I am drowning in books. Literally, I have over 25 books stacked next to my bed. Three new books came in the mail this week. I am overwhelmed with books. Which is why when Rad Zdero's book, "Letters to the House Church Movement" first dropped into my mailbox I wasn't eager to crack it open on the spot and devour it in one sitting. You see, I'm drowning in books.
However, once I did start reading Rad's book I quickly placed all those other books into stand-by mode. Why? Because this book is so practical, and so fascinating, that I had to keep reading to learn more about what God is doing through house churches in his neck of the woods, which incidentally is Toronto, Canada.
The format of the book, as you might have guessed from the title, is a series of letters (always from Zdero's side of the conversation) to different people and addressing different situations in various house churches within Zdero's circle of influence. Much like the epistles of Paul or John or Peter in the New Testament, we get to hear how Zdero responds to conflict in the house church, how he deals with church discipline, what he believes about women in the house church, and much, much more.
Zdero has been involved in the house church movement since 1985. That is roughly when I officially entered the ministry and was licensed and ordained as a Southern Baptist minister of the Gospel. But I've only been involved in the house church movement for about five years now. So, Zdero's level of experience is much broader than mine, and so I can understand why some of the ways he deals with things is different from the way I might deal with the same issue. Plus, he's Canadian. We can't forget that.
But on a more serious note, one of the things I have always loved about the house church movement from the very beginning was the level of freedom and the variety of expression exhibited across the board. I remember reading Robert and Julia Banks' "The Church Comes Home" and marveling at how no two house church groups seemed to approach anything the same way. Whether it was communion or baptism or bible teaching or children's involvement, or whatever, the variety was overwhelming and refreshing to me. And this is what I try to keep in mind as I read Zdero's book. In some chapters, as when he comments about women in the church for example, I find that I agree with him exactly. When he encourages one couple to break off fellowship with another couple because they disagree on doctrine, I find myself disagreeing sincerely. When he writes to house church members and draws the line in the sand and asks them to commit to certain things or disband their church, I find myself unsure of how I feel about that. But, in all of these things, I have grace and respect for Zdero. One, because he's my brother in Christ, and two, because as I've said many times before, we should not base our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ on an agreement of doctrine as much as we base it on our common love for Christ and our commitment to love and serve Him.
Frankly, I found myself inserting my own style of leadership into Zdero's letters at every turn. I found that I could hardly focus on what he was saying to his audience without pausing to ask myself what I might say in the same situation, or how I might respond differently if I were writing a letter to these same people.
I think, on a basic level, Zdero and I are two different kinds of leaders. Whereas he might be more of an Apostolic leader whose calling is to plant many churches and to (as he says in his book), "help spawn the house church movement", I am more like a guy who heard God call him to plant a specific church where 100 percent of the offering could go to help the poor in our community. There's nothing wrong with either calling, of course. But understanding our different roles in the Church is helpful (at least to me) in understanding why Zdero and I are different leaders.
Before you get the idea that I disagree with Zdero on some critical level, let me affirm that most of what he counsels people to do in this book is agreeable to me. I do think that it's important for Churches to develop real community, to be involved in mission outside the four walls, and to practice loving church discipline whenever necessary. We might disagree on "how" to do those things, but we do agree on doing them as best as we can.
Again, Zdero and I agree on many, many more things than we disagree on. I want to make that abundantly clear. This book would make a wonderful contribution to anyone who was curious about how to handle difficulty in a house church setting, how to respond to critics of the house church, and even how to lovingly correct people who are overzealous for all things "house church".
To be fair, I am probably the most permissive and passive leader I have ever met. Almost no one I know takes such a hands-off approach to leadership as I do. And I don't say that to brag. Maybe I'm too footloose when it comes to these issues? I'm not saying I've got it all figured out. But, if you read Zdero's book you should know that not everything he does is typical of all house church practitioners. The reality is more on the side of variety, as I mentioned earlier.
Much like, "The Church Comes Home" by Robert and Julia Banks, Zdero's book does provide a nice snapshot of house church life and addresses many typical challenges faced by those who are involved in this movement. What might be missing from Zdero's book is that variety of experience or perspective found in their book. Due, of course, to the fact that Zdero's book is from his viewpoint only (but then again, my books and articles reflect my bias as well). So, there's not much you can do about this fact except to listen to what he has to say and weigh it against your own understanding of the Scriptures and decide for yourself what you think.
Either way, Zdero's book is an enlightening and challenging collection of thoughts from someone who has invested a large portion of his life to the nurturing of others as they follow Christ into deeper community. I highly recommend this book.