Little Foxes and Other Legalisms

I’ve been taking some heat lately.

A few weeks ago I published a free book – How Nearly Anyone Can Start a Microchurch. That triggered frustration in several people who judged the book by its cover.

“You’re saying just any person who wants to leave our church and pull a bunch of people can just go do whatever they want…”

Well, that’s not what the book is about.

And If I had people like that in my congregation, I’d be happy to see them go (taking likeminded people with them).

The other sound and fury came from those who can’t support micro because of its size.

“You can’t have an elder board in such a small group.”

As if they could find an elder board in the Bible. Besides, if you send them, they operate under the spiritual authority of your board.

No real problem there.

These legalisms and other little foxes spoil the vine called church.

While Solomon wrote of a vineyard, Jesus spoke of the church. “You say it’s for months till harvest, but I say the harvest is ready to go” (my paraphrase).

We postpone, or even prevent, the harvest with our legalisms.

Have you noticed that the harvest isn’t interested in religion, especially when it’s legalistic. Seventy percent of Americans say that they’re not religious at all. They just don’t care.

This while we play musical chairs with the 30 percent of the harvest that’s already in the barns.

Church planting has grown less effective as we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lighting up a big Sunday show in hopes of attracting disgruntled believers from other churches.

The good news is that a major chunk of that 70 percent are white unto harvest.

Between 2012 and 2017 the percentage of “spiritual, not religious” grew by fifty percent.

That equates to a lot of folks interested in God but not your church, or mine.

We must stop asking these people to act as missionaries.

Inviting the harvest to find it’s way into our barns is bad enough but when we clog the entrance with rules and religious structures, we completely miss the opportunities around us.

We’re the missionaries.

We need to go to the harvest where people work, eat and play.

Microchurch is all about taking the living water of Jesus into their world. You wouldn’t ask a person in Syria to move to America to sample your church? Why would you expect the same of a Syrian immigrant living two miles from you. The obvious gospel path is for someone to enter their world, build trust and share the joy of the Lord.

Same goes for other people groups.

What about people recently broken by divorce? Or the kids at the skatepark? Those who hang out in a place “where everybody knows their name?”

We pull people out of their world rather than equipping them to evangelize it.

I’m no standup comedian but I recently pulled down a huge laugh from a large group of friends. I was invited to describe the revival we experienced back in the 1970s.

That was all about taking the gospel into the streets, parks, beaches and bars.

One sentence triggered the laughter.

It also revealed a little fox.

The admonition to drink a lot of coffee, or a lot of beer, along the way to building friendships with pre-Christians set off a storm of mirth. It confused me until someone whispered, “Our denomination forbids alcohol.”

I get it.

Alcohol ruins a lot of lives. But the call for total abstinence has more to do with the years leading up to prohibition than the Bible. We’re told to never get drunk while taking a little wine for our stomach’s sake.

This is no plea for Christ-followers to start hanging out in bars—unless that means hanging out with someone you’re trying to evangelize.

A hundred years ago, during prohibition, we turned politics into ecclesiology.

I grew up in a church which preached that tobacco would take you till hell. I then attended a Bible college where we read Charles Spurgeon. My native legalism over tobacco nearly cost me the joy of reading a giant of the faith.

Good thing I figured that out before I began reading C.S. Lewis—a man with a pipe.

Little foxes of legalism build walls between us and a world which desperately needs the love of God.

After teaching about the harvest, Jesus sent his disciples into the fields. His instructions included finding a person of peace then helping that could bring the good news to their household (and friends). Seems to me he was talking about what I’d call a microchurch.

So, it’s time to take inventory. What are your little foxes? Can you cage them before they destroy Jesus’ call on your life?



10 thoughts on “Little Foxes and Other Legalisms”

  1. Elaine Kapetanakis

    Excellent article. We are planting a microchurch and people are starting to join…not to go to church but to attend the Bible Study and get to know Jesus. A lot of our weekly group won’t come to our weekend service but they will join us for outings and our service activities. So we don’t make it about the weekend service. We are making it about getting to know Jesus and trying to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.

    Definitely unconventional. There isn’t a manual for this…which makes it super exciting. Can’t wait to see where God leads us next!

    1. Elaine,
      I just finished an interview with the leader of a ministry planting churches (not parachurch) on college campuses. He described an experience that is similar to yours. More students show up for the Bible studies and fellowship than are willing to attend their Sunday gatherings. He sees Sundays as potentially intimidating as a major factor. I also think the way we’ve formulized church puts people off.

  2. I’m not at all surprised at the pushback, legalism is one of a number of factors that has disintegrated church growth in America.
    I’m working with pastors in Kenya where in a couple of weeks they have 3 micro churches planted and have all the elements of what defines “church” in their micro churches, but they’ve expressed that they cannot do one element.. communion … I’m treading very carefully with this .. we are introducing Hope Chapels “values” as I’m a believer that values “shape” vision… that form follows function; communication is challenging, and I think we’ve come up with a temporary solution on FB messenger.. instead of texting the messages we have started to use the voice message.. it takes a couple of hours for them to receive it but for now it’s better than typing the message… they are a few hours away from Kisumu.. where they have better wifi but traveling there is not practical.
    For now I’m not pushing the “why” It could be they believe only ordained clergy are qualified to give communion.
    I may be going off topic but it’s a fine line to separate legalism from sound doctrine in some instances. For now we’ll keep working on multiplying the MC’s and allow God to build His Church.
    Thank you for the book it organizes thoughts and strategy!

    1. Randy, you continue making disciples while struggling against stage four cancer–amazing perseverance.
      Separating sound doctrine and practice from legalism and its partner, institutionalism, is a never-ending call for self-examination.

  3. I appreciate your courage and clarity in addressing those concerns. For His name’s sake, we need to invest less in what doesn’t work (bringing the 70% to church) and invest more in what is working around the world (sending the church to the 70%, and equipping them to be the church where they are). I thought maybe people were up-in-arms because you compared discipleship to a crack habit 🙂

    1. Wow, Aaron you hit on the nerve. Comparing good things to just about anything can get a person in trouble. We are too quick to ride our personal and ecclesial hobby horses.

  4. Hi Ralph. LOVE the book and the push back just shows that God is taking this micro church thing very seriously. Seems throughout our life together one of our fleeces is that if there is a strong resistance it’s usually a confirmation.

    My wife Helenka and I are products of Hope Chapel in the mid 90’s. Changed our lives. Mini Church in particular. After moving back to my home in San Diego we had a HARD time finding something similar. We then helped run a Mike Bickle sponsored SDIHOP run by Peter Doakley. I was an engineer turned home grown missionary. What an eye opener! We hit a wall for funding as it was 2000 and it wasn’t in vogue yet to be a missionary ‘at home’. After 2 years all funding dried up and we connected with Gary Goodell of Third Day Churches. We were set free to do as God wanted. Our hearts have been for home/micro church since 2006. We have been attending All Peoples Church here in SD for 9 years. It’s really close to Hope Chapel stuff!

    Any way, I’m a construction contractor and have a pretty successful business. Last June Helenka and I went to our 4th Hawaiian island – The Big Island – and visited Hilo. By the end of our 10 days we were convinced that God wanted us to move there and start something. LOL in fact an older Hawaiian gentleman actually proclaimed to us “you guys gotta come here and start something for Jesus” then continued talking “normally”. We knew it was The Lord. any way we read some exciting missionary documentaries. One of which Titus Coen autobiography of his adventures right in Hilo! Two months later we jumped a plane back to Hilo to discover a bunch of churches. Though we knew we are supposed to go, we asked for a plan.

    We attended APC’s church planting school and were introduced to the tools available for DMM. We were hooked and know this is the path. However, the tools – for me, a mere mortal un seminary schooled – they were still too too complex.

    My teacher Joe Rhodes and I began meeting after graduation. I’d been telling him since February that Jesus really just commanded us to Love God, Love Others, Love Self and Go. Here last week I got referred to your new book. What a confirmation!

    So, our since the school, God has lined a LOT up. He/ we are landing a very big repeatable amusement park account that will keep our business running, provide for our family here and be self supportive in Hilo.

    I shape surfboards – Living Water Surfboards – and turn wood art on a lathe. Helenka paints. I’ll be 59 in July and CANNOT WAIT for our launch into the micro church movement God has planned for us in Hawaii! It is the answer for the many many many people we talked to over there who said – quite litterally – “I will not set foot in a church to be judged and feel worse than I came in!” or “I am Loved by Jesus and I didn’t feel loved there”.

    Everyone in every island already thinks I’m Hawaiian LOL. SD born and raised the old school way I guess. So, we have an “in”, plan on a shop for boards and art and flowing with Jesus!

    Pretty cool God would say “hey Billy and Helenka, why don’t you ‘retire’ in Hilo on me. all ya gotta do is build micro churches around the island, to maui and beyond. whattaya say? 🙂

    Any way, love to chat more. God Bless YOU and Ruby for standing for God’s plans in the face of man’s idea for His plans. So encouraging!

    Appreciate your prayers as we come to your mind. See you soon!

    1. Billy,
      Thanks for the update on your journey. I pray for more people of your generation to waken to the idea of keeping a business while planting microchurches. Please use this “Comments” segment to keep us up on your progress. We want to follow your walk as the spirit re-awakens Hawaii to church multiplication. The movement there has kind of gone flat over the past few years. You are the third person I’ve connected with this year who has moved to the state intent on planting a microchurch network. I’m hoping to pull together a meetup in a couple of months for anyone interested in meeting other church planters. It will be in Honolulu. Hope you can make it. I’ll send details separately.

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