This Week's Question: House Church or Family?

When couples get married in UBF, it has become common to say, “They established a house church.” The terms house church and family are used almost interchangeably. The recent Peoria conference featured “house church reports” in which married couples spoke about their experiences with marriage and ministry. These reports were memorable and well received, and I enjoyed reading them as they were posted at

Now I don’t want to be a party pooper. But in case you haven’t noticed, I believe that how we talk about ourselves is significant and worthy of examination. People really do notice our terminology and wonder what it means. So I would like to raise a question. Is it okay to equate a house church with a family?

There are certainly some positive aspects to this. It promotes the idea that mission is a crucial element of marriage, which is one of the core aspects of our marriage theology. It helps us to see the home as a place where Jesus Christ is honored and where his gospel is preached. When Jesus lies at center of a family, the distinction between what happens at church and what happens at home – the barriers between a family’s religious life and private life which promote hypocrisy – begin to dissolve.

On the other hand, there are three difficulties that I see with this language.

First, it waters down the historical and theological meaning of church. What exactly is a church? That is a tough question. Different traditions will answer it differently. One reasonable definition appears in the Belgic Confession, one of the core documents of Protestantism from the 16th century. The Belgic Confession asserts that a true Christian church will possess three marks: faithful preaching of the Word, faithful ministration of the Sacraments, and discipline. (The Sacraments include baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and discipline refers to formal lines of authority to uphold true doctrine and to correct false teachings and practices.) These three marks represent the bare minimum of what a Christian community ought to provide to support the spiritual health of its members.

By this definition, the vast majority of UBF families do not qualify as churches. Many of us do bring our ministry into our homes. Welcoming disciples into your family life is great. Having Bible studies in your home is wonderful. Family devotions and prayer in the home are awesome. But Bible studies and family devotions does not make your house into a church. A church, in the standard historical understanding, is an established fellowship of believers, a faith community that can serve as a lifelong spiritual home for the people who belong to it. It may be possible for one family to fulfill the necessary functions for a church, but it is certainly not easy, and it is certainly not normative.

The second difficulty that I see with this language is that it places on young families an expectation which may be unstated but is nonetheless very strongly felt. The expectation is that if a family for whatever reason moves to a city or town where no UBF ministry currently exists, the family is expected to establish its own UBF chapter and operate independently of other non-UBF churches in the community. At a bare minimum, the family is supposed to evangelize and disciple students and hold its own Sunday worship service. The husband is expected to write and deliver an expositional Bible message every week, and the wife is expected to participate by inviting students and helping to create the environment for this fledgling ministry. And this is supposed to take place while one or both are supporting themselves financially by working full time, often in highly demanding professional careers, and while taking care of children.

In broader Christian circles, an operation like this is called a church plant. Church planting is a highly regarded strategy for carrying out the Great Commission. But everyone knows that it is not easy. The majority (by some estimates, 80-85%) of church plants ultimately fail. Organizations that have been most successful at planting churches do not do so haphazardly. Rarely do they allow single families to try it; usually a core group of 3-6 families is involved. Successful church planters are subject to rigorous examinations and training, not just in Scriptures but in theology and practical aspects of pastoring. And most church-planters receive financial support from their parent organization. In contrast, many single-family UBF chapters in North America have been established by happenstance; chapter directors are rarely ordained, and training they receive has not been standardized.

I am not suggesting here that our method of church-planting is inferior. But it is certainly unusual, at least by comparison to what others are doing. My point is that establishing a single-family church is extraordinarily difficult. I have the greatest respect for those who are doing it, and I deeply understand from personal experience that this is not something that should be attempted by a husband and wife without extensive spiritual preparedness. It is an extraordinary calling not suitable for every couple.

The third difficulty I have with the family-equals-house-church lingo is that it may unnecessarily and unwisely diminish the non-ministerial aspects of family life. Every married couple needs time apart from church duties to be husband and wife. They need to stay emotionally healthy and maintain good relationships with one another and with their children regardless of what is happening in the ministry. An active focus on evangelism and discipleship is not a cure for marital and family problems but often compounds them.

Beautiful things happen when family life and church life intersect. But family and church are not the same; the Bible doesn’t use the terms interchangeably, and neither should we.

But that’s my opinion. What do you think? Is it a good idea to routinely refer to married couples as house churches? Or should we be careful to differentiate the two? Does it even matter, or is it a non-issue?


  1. Jennifer Espinola

    Hi Joe. This is a very good question that I’ve thought about before. In our ministry at GMU, we are two families serving together. Three out of 4 members work full-time outside the home and I work full- time inside the home. We serve God within the constraints of our schedules, juggling the responsibilities of ministry together. You said a true church should be an established community where people can depend and go to for spiritual support and worship and where necessary functions of the church are maintained (eg keeping the sacraments). Though our ministry is well-intentioned, i do feel we fall short of being a “true church” or even a house church. We cannot offer students or others the level of support that a defined church can. I would much rather us be a “fellowship”, which even our name- UBF implies. It doesn’t diminish the commitment we have but it does help to clarify the expectations and roles of everyone. In my opinion, being a “church” is full-time work and isn’t something that naturally comes together because you feel called to. It carries the burden of “raising an Abe and Sarah of faith”- which to me, takes away the joy of truly accepting and serving students without heaping on them our own expectations. I think if the intention is for a ministry to be a church, then families should be more thoroughly prepared and supported financially if necessarily so that one or both members can commit to it full-time.

  2. Joe Schafer

    Hi Jennifer,

    It’s great to hear from you, and we are excited that you might be visiting next month. It will be great to spend time with you and your family.

    The basic question “What is UBF?” has been coming up indirectly among UBF leaders a lot over the past year, but no one has tackled this issue head on. Are we a student ministry, or are we a church? Clearly we are more than a student ministry, because we are multigenerational and have taken on most of the functions of a church. Certainly the larger chapters are operating as de facto churches, and have done so for a long time. Administration of the sacraments is becoming more of our regular practice, though we are still working out how to do this. But as you point out, smaller chapters are not acting as churches, and rightly so, because they are not prepared to do so.

    With regard to GMU, you said, “We cannot offer students or others the level of support that a defined church can.” Although I am concerned about students, I am much more concerned about fanmilies like yours who have invested a lot in our ministry and have a commitment to it that goes far beyond the student years. Are we providing an environment to sustain the long-term spiritual growth and health of your family? In some respects we are, but in other respects we aren’t. If we are falling short of what a church ought to be, what is the solution? I’m not sure. But the solution is definitely NOT to impose a greater burden on families like yours, to expect you to work harder than you already are and grow your chapter into a fully functioning independent church in the short term. Your experience is common. The majority of UBF chapters in North America consist of just one or two families. We have spread ourselves pretty thin. Perhaps small chapters like yours could spend more time with other nearby chapters — not in addition to, but instead of, some of your local chapter activities — so that you and your children can experience more meaningful community life. Perhaps small chapters like yours need to form symbiotic partnerships with churches in the local community. Again, I’m not sure what the solution is. But I don’t like the status quo, and I think we need to be honest about the challenges that we face and try to come up with creative solutions.

  3. Samantha Siy

    Hi all, I would be remiss if I did not comment here. Joe, your article hits home 100%. For five years, we have struggled to be a house church. I believe that God accepts our hearts desire to serve Him and please Him. We hold onto His Word which promises His presence where two or more are gathered in His name. God has always blessed us with students who are interested in knowing Him through Bible study.

    However, the larger difficulty is that we are not equipped to function as a church. Realities such as having a husband on the tenure track, three growing and active children, 175 miles separating us from the nearest UBF chapter, 500 miles from HQ ~all of these present challenges to serving as a house church. Our only UBF activities have been regional conferences, which are often about 400 miles away, and focused on college students. Of course, that is the point of UBF, but it didn’t do much to address our personal and family struggles. Each chapter is tremendously busy with their own ministry, Bible students and their own family struggles just like ours, there is little time for leaders to care for one another.

    For us, the greatest difficulty (which Joe mentioned) is the spiritual health of our family, including ourselves and our children. We need prayer, encouragement, God’s Word, fellowship, godly counsel and more. As I became involved in our neighborhood and school, I encountered many sincere Christians. I often lamented why I was surrounded by earnest Christians, but had to feel alone serving campus mission ~basically cut off from others because we did not attend a local church.

    I’m not sure of a creative solution, but ours has become involvement in different local Bible studies and Moms-in-Touch prayer groups and only very recently attending a local church. For a long time, I struggled that I wasn’t being true to our ministry and mission. But, God is encouraging us and strengthening us daily. I’m not sure what this will look like in time, but for now, we are thankful to be encouraged by other Christians and hopeful that God will continue to work in and through us.

    I would love to hear others comments~of struggles and examples of dealing with these kinds of issues…we are still trying to learn and find our way in serving Him. I just pray that my heart may be focused on Him and nothing else!

    • Brian Karcher
      Brian Karcher

      Samantha, thanks for sharing! I’m encouraged to see that our family is not alone in this!

  4. Brian Karcher
    Brian Karcher

    This topic also hits home with me. First off, the term house church is fine with me. The Bible mentions a lot about prayer, etc in houses ( UBF has usually not done the traditional church-planting (paster/congregation style). Instead, we’ve tended to send out families by themselves or perhaps with another family.

    Quite a few years ago, the Toledo chapter clarified this: we prayed for newlyweds to be a “family of faith” or a “Godly and healthy family”. Families, such as mine, who were officially sent out to another city are called “house churches”, where Sunday service is held each week. What do you think about this distinction? I would be in favor of not putting the pressure on newly married couples to be a house church. We should not mix the terms “family” and “house church” unless we know the meaning very well. I’m definitely in favor of working to clarify what a house church does and is. I think it is very different from the traditional meaning of “church”.

    In spite of some confusion over the term, I have come to understand that our “house church” life has three deep meanings:

    1) For personal training for me and my wife, and children, to worship God. To keep a worship service each week by yourself and to dedicate one room of your house for a worship service room is not easy to say the least. Early on we decided to have a separate worship service without our children. We pray together with them, and they attend conferences, but this is a huge need for us as to how to help children.

    2) For laying a foundation for possible future work. I have to understand and accept that we can only do small things now as a house church ministry. When we first came to Detroit, we thought (and many seemed to expect) that we would just form a mini-Toledo UBF, doing ALL the activities the same, but just on a small scale. Within 3 weeks, we found this doesn’t work. Instead of many meetings, we developed more of a lifestyle, a pattern of praying together as a family, keeping Sunday service and Bible study. Still we believe we are settling down in Detroit in order to provide a place for future co-workers to come and a greater work of God.

    3) For welcoming travelling guests. I counted just under 100 people (from UBF and not from UBF) who have attended our worship service the past 6 years. We have not done much but I believe we served God’s purpose in some way for those who came into our house. I think the house of Pricilla and Aquilla sets a good example of welcoming, along with that of Lydia.

    The greatest comment I received on our Sunday service is this: One uncle of a friend attended our service. During the service, he took off his hat. Later he told me he hasn’t taken off his hat in many years at any church he visited, because he did not sense the Holy Spirit. But when he came to our house church, he sensed the life of the Holy Spirit, so he took off his hat. Worshipping God in Spirit has been the greatest and most wonderful lesson I’ve learned since becoming a house church.

    I have much to say, but I only want to write a few points at a time.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, thanks for your helpful comments. A house church, as I see it, is a church that meets in someone’s house. I do not question the legitimacy of house churches. The web page that you linked to has four Bible verses that mention churches that meet in houses. None of those verses equates the church with the family; rather, they all make a distinction between the two. When a man and woman marry, they do not (I hope) do so for the purpose of establishing and planting a church. Rather, they commit their lives to one another to start a family.

      When a family like yours is sent out to plant a church, it is a wonderful thing, and a cause for celebration. But even in your case, I would not say that your family *is* a house church. Your family members may be the stewards of a church that meets at your house. Perhaps on some Sundays your family members may be the only ones attending your worship service. But still I would say that your family and your house church are different entities.
      To some, this may seem like splitting hairs. I’m not a person who likes to split hairs. But in this case, I think it is important, because it affects our view of what a church is and our view of what a family ought to be. We in UBF have given lots of thought to the latter, but not yet to the former.

    • Brian Karcher
      Brian Karcher

      I’m not following the hair splitting here. All I know is that I have a family, a house and a small part of the Body of Christ that meets in our house for prayer, fellowship, Bible study and worship. As an 18 year old college student, the term house church was clear to me, and it still is today. House church ministry is simply the integration of family life and church life. (If there is a better term, that’s fine with me.)

      Certainly there is a distinction: family is family and church is church. The point I’d like to make is that we can learn far more from studying how to integrate the two concepts than we can by disecting them separately.

      In a broader sense, I believe people today can learn more from the integrated spiritual life, rather than trying to understand and uphold the numerous distinctions that theologians have made over the centuries.

  5. Jennifer Espinola

    As for my own spiritual growth, i have found support in connecting with other Christians from local churches. I was involved in a group called MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) which i found very encouraging. And for my children’s spiritual development, we started taking them to a wonderful local church with a strong children’s ministry. This was very important for me as I wanted to expose them to worship early on, separate from the experience we give them. As a family, we do attend this church prior to our own worship service and it has really helped to strengthen my faith.

  6. Joshua Yoon

    Hello, thanks Joe for bringing our attention to this important issue. I enjoyed the time Andy and I spent with your family and friends in your chapter a month ago. Wow, it has been almost a month. I meant to write something earlier but many things happened. Thanks for providing solid explanation for three difficulties in using house church and family interchangeably. I agree to your points. UBF has been so mission oriented that the distinction between family and ministry has been blurred. Using house church for any new family established within UBF context has been a norm and habit though many families do not function as churches. There are people who would be happy to call their family house church but there are also people who would feel awkward about calling their families house churches. Especially those who have not been long in UBF but love each other and want to serve God together through marriage like many other non-UBF Christian families may feel awkward if they are called house churches. We should be careful and prayerful about using certain terms and languages. We should nurture an environment in which people can feel safe and free in pursuing their lives, careers and establish families without having to meet certain organizational expectations and standards.

  7. I personally feel that the term ‘house church’ is something that should not apply to our marriages and that we should be careful in how it is used. While I completely support families that marry to serve the ministry by using their own homes, the added pressure that this term gives to young married couples is often stressful and burdensome (personal experience included). I’m encouraged by Brian’s prayer for families to be a ‘family of faith.’ That to me addresses the fundamental need for a God centered relationship within a family. In my opinion I do not have a ‘house church’ but we are faithful in serving God and the ministry. I also agree, Joe, that every family needs a healthy balance in order to continue to grow spiritually. How can we do that when our only focus is supposed to be on building a church, and not equally on building a family?

    • Brian Karcher
      Brian Karcher

      Katrina, you raise a good question at the end of your post. “How can we do that when our only focus is supposed to be on building a church, and not equally on building a family?” I believe this is really only possible when we work on integrating the two tasks.

  8. Dr. Bill

    I guess I have a simple reaction to this week’s article – Biblically, the Church began when the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost, the start of the dispensation normally called the “Church Age.” So I think the defining characteristic of “the church” is the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in believers, the universal representation of which will become Jesus’ bride. On the local level this may or may not be a family. Jesus had some very striking words to say about contention and division in families due to some being saved and some not. But Paul also notes that even when a spouse is an unbeliever, the children are holy due to the believing spouse’s faith. Jesus also distinguished between a human family and the spiritual family when – from the cross – He made John the son of His mother Mary instead of one of His younger half-brothers, which should have happened according to Jewish tradition. So Jesus was clearly giving priority to the spiritual brotherhood of believers over the blood-relation of family members.

    So clearly a human family does not necessarily make a church. But when both spouses are saved, I believe there is a different dynamic operating. In this case, assuming my simple definition of church (above) is correct, I believe the family in this case is a microcosm of the Church. I’ll be quick to say that this does not mean that the family will necessarily reflect all the characteristics we’ve come to identify with the church. I’m not sure that any single local body of believers in the history of the Church has reflected all the characteristics we associate with the Church (e.g., see Revelation chapters 1-3). Speculating as I write, perhaps the complete fulfillment of the Church will come only when she has been perfected and is presented to Jesus for marriage in heaven.

    So this is one point. (Guess this reaction is not so simple after all. :)) Another point I believe worth serious consideration, however, is the fact that UBF’s focus on a (saved) couple/family as a ‘house-church’ has an important impact. As a church, it means that UBF maintains a very strong emphasis on the sacredness of marriage. We know from Hebrews that “Marriage should be honored by all” (Heb 13:4), but how many Christians (especially in the American churches) do we see obeying this command? It is a frightening tribute to the decay of the church that the divorce rate in the church is little different from that outside the church – something around 50% I believe. I suggest that UBF’s focus on the family as a ‘house-church’ has been a major if not the main factor in keeping UBF as a church relatively pure in their obedience to Christ in the matter of divorce. So much follows from this… so much. We know that the purpose of marriage is to produce Godly offspring: “Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:15) (As noted above, Paul reiterates this same idea implicitly with his comment about holy children in 1st Corinthians chapter 7.) So honoring marriage is the bedrock of God’s purpose for us, and clearly God has blessed UBF with a Godly understanding of marriage as exhibited by the evidence of a very low divorce rate. As a result, I would not easily suggest a change to the culture of UBF with its emphasis on the family as a ‘house church’ without extremely careful consideration of all the implications of this focus.

    That’s my 2 cents. :)

    Love in Christ,


    • Joshua Yoon

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. God blessed marriages in UBF ministry. A low divorce rate is one indicator of the successful and fruitful marriage in our ministry. However, we need to remember this low divorce rate is found in cult organizations like Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses. A family can be Christ centered and in line with Biblical principles without being called a house church.

  9. Joe Schafer

    For the record, I strongly agree with Brian that for a Christian family, integration of church and family life is important. But this integration does have limits, and some boundaries between family and church ought to be maintained. My own life experience bears this out. Sharon and I have been married twenty years. For about 75% of this time, we held worship services in our home. For more than half this time, we had Bible students or UBF coworkers living with us in our home, while I was working full time in a very demanding career, and we were raising four children, one of whom has special needs. Now I do not regret having lived this way. God blessed us through it in countless ways. But I would be dishonest to say that it did not put significant strain on our family. Some of the Bible students who lived with us crossed boundaries that should not have been crossed. At times our children did not receive some of the attention that they needed because we were too busy attending to our ministry. Once again, I am thankful that God allowed us to live this way. But in retrospect, I believe that our family and ministry would both have been better served if we had understood that family and church are not exactly the same, and that sometimes family does need to be given priority by putting church duties aside. Yes, the church-versus-family distinction is a matter of terminology and a matter of theology. But terminology and theology do impact the choices we make.

    • Joshua Yoon

      Thanks Joe for sharing your story. Thank God for giving you strength to raise four children including one with special need while you had tremendous burden of serving a campus mission and working as a prof. I hope God will give you wisdom and strength continually to balance out family and ministry. I also raised three children while having worship service and Bible studies in my small house for many years. God blessed us in so many ways. But I have to confess that I was so focused on carrying out a mission without considering how it impacted my children. Of course, they were exposed to godly influence and I am very grateful that my two daughters were involved in a oversea mission in recent years. But there were times when family and church integration caused stress and hurt to them, especially when other people lived with us. These days I realize children are happy not with expensive stuff but simply when they receive undivided attention from their parents and when they spend time alone with their family members. It is good to remember the children’s need while we minister to students.

  10. Ruthie Schafer

    I grew up in a UBF house church previously mentioned on this thread. I also attended the Peoria Conference and really loved the house church reports. They were real and honest and I was encouraged to hear the stories of Christ centered families. In my eyes what we mean when we say house church is really a beautiful thing.

    But I also agree with the point made in this article that “it waters down the historical and theological meaning of church” when we use this term. I am wondering if we run the risk of sounding arrogant or isolating ourselves from the Body of Christ, even unintentionally, if we take the term “church” too lightly. I’m not ready to say we do take this term lightly. Honestly, I know very little about what a church is historically and theologically but I would love to hear the thoughts of those who do know something.

  11. Jennifer Rabchuk

    Awesome honest discussion. Thank you for your struggles and labor and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel throughout the US. I think that we in UBF need to carefully and prayerfully consider the equipping of the holy spirit when we “plant” a church on a campus. God calls each of us according to his good will and world salvation purpose. I think that we should be flexible and supportive of one another. We should never lose the sacrificial spirit of one to one ministry and also find new and appropriate ways to cowork with one another and with other sincere and Bible believing Christians. Every family established in God has the privilege and responsibility to grow in holiness and righteousness according to the grace we have received…in that way we live as a house church and encourage others to come into our community. What an amazing calling and ministry!!!

  12. Thank you, Joe for launching a thought-provoking discussion on “House Church or Family.” I especially appreciate those who shared comments. Our comments come from our own experience, plus our understanding of the Scripture. Whereas the Belgic confession and church history give us some help, Brian and Dr. Bill’s comments especially made me think about what the Bible says about the church and family. I did a google search on house church and some very interesting things came up. “House Church” is certainly not a unique UBF term. Maybe the way we use it is different from the way that others use it, but I found that everyone is different. One web site talked about the DNA of the church, especially the small communities of believers, including house churches as we use the term. (in order to make the acronym fit he said “Diving Truth” which he defines as Loving God/Jesus/Holy Spirit; “Nurturing relationships”(which he defines as loving one another deeply) and “Apostolic mission” (Which he defines as being a part of Jesus mission to the world.) I don’t particular like the way he said this , but I agree that Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, Jesus is there and there is the church. Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than this. I would like to know more about the house church movement in China and the house church movement that is arising in the USA (quite apart from UBF) As we know, the first family in Genesis 1-2 was established by God and given God’s mission. I believe that God created man and women in his own image in love. He loved them and wanted to be loved by them. So, from the beginning, relationships were very important—God’s relationship with mankind and the relationship between the first couple. In Ephesians 5, the relationship between husband and wife is compared to the relationship between Christ and his church. These relationships are relationships of love. Family and Church are two different things and some Christian families are not called to be house churches But other families are. I like what Brian said about working toward integrating family and church. I think there is room in UBF for all kinds of Christians, families, house churches if Jesus is the center of our relationships. If Jesus is in our midst and we love God and love one another and seek to obey God’s commands to mission, we are a part of the whole body of Christ and as such, a part of the Church.

  13. Sharon Schafer

    I want to share my experiences in integrating house and church as a “house church” First, it has to start with the story of UBF as I see it. Korean missionaries arriving in the US made very real and important observations of US culture and the church. We value privacy, individualism and family. In recent years, as the influence of Christianity has waned and we have seen these degenerate into idolatrous selfishness and family-centeredness, even within the church. When I learned the term house-church I saw it and still see it as a beautiful alternative. It gave me vision for my life for which I am profoundly grateful. My calling to be a “house church” is very important to me. It taught me to be outwardly focused.

    There is a great need to address the excesses of modern culture in the US. Americans need to be constantly challenged to overcome theses excesses. The disciplines I learned in the UBF community (Daily Bread, 1:1 ministry, testimony writing and sharing, Fellowship meetings and more) have helped me to do so. I can’t overstate their importance to my life.

    However, in addressing the excesses of individualism and selfishness, are we afraid to look inward enough? Are we willing to loosen our UBF disciplines to give room for something else? For fear of indulging myself, my feelings, or losing my point and my mission, I know I often neglect important aspects of the whole spiritual life. This is not a small matter, since spiritual maturity (being in Jesus) must be the true center of the house church ministry.

    For years, I evaluated myself and my ministry in light of our outwardly focused UBF disciplines and attributes (maintaining 1:1 ministry, faithfulness to DB, testimony writing and sharing, etc) But I began to feel like a hamster on a running wheel trying to keep up with them. I found I had to jump off and evaluate what I was doing. It’s not easy to integrate family and church, because it’s not easy to integrate the spiritual life into visible life. Disciplines are made for man to make us grow into spiritual maturity. But disciplines aren’t Jesus after all, whose yoke is easy and burden is light. Without fellowship with Jesus, disciplines are worse than useless. Spiritual maturity requires more than soldier-like obedience and discipline. It requires honesty and it requires as Jennifer Rabchuk said, an anointing of the Holy Spirit who goes wherever He pleases, not where we expect. I like what she said about being flexible and supportive of each other, in an environment of trust. I love the way the Apostle Paul trusted the work of God in other people. It was an expression of his trust in God. I don’t want to avoid discipline. I want to refine my disciplines, making them deeper and richer band more honest.

    Maybe I need to ask and be asked a different kind of question – things that don’t usually come up in our Daily Bread or inductive Bible study material, or UBF website. Things that few in UBF seemed to be asking me in my very hurried and limited time together with them. Things like: What do you really think? How do you really feel? Are you thriving in your vine and branch relationship with Jesus? Why or why not? Is your fellowship with others growing? Do you have any friends? Why not? If your ministry is too small to provide friendship, how are you going to make sure you take care of this basic need? Do you have a clear idea of the expectations you have of yourself and of others? Are they implicit or explicit? Are they God given? How do you know? Is your house church both inwardly caring and outwardly focused? (this was Ruth Tuckers question in her recent presentation to us on House Church ministry…. I want to think about this one a lot.) Would everyone in your fellowship agree with your evaluation? Why not? Etc, etc.

    It seems so obvious. Yet I found that I hadn’t taken enough time to look at these things honestly. I wish I had. When I took time to hear these questions I found an iceberg of issues in my life. Areas that haunted me and simmered below the surface as nagging problems, past wounds that were not yet healed, stresses and burdens that needed to be brought into light and grace of Jesus through open and honest conversation with His people. I need to look more deeply into these issues in order to grow. I need to get to know others below and outside the parameters of my understanding of UBF discipline. And I think its healthy to get to know people outside of UBF, too. Rather than losing our mission and our focus, I think this will only clarify and strengthen them.

  14. Amen to your post, Sharon. It reminds me of Jesus’ rebuke to the church of Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2 (which was the focus of a recent staff conference).

  15. Joe Schafer

    Sharon, thank you for sharing this out in the open. I have been learning so much from you. Thank you for your willingness to put up with me and my insensitive behavior over so many years. As you said, I was running like a hamster on a wheel, acting very busy and expending lots of energy practicing those disciplines like spending countless hours writing “powerful” Sunday messages and trying to uphold standards expected of a ministry leader. I expected you to have “soldier spirit” and run alongside me without paying attention to how you actually felt, how I felt, and how our children felt. Running on the hamster wheel of career and ministry, I had completely lost sight of Jesus. Although I had “God’s mission” for my life, I didn’t have God. I had no communication with God, no desire to worship God, and no love for God growing in my heart, and no genuine compassion for people. (I rationalized this by telling myself that ministry activities were the expression of my love for God. But it wasn’t true. It was much about me trying to bolster my low self esteem, earning praise and honor by living up to expectations that were set by me, by people around me, and by UBF.) And whenever you brought up these painful, sensitive personal issues, I deflected them and acted as if you had a “spiritual problem” when the problem was mine. I am so sorry for that.

    Thank you for bringing such refreshing honesty to my life, to our family and to our ministry. I love you.

  16. This interesting and heart-moving discussion is reminding me of a book I am currently reading: “The Emotionally Healthy Church”. I recently had every leader in our church to take this survey (

    We discussed the results together and honestly shared where we are at in terms of our emotional development as well as how this has implications with how we relate to one another in our church (and in our marriages!)

    As for me, I am currently an “Emotional Child” on many categories. Somewhat humbling realization.

    • Joe Schafer

      This book that John mentions was a basis for the breakout session on Christian Counseling at the Spring 2010 UBF staff conference in Chicago. That breakout session (led by David Baik and Ron Ward) will be repeated at the Minneapolis staff conference two weeks from now. I don’t know how many UBF staff members actually read that book, but in my opinion it is a *very* important one. It explains in great detail the emotional aspects of discipleship that are too often neglected. Reading that book was a painful experience for me because it exposed my emotional immaturity which was (and still is) the main problem in my life. That book made me defensive and at many times I wanted to put it down and say “this is hogwash.” But the problems that it exposed were so painfully and undeniably real that I had to pay attention.

      I recently discovered that much of the understanding and inspiration behind the Emotionally Healthy book series came from the lectures of Dr. Francis Schaeffer developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. These are summarized in his classic book True Spirituality which was published first in 1971. That book has a more theological and philosophical style (Schaeffer was a philosopher) but it is based on sound, orthodox, faithful reading of the Bible. At first, I was tempted to dismiss the Emotionally Healthy series as liberal Christian pop psychology. But it is nothing of the sort. It is rooted in faith that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer for all of our problems.

  17. Thanks Sharon and Joe for your candor, which is so refreshing! Likely, this will be a lot harder for Asians, who are more stoic and unexpressive, especially with their emotions, perhaps because of the prevailing influence of Confucius over the last 2,500 years.

    Though I haven’t read “The Emotionally Healthy Church,” I guess not everyone gave it a thumbs up. I happened to read this review from the 9 Marks ministry of Mark Dever of Capitol Baptist Church in Washington:,,PTID314526_CHID598026_CIID1880196,00.html

    Going off his review (not the book), I’m thinking that Christians, who are solidly grounded in the gospel and in the grace of Jesus, would not be thrown off by the book that supposedly stresses that we begin by being emotionally true to our own inner selves (not be a hypocrit), rather than resolving all of our interpersonal issues by personally going deeper into the gospel.

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi Ben,

      I think that if a book is truly important and groundbreaking, some negative reaction to it should be expected. The Emotionally Healthy series never suggests that we should begin our Christian lives with introspection. But it does become very important later in our walk with the Lord.

      The second book in the series (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality) describes six stages in the Christian life.

      Stage 1: Life-changing awareness of God
      Stage 2: Discipleship (learning)
      Stage 3: The Active Life (serving)
      —————— The Wall —————
      Stage 4: Journey Inward (understanding my inner life)
      Stage 5: Journey Outward (understanding my relationships
      with others)
      Stage 6: Transformed into Love

      The problem is that many committed Christians get stuck at The Wall between State 3 and Stage 4. To get
      beyond that wall we have to be willing to get very honest about ourselves, acknowledge what we feel and try to understand why. If we don’t do this, we remain spiritually immature because we remain emotionally immature.

      Encountering The Wall is the recurring experience of Christians throughout history (Augustine, Ignatius, John Wesley, Francis Schaeffer, to name a few) and is exceedingly common among pastors and church leaders in modern evangelical churches.

      Francis Schaeffer spent ten years contending for the faith, pastoring churches and upholding sound, orthodox doctrine. But he hit The Wall when he saw profound unreality in how many Christians live. While they profess faith in Jesus and uphold sound doctrine, they can be so defensive, irritable, hypercritical, unloving, etc. He felt this so strongly that he began to deeply question whether the gospel was in fact true. He went back to the Bible and found that the gospel is indeed true, and that evangelicals of his day were ignoring much of what the Bible actually teaches about the emotional component of our walk with God. In our zeal to stress fact and faith over feeling, we lose our sense of who we are, and we lose the ability to have loving relationships with God and with others. Many Christians sense that this is true but are afraid to honestly face it in their own personal lives. They give trite spiritual advice like Job’s friends rather than wrestling with the fundamental questions of who they are and who God is.

  18. The Wall reminds me of a perhaps common spiritual experience that St. John of the Cross describes as the Christian’s “dark night of the soul.”

    And yes, you guessed it. I’m recommending another book!

  19. James Kim

    Hi Joe. Thanks for your sincere post. Through this blog site, you have done good job connecting many people far and near. It can be a wonderful ministry of healing, encouraging, comforting and building up one another. I praise and thank God for raising many wonderful house church (believing family) in UBF. I know many of us are very busy at work with demanding responsibilities. However, I believe our work is also a ministry. Through our house church ministry and our job, we can have impact in our society. In this way the kingdom of God grows day by day.

  20. James Kim

    John Armstrong talked about house church movement in his blog today.

  21. george johnson

    what do you mean church and family are seperate? Christianity is a lifestyle that should be lived 24/7 , church is family, not some building to go to once a week then live the rest of the week as a total hellion, the closness of the family is an important thing, As for proper training(what a bunch of crap)real church leaders are raised up by God from within by doing the dues, not in some seminary being traind by a man with the thoughts of man following a guideline of political correctness. Read your bible yourself and let it speak to you.

  22. Mr. Johnson, thank you for taking the time to read and join the discussion. On this website, we try to maintain high standards of kindness and civility, especially when we disagree with one another. Please  review our Commenting Policy  before posting more comments. Thank you again, and welcome to UBFriends.