Pastors tend to run in packs, often the same group they went through school with. My pack includes many quality Kingdom servants who, 30 years later, still serve Christ with the same deep devotion to His cause. Their churches have remained vibrant, though this isn’t always indicated by their numerical size. Regardless, the life of God flowing through their ministries can rightly be called “miraculous.” Yet, many have described a different kind of miracle at High Desert Church, where participation is now running nearly 12,000 on a weekend. I can confidently say that the difference between our churches is not due to my talent, charisma, or intellect. The wonder we have seen has clearly come by the quiet leadership of God in showing us the simple, often subtle, New Testament principle of oikos.
As people hear about what God has done through the oikos, they often jump to erroneous conclusions that can keep them from engaging biblical oikos in their own church. I summarize and respond to five of those myths in this article, praying that the power of God working in your church may be unhindered and flourishing.
“Your focus need more focus.”
- Mr. Han to Dre, from The Karate Kid
I have become (Christ’s) servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.
- The Apostle Paul to the Colosse Church, from Colossians 1:25
The word “commission” (the older translations use the word “stewardship”) is the Greek oikonomia, a compound term combining oikos, “house,” with nomos, “law.” Paul’s point is that God has given each of us official (evidently, even legal) influence among a specific and relatively small circle of people. The English word accurately frames the intent of the statement: God’s mission becomes our mission. We partner with Him to “co-” operate in that mission together!
1. Extended family (Gr.)
2. A group of eight to fifteen people with whom you share life most closely; your sphere of greatest influence
3. The most natural and common environment for evangelism to occur
The results have surprised me—attendance has been good, the number of people coming to Christ has actually increased during the stewardship month, and offerings have improved as much as 15 percent annually! My transition taught me several lessons about preaching on stewardship without alienating the audience.
The role of a servant is multi-dimensional. Being a loyal servant requires heart. Being an effective servant requires discernment—the ability to understand one’s specific commission. Being an efficient servant requires focus, managing life in the persisting shadows of the people who frame that commission.
My belligerence about emphasizing the oikos principle has frustrated some, but I continue to insist that, if the Kingdom is to function on all cylinders, there must be synergy among Christ, the Christian, and the Church.
- Christ died to save lost people.
- Christians are given a “co”mission, a certain number of people they are to point to Christ. In fact, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that Jesus actually “committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
- Local churches exist to (1) facilitate strategic partnerships with local Christians, enhancing their success in delivering that message, and (2) establish strategic partnerships with other local churches to do the same.
Churches can misfire by not understanding their unique role. The “oikocentric” church designs ministry systems that facilitate the Great Commission in the lives of believers who, quite frankly, don’t feel that great at it. But convincing a congregation that they don’t just go to church, but that they are the church, is only the first step.
Myth #1: Oikos is the best evangelism program out there!
Oikos is not a program, and it’s not an evangelism emphasis. It’s a paradigm, a set of lenses through which we view life. Some push back, “Oikos is a copout—it’s too easy. Instead, we need to go to all kinds of classes, memorize all kinds of stuff, and then go out there on the street and call people to repent, arguing with them, if necessary, until they cry “Uncle!”, give up, and surrender themselves to Christ.” Cold evangelism strategies have always had their place in Kingdom work, and this approach may actually be the call that God has placed on your life. But, as strange as it may sound, oikos is a more difficult world-change model requiring an infinitely greater commitment to the process.
Cold evangelism is complicated, but it’s not that difficult—find someone with whom you can share the plan of salvation, have as meaningful a conversation as is possible, and then walk away, more than likely never to see that person again. At the end of it, you certainly hope for the best and probably feel pretty good about the fact that you have just “witnessed.”
Conversely, oikos is a simple strategy, but not an easy one, because witnessing goes beyond what we say to people. Jesus said that we wouldn’t go witnessing, but that we’d be witnesses! Because of your oikos, Christ-like behavior suddenly matters. The success of your marriage suddenly matters. Being a good parent suddenly matters. Learning the Bible suddenly matters. Intercessory prayer suddenly matters. And all those things matter all day, every day, because a specific group of people are not only watching you, they are already being influenced by you.
Having said that, it’s important to understand that oikos isn’t just about being an example to people and keeping your mouth shut. Oikos means that the people who are watching you will, at some point, also want to talk to you—so you had better prepare to have something worthwhile to say. It is not just about inviting people to church, especially if the church an individual attends hasn’t yet committed to be a partner in the process. And even if you attend an oikocentric church, what if the people you invite to church don’t accept your invitation to attend? What if they just want to meet you at Starbucks and talk about faith? Either way, you had better prepare to have something to say, because dialogue is imminent.
Myth #2: Oikos discourages you from witnessing to someone you don’t know.
Remaining prepared to share Christ with anyone, any time, is every believer’s responsibility, regardless of who is or isn’t inside an oikos. But the fact is, without at least two people’s permission, no meaningful conversation ever takes place. (If you’re married, you already know this.) Cold evangelism experiences can be very exciting, but successful ones are rare because people seldom grant that kind of permission on the spot. As one who designed the relational Universe, Jesus knew where permission was most likely to exist.
After healing the demon-possessed man, Jesus told him to specifically, “Go home to your family (oikos) and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). Immediately following Zacchaeus’ conversion, Jesus reflected on what had just happened by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house (oikos)” (Luke 19:9). When Jesus healed the politician’s son, John said that “ ... he and all his household (oikos) believed” (John 4:53). When Jesus called Levi (Matthew) to be His disciple, Mark recalled that, “while Jesus was having dinner [with] Levi’s house (oikos), many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him”(Mark 2:15).
In Acts 10, we see the first example of a Gentile oikos coming to Christ. Cornelius responded to the Gospel presentation that Peter made, and he and his household became believers. In reporting to the church leaders in Jerusalem, Peter reflected on what the angel had told Cornelius about Peter: “He will bring you a message through which you and all your household (oikos) will be saved” (Acts 11:14). The story continued in Philippi with Lydia and the city jailor, where both responded to the Apostle Paul’s challenge to place their faith in Christ. Acts 16 describes how, in both cases, an oikos believed and was baptized.
What you don’t find in the New Testament is Jesus saying to recent converts, “Now that you’re saved, go out on the street corner and argue people into My Kingdom.”
Years ago, I heard an incredible story about a guy who, while walking through an intersection in a large city, noticed a police officer directing traffic in the middle of the street. As he walked by, the man sensed the Holy Spirit prompting him to go up to the officer and tell him that God loved him. The man dismissed the impulse and kept walking. Haunted by the continued sense that he had been disobedient to the Spirit, he finally walked back to that intersection, up to the cop, and said, “Excuse me, Officer, but God just told me to tell you that He loves you.” Tears started to trickle down from under the cop’s mirrored sunglasses. Traffic stopped. With a broken voice, the officer said, “I prayed to God for the first time in a long time last night and told Him that, if He was real, the least He could do was to send someone to tell me that He was there for me.” Within a matter of minutes, the officer called for backup and then prayed to receive Christ right there on that street corner.
When I heard that story, I was mesmerized, to say the least. It was one of the most amazing and powerful conversion stories I had ever heard. As the speaker closed his message to our group that evening, he said, “Now go out and witness to people!” So we were all looking for cops all week! (Some of you may have had so many traffic tickets that the Highway Patrol is your oikos!)
There’s nothing wrong with these events; in fact, they can be as compelling as they are dramatic. But never forget—they’re rare! The problem is that, when they happen, we put those testimonies on Christian television, write books about them, or use them as the centerpiece of some sermon on evangelism, and then everybody starts to think that’s the way people normally come to Christ. But they don’t—at least 90% of us didn’t come to Christ that way.
2 Timothy 1:5: I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
This was not only Timothy’s conversion story; it may be the most boring personal testimony ever written. What is interesting to me is that it sounds just like mine and probably much like yours. Some may have to exchange the grandmother and mother for a father or a friend or a coworker or a neighbor. But most testimonies are eerily similar to 2 Timothy 1:5! No drama. Just world-change.
Let me suggest that, if you’re a pastor, you conduct your own research. As the opportunity affords itself, in a congregational setting, ask those who received Christ because of a “cold” evangelism conversation to raise their hand. Then have everyone look around the room to see the few hands that go up. The last time I did that, in an auditorium of thousands, four hands went up. Before you move on, be sure to affirm the legitimacy of those experiences, even emphasize the divine power those few experiences reflect. Then ask for the hands of those who received Christ primarily because of the influence of one or more oikos relationships. Then have everyone look around the room to see the hands that go up—it will be almost everyone in the room. To recognize the difference should not negate the importance of spiritual conversations that occur between strangers, but it will establish the value of the oikos (rather dramatically, I might add).
Myth #3a: Everyone in your oikos is a non-believer.
- Some are non-believers. Since they need Christ, the focus for you is to evangelize.
- Some are believers who have allowed other important challenges of life to crowd out the most important one: their walk with Christ. They are already in the Kingdom. They just need to be re-energized for their God-given purpose. Our focus is to pray that they will find their spiritual groove again.
- Some are believers already focused on becoming better prepared to reach out to their own oikos for Christ. They will need you to continually pray for them and encourage them to stay the course.
Two points here: (1) Know who is part of your commission, and (2) Recognize that everyone in it will always need your appropriate input and support.
Myth #3b: Everyone in your oikos is a believer.
This is what many people who have been a Christian for many years actually think, but that’s because no one has ever trained them to think oikocentrically. We are all more connected to non-believers than we realize. Only a lack of intentionality keeps our focus inward, provoking the natural instinct to surround ourselves with other Christians who can minister to us, rather than focusing outward to the relationships that frame our commission.
Myth #4: You get to decide who’s in your oikos.
Every member of your oikos has been supernaturally and strategically placed in your relational world. You may not even like some of those people, but that’s irrelevant. Just because you wouldn’t have selected them doesn’t mean they’re going anywhere! We all dream of inter-oikos transfers from time to time, but to no avail. As people wander in and out of your oikos, you’ll notice that their migratory patterns are not so much the result of your personal magnetism as they are the result of divinely orchestrated circumstances.
Myth #5: Oikos is all about growing a church.
Actually, oikos won’t grow a church nearly as quickly as flashy programs will. But programs tend to impress people who go to church more than people who don’t. That’s why there is a crippling number of Christians in our culture who simply move across town to the local church that has the best programs, the best bands, the best preachers. But the math doesn’t lie—if one church grows at the same time another church shrinks, then there is no net benefit to the Kingdom.
Jesus was all about focus. He came to accomplish a very specific job: to seek and to save people like us, those who were lost. Jesus didn’t come to feed people or heal people. He did both because He cared about them, but when He took off (and I mean literally) there were a lot of hungry and sick people still here. Jesus came with a specific focus, and He accomplished a specific purpose. He finished the job He came to do, and then He left. That’s why we call Easter Weekend the Passion of Christ! It was His focus, something that He and He alone could accomplish.
So it should not surprise us to discover that focus is the primary building-block of His church’s mission, the strategy that Jesus brought to the formation of the church. God calls us all to be involved in very specific tasks (as indicated by our spiritual gifts), to get together with other like-minded believers at a very specific place (we call it a local church), to prepare to do life with a very specific group of people (we call them our oikos). That’s our world; that’s the world God wants to change through us.
Mr. Han was right. “Our focus need more focus.”