We have a big emphasis in Dwell on home churches and the qualifications and requirements for home church leadership within Dwell. We think it’s the way people get connected in a large church, similar to what we read about in the early New Testament churches described in the book of Acts. Here are some of the roles of our home church leaders.
Home church leaders handle all weddings, visitations and funerals
In most churches, the staff handles functions such as these. In order to marry members, home church leaders have to be ordained by the church. This is something most churches are reluctant to do, since they don’t want to proliferate ordained pastors who may not be well qualified. This, of course, leads to the conclusion mentioned earlier: that we must hold higher qualifications for our home church leaders.
Our approach to ministry assumes qualified leaders constantly are rising up in our midst.
At Dwell, we not only allow home church leaders to carry out these functions with their members, we require it. If a couple approached one of our lead pastors and asked to be married, we would point out that they need to ask their home church leaders to marry them. In a church where scores of marriages may occur every year, our top leaders would be unable to do much besides marry people every weekend if not for this policy.
Visiting the sick would require even more hours for the pastoral staff. But at Dwell, sick people are visited and counseled by people in their home churches.
When visiting pastors ask how we find time to disciple new leaders, write, study, travel and teach classes, we point out that half the hours normal pastors would spend in basic pastoral functions are covered by our home church leaders. This enables leaders to focus more time on discipling and equipping. Our elders consider this oddity one really important feature of Dwell, opening the door to lay ministry in a number of ways.
Home church leaders prepare their own Bible teachings
Most churches we have studied provide a curriculum or lesson plan for their home churches. These may be based on the sermon that week, or may be nationally published small group curriculum like Serendipity or Touch. We have looked at these options and experimented with some, but in the end prefer not to use any.
Our leaders are equipped to develop their own lessons, mainly based on expository Bible study
Our leaders are equipped to develop their own lessons, mainly based on expository study of the Bible. By far the majority of our groups are engaged in expository Bible study of a New or Old Testament book at any one time. In addition, groups occasionally do topical series on subjects of interest, like marriage, finance, social ethics or theological topics. Our Study Center provides all the materials leaders need to do personal research, and groups also leave copies of series they have developed at the Center for other groups to use.
In recent years, our leaders have also benefited greatly from our extensive Web site. We find that leaders who base their groups on prepared curriculum lose interest in teaching. The curriculum is often oversimplified and seems to do too much for the teacher. Teaching people the ways of God becomes something anyone can do and loses its challenge. People who are doing sophisticated work in their careers may come to lead their Bible study group and find themselves doing childishly simple work. No wonder they lose interest!
Home church leaders get others involved in discipleship
Dwell is an underground indigenous church planting movement. Our approach to ministry assumes qualified leaders constantly are rising up in our midst. We have to "raise up" more leaders every year just to keep up. When you consider how high our standards are for leadership, you realize this isn’t an easy task.
But we continue to succeed because we don’t depend on the staff to accomplish our leadership development. Instead, every mature Christian in the church sees it as his or her job to help raise up new leaders. Today, thousands of adults and students at Dwell have someone they are discipling in private meetings (and many have several). This is in addition to our home churches, cell groups and classes.
We find that these one-on-one times are good for building friendships, and that many issues of application and personal character development can only come out in these meetings. Also, nothing is better than a one-on-one meeting for coaching in ministry development.
We are careful to avoid any definition of discipleship that implies the discipler has control over the disciple, like in the so-called “Shepherding Movement.” We teach our people that discipling is a facilitating and helping role, not a controlling role. We are optimistic today that leaders will be ready when needed tomorrow, because so many of our people are actively engaged in personal discipleship.