In the Fall 2010 issue of Neue, we talked to Jaeson Ma about his work with Student Church Movements, his hip-hop music and his vision for mixing media and discipleship. In this excerpt from that conversation, Ma shares his opinions about the roles of house churches and megachurches in the faith community. You can read the entire interview here.
It seems house churches resonate most with younger generations. Why is that?
What you’re seeing is a great divide or exodus from the institutional church or the organized church or the Western church as we’ve known it for the last few decades or the last century. And I think a big reason for that is because in the modernistic era it came from a standpoint of, “This is truth, and this is absolute truth, and we have it and you need to believe it.” It was very much a top-down approach to faith, but what happened was when modernism failed, we entered into a culture of post-modernism, which was: “We don’t start with truth, we start with a question mark. What is truth? Who really has truth? What is real?”
You have a whole generation that is basically disgruntled or looking for answers, so to them the only truth that is truth to them is what they experience, what they believe to be true to them. So within this house church movement and this model you find a generation that is not just going to go to church, sit down for two hours on a Sunday, and just buy into that, and just listen to a sermon or a message and just believe that that’s true.
What you begin to see now is that young men and women want to fight for a cause, they want to die for a cause, they want to get involved with something. That’s why you see today in postmodernism and the culture, young adults, college students that want to get involved in social action and social justice where they can actually put their faith or put their belief systems into practice.
What is the basis for the house church model?
Every single letter St. Paul or the early apostles wrote to the early church in the epistles were to churches that met in homes, and the first 324 years of Christianity before Constantine was a house church. It was a rapidly reproducing movement of believers that was … not built upon professionals, or staff, or buildings. In fact, the first 320 years of Christianity was a movement. It wasn’t until Constantine created the first cathedral that Christianity turned from a movement into a monument, and then that’s when we entered into the Dark Ages.
You’ll see within the New Testament church and the epistles, sure, there was a lot of messiness within each of the churches that Paul had to apostle and watch over, but a movement is truly not a movement until it gets out of control. And so we look at what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2: “Timothy, whatever I teach you, find faithful men to teach others.” And what you see in that one line of Scripture is four generations of disciples, four generations of churches. We would say Paul was the first church, Timothy was the daughter church, then the faithful men would be the granddaughter church, and the others would be the great granddaughter church. And I normally tell people, unless you have a fourth generation great granddaughter church, you do not have a movement.
Do you think the megachurch model is wrong?
No, I’m not disgruntled with institutionalized churches at all. We need the megachurches, we need the congregational churches, we need the backing, the prayers, the resources. The Church is the Church. But what I’m talking about right now is what is the most effective and efficient way to reach this generation. Millions upon millions are leaving the institutionalized church every day. It says in Barna’s book Revolution, they’re not leaving the institutionalized church because they’re losing their faith, they’re leaving the institutionalized church to find faith. And they’re having different forms of expressions, of understanding, of searching and experiencing spirituality. Many people who I know who grew up in church and are jaded by church and who left church are still believers in Jesus who love God, but just don’t fit in that cultural model. We need to understand how can we reach them where they are and say: “You’re not weird, you’re not rejected, you’re not undisciplable because you don’t fit in the pews and you don’t fit in a church program. You can do church where you are, and you can express faith where you are, and do what you’re called to do as God has called you to do it, in the unique way that he’s created you to do it.”
I do believe in a local church, but I don’t believe we are to just grow our churches. I believe ultimately we are to make disciples.
A lot of your work is done in China with the underground church movement. What role do house churches play there?
I work 50 percent of my time in Asia. I’m in and out of China, in and out of all the southeast Asian nations, and I’m seeing revival break out like wildfire in Asia. On a monthly basis, 40,000 believers come to Christ in China and there are no church buildings. There are no denominations because they won’t allow them by the government, and when I go there, people don’t have nametags, and worldwide ministries, and incredible book movements, and authorships, and there are no Christian celebrities, and they call each other “brother” and “sister” in Christ.
The interesting thing in China, most of the house churches are not led by men, they’re led by women, and most of them under the age of 25. In 1949, there were only 800,000 Christians in China, and they had the most missionaries from Europe and North America. They had church choirs, and church robes, and church budgets for staff and ministries, but when the cultural revolution happened, missionaries were kicked out of the country, pastors were sent to jail, church buildings were burned down, and budgets were taken away. But instead of the Church dying and being destroyed, the Church exponentially exploded, where every person now realized how precious the pages of the Bible were, and how real Jesus must be if I’m to follow Him.