I would ask yourselves, does your preaching or teaching follow with a demonstration of the power of God?

    Also to take note, Col 3:16 says we are even to teach and admonish one another. The first century church would have a more open format like a synagouge than with a pulpit and 3 points.

    Just some observations from our discussion. Put your daggers away friends! Welcome to reformation. 🙂

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    1. Rusty, It’s a dangerous thing to think that we know what is another person’s motivation. Actually, your first paragraph contradicts your second.

      Your admonition to examine our motives is appropriate but need not have the blanket accusation of improper motives. I have written about this kind of self examination in an early post. http://wp.me/pGYIn-7G

      I like the thought that we should evaluate our preaching/teaching from the perspective of “demonstration of God’s power.” In fact this might get the conversation back on track.

      What does the demonstration of the power of God look like? That is a good topic.

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      1. I wasn’t accusing anyone in particular. Please forgive me if it sounded that way. I was simply exhorting us to self examination, as you pointed out. You’ll find out when you become a part of a house church that it challenges your desire to be in front of people. I was also sharing from personal experience. I didn’t realize I was going to get “thumbs down” from your rating system.

        I was also trying to point out the misconception of preaching as being something that is done in front of large crowds of people. Thankfully, someone finally put up a well said definition of preaching, which I would agree with for the most part. As I stated before I think most new testament preaching would fall into his first category with a few exceptions.

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    2. Don’t be concerned about getting thumbs down on a particular comment brother. Its ideas not you that somebody has dissed.

      Just be careful of your tone. Here’s a tip. When I am feeling particularly animated about a position I take, I often try to slow down and bounce my phraseology off my bride before I put it out there for public consumption. I don’t always avoid negative feedback that way, but it is easier to live with when I do.

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      1. For what it’s worth, I took no offense, Rusty. It never hurts me to be reminded that I need to double check my motives in everything I do as the Lord allows this work to move forward.

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  12. Interesting comments, and instructive. We’ve employed both an open session format and a longer exposition, prepared by an elder or other capable brother. In this view we are in the spirit of 1 Cor 14, but also taking note of the many instructions for leaders related to teaching. In the typical guest meal of the Roman world, a person would often be assigned to provoke the assembly with some prepared speech. Ben Witherington in “Making a Meal of It” brings this out. Though I think we could make it without it in our congregation, due to a number of good teachers who speak up in our meetings, we have retained the special extended, though interactive, exposition for now, seeing much benefit from it. Those house churches that do not do this tend to get mushy and less helpful, in my view. Our meetings are 2 or 2 1/2 hours long, prior to the Lord’s meal.

    One thing should be said about an emphasis on doctrine in our verbal contributions to the meeting. It must not be forgotten that Paul labored for right doctrine in nascent churches. Sometimes house churches minimize what Paul emphasized. He cared about this because these churches would start others. As he made a beachhead in any given city, nothing could be more important than this. It would be inconsistent to say that people were just to share sort of non-doctrinal life together, when the evidence of the NT is otherwise. For us, we enjoy and appreciate the richess of seeing doctrine in the Scriptures we work on together. We have a variety in verbal contributions to the meeting, but teaching is doctrinal by definition.

    Our meetings usually see three or four shorter teachings, plus other sharing. At these times, a brother points us to a passage and we turn to it, often interacting with his views. He is teaching, not saying, “This passage warmed my heart this week.” We allow that, but when one is teaching, something more is happening. Add to this a longer exposition which is 20-40 minutes, and you have something substantive and often life-changing.

    Jim Elliff

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    1. Jim,

      Thrilled to have you stop in on this conversation. I was just thinking, “I’d love to have Jim Eliff and Jeff Vandersteldt weigh in on this discussion.” The Spirit of God heard my prayer.

      I would love to come and visit sometime and see your house church in action. I have seen a bit of what you describe as “mushy” meetings and fear that too many house churches tend in this direction.

      Marty

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      1. Thanks Marty. I think we should work hard to dismiss the notion that all house churches have to be doctrinal uncommitted. It doesn’t make sense from the biblical data. At the same time, we all know the dangers of being “doctrinaire.” We can teach truths and be humble and open—that is possible.

        Our life together is both in Christ and in what He says. I won’t go into giving the passages related to life being in the Word, but they are there. We feed on truth. I still am amazed that leaders can say that they will not teach the very things Paul was laboring to impart to young churches. In some cases laziness is the problem, but in others, philosophy of ministry. To go long without meaningful doctrine is like attempting to raise a healthy child on cotton candy.

        As an additional comment–our pastors really work hard at helping our men especially to take responsbility for a good meeting together. Since we mentor every man in our individual house church, we can be direct about this. We’re learning, but the efforts are life-imparting. Each of our congregations is at a different stage, and not all have the level of teachers our congregation is blessed to have. But, there is something to training men to step up and be responsible for our gatherings.

        Yes, by all means, get in touch and we’ll talk further. Readers can find more at our church site, http://www.ChristfellowshipKC.org.

        Jim Elliff

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  13. Jim,

    great comments on emphasizing in our teaching what Paul emphasized in his. One the exercises I have given church planting students is to examine 1 Thessalonians. I ask the students to place Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonicans in its proper historical context.

    It doesn’t take them long to realize that Paul is writing his letter just weeks (at the most three months) after having started the church. Then I ask them to examine the book for all of the doctrine that Paul says he taught them in the brief period he was in the city, They pretty quickly draw the conclusion that Paul did a lot of doctrinal preaching.

    On a side note: Just saw a tweet today from Alan Hirsch asking the question, “If the church only had the four gospels to go by, what would it look like?” Now I know that the tweetosphere is basically a provocative medium, but it seems to me that there is a desire to avoid Paul. But it is Paul who was Christ’ chosen emissary to plant the church. There’s some craziness going on out there.

    Marty

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  14. On your side note, my first reaction was that the Church would look exactly like it does today for the Holy Spirit would have used someone else or some other means to reveal ALL Truth to us.

    On the other hand, Christendom, the commingling of church and State, might look far different. But it would not be the Bride of Christ anymore than it currently is.

    God chose Paul, Peter, James, John, the scribe of Hebrews, and Jude to elucidate the Truth as taught by our Lord. There is no conflict in spite of the claims of the RLC crowd.

    Better get off this soapbox before the rant really starts.

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  15. We have been meeting as a house church for the last 3 weeks and here is my two cents worth of input…

    In the last 3 weeks of preaching every week took a different turn. One week I was able to preach with one or two questions during my sermon. While the other two weeks questions came up and we were able to speak to the audience as if it were a one on one conversation. This included others contributing to the sermon with their own life experience.

    I noticed that i did not have to use the canned examples that i borrowed from internet or my personal ones, instead people related to the sermon in a personal way…

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  16. If the lost are present within a house church it would probably look like gospel of salvation

    If the body is present it may look like a excerpt at times, maybe a in depth discussion about the eternal kingdom of GOD and how we live with that mindset

    If the holy spirit is in charge it may look like exactly what is in order for that day, it may come from two or three. A elder may expound a particular subject where we maybe challenged to live as if it is our last day

    If the preacher is a bond slave with the Lord he/she may just be silent and still so another may release what GOD is to say

    If a preaching is dosed with a life that conforms to what is being communicated lives maybe changed for HIS glory

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  17. I planted a house church two years ago and preached in Mega churches prior to that. The biggest difference is the level of immediate engagement within the smaller setting. It feels more like a conversation with some people even though you have specific things you wish to preach.

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