Five Myths About Oikos

I previously did a review of 8 to 15, The World is Smaller Than You Think by Tom Mercer.  The catchy title is really about the concept of Oikos, and how each person has 8 to 15 people they can influence.  Somewhere on the web I came across this transcript of a sermon by Tom on the Subject.  I hope you’ll enjoy it as I did.

Five Myths About Oikos by Pastor Tom Mercer

My task today is to redefine why HDC has become such a powerful lighthouse for so many people both here in the Victor Valley and around the world.  At the end of the service, I will close with a proposition, a proposition that we will process for the next three weekends- give us five hours a week and together we’ll change your world!

It’s been said that 80% of what you do could be done by someone else with no training.  That eighty percent contains all the things that all of us do every day.  By saying that, I don’t mean to in any way trivialize those things- many of which are not only important, but essential to our survival.

15% of what you do could be done by someone else with some training.  That fifteen percent contains things like an occupation, things that we and a smaller group of others are all probably pretty good at.  But, the truth is, if we ever quit our jobs, management could probably find other people who, when trained, could do what we did and, in many cases, the new guys might even do it better!  It’s not that the fifteen percent are unimportant, but the things in this category are just not unique to us.

The remaining 5% of what you do can only be done by you.  That’s the area of focus for which God gives us the greatest passion.

You’ll notice that we, here at HDC, help you focus primarily on that 5% because, within that 5% you will discover your unique purpose in the world.  The short of it is this- God has given you a spiritual stewardship of a group of people and you are to expected to manage your life in the light of their proximity.  Notice the number of times that “you” and “your” shows up in the following passage (I counted nine).

Colossians 1:21-25, Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.  This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.  Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.   I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.

Paul says that we became part of God’s Kingdom when we heard the Gospel and embraced it.  But if want to be great in the Kingdom of God, then we must be servants.  Life change happens when we become part of the Kingdom.  Worldchange happens when we aspire to accept our assignment as a servant within it.  Are you just in the Kingdom of God, or are you a servant of the Kingdom.

That’s your mission- actually your “commission.”  In Colossians 1:25, the word, “commission,” is the Greek, oikonomia, a compound term combining oikos, “house,” with nomos, “law.”   So God has been given you official (even legal) influence within 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” that mission together!

Being an efficient servant requires focus, managing life in the persisting shadows of the people who frame that commission.

My belligerence has frustrated some, but I continue to insist that, if the Kingdom is to function on all cylinders, there must be synergy between Christ, the Church and the Christian.

  • Christ died to reconcile people.
  • Christians are given a “co”mission, a certain number of those people 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 facilitate strategic partnerships with local Christians, to enhance their success in that venture.

In my opinion, where most churches miss the boat is in understanding that role.  Most tell their people to do the work of an evangelist but don’t partner with them in that task.  When I was growing up, my church leaders challenged me to share Christ, but acted as if everyone in our youth group had the spiritual gift of evangelism.  The problem with that assumption is that, in reality, it’s estimated that only 10% of the body of Christ actually have that gift.  For those who don’t, churches have been strategically positioned between the Great Commission and a number of local world changers to form partnerships that better prepare the rest of us for our role.  This church has one purpose- to prepare you to fulfill you!  You’re not here to help this church succeed.  You are the church!  We meet together to help you succeed.

An oikocentric church is a local church that has a ministry strategically centered around the primary relationships of those who attend.  It’s as simple as it sounds and, therefore, greatly misunderstood.  Here are some misunderstandings about oikos:

Myth #1: Oikos is the best evangelism program out there!

That is false.  Oikos is not a program, 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 cop-out- 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, argue with them, if necessary, until they cry “uncle,” give up and surrender themselves to Christ.”  That’s fine, if that’s what you think God’s called you to do, but as strange as it may sound, oikos is not easier, but a more difficult worldchange model that that.  Cold evangelism is complicated, but it’s actually not that difficult.  Find someone to give the bullet points to the plan of salvation, have as meaningful a conversation as is possible and then walk away, probably feeling pretty satisfied about the fact that you had just “witnessed.”

Witnessing goes beyond what we say to people.  Jesus said that we wouldn’t go witnessing, but that we would 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 there is a specific group of people who are not just 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 people who are watching you will, at some point, also want to talk to you- so you better prepare to have something worthwhile to say.  It’s not just about inviting people to church.  If you invite them, we’ll be here with you to encourage them.  But what if they don’t come to church?  What if they just want to meet you at Starbuck’s and talk about faith?  You better prepare to have something to say!

Myth #2: Oikos discourages you from witnessing to someone you don’t know.

That is false.  Sharing Christ with anyone, anytime is all of our responsibility, regardless of whether or not they are in our eight to fifteen.  But the fact is, without someone’s permission, you can’t have a meaningful conversation (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.  That’s not my opinion, that’s what the research reveals.  For example, in the New Testament:

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.” (Acts11:14)

The story continued in Philippi with Lydia and the city jailor, both of whom responded to the Apostle Paul’s challenge to place their faith in Christ.  Acts 16 describes how, in both cases, an oikos believed and were baptized.

That’s the data.  Because Jesus designed the relational Universe, Jesus knows where permission is most likely to exist.  What you don’t find in the New Testament is Jesus saying, “Now that you’re saved, go out on the street corner and argue people into My Kingdom.”

As a matter of fact, raise your hand tell me if you received Christ at the result of a cold-turkey encounter…Praise God for the stories those hands represent, but they are few.

Years ago, I heard an incredible story about a guy who was walking through an intersection in a large city and he noticed a police officer directing traffic in the middle of the street.  As he walked by, the man sensed the Holy Spirit telling him to go up to the officer and say 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.”  Within a matter of minutes, the officer called for backup and then prayed to receive Christ right there on that street corner.  Now, I was mesmerized by that story- it was one of the most amazing and powerful conversion stories I had ever heard.  After the speaker told our group the story, he said, “Now go out and witness to people,” so the whole church was looking for cops all week!  Now some of you have had so many traffic tickets that certain Highway Patrol Officers probably are in your oikos!

There’s nothing wrong with those events.  In fact, they really can be compelling stories.  But they’re rare.  The problem is, when they happen, we put those testimonies on Christian television, write books or use them as the centerpiece of some sermon on evangelism and everybody thinks that’s the way people normally come to Christ.  They don’t, at least not 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.

That was not only Timothy’s conversion story, it may be the most boring personal testimony ever written.  The interesting thing 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 worldchange.

Now raise your hand if you received Christ (primarily) because of the input of someone in your oikos…That’s virtually everyone in the room-  that’s what I’m talking about!

Myth #3a: Everyone in your oikos is a non-believer.

That is false.

  • Some are non-believers.  Since they need Christ, the focus for you is to evangelize.
  • Some are distracted believers who have allowed other important challenges of life to crowd out the most important- their walk with Christ.  They are already in the Kingdom.  They just need to be re-energized for their purpose-driven mission.  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 in your world and (2) everyone in it will always need your input and support (or they wouldn’t be there).

Myth #3b: Everyone in your oikos is a believer.

That is false.  That may be what many of you who have been a Christian for many years actually think sometimes, but that’s because no one has ever trained you to think oikocentrically.  We are all more connected to non-believers than we realize, but a lack of intentionality has kept our focus inward, seeking to surround ourselves by other Christians who can minister to us, rather than focusing outward, to the relationships that need our encouragement.

Myth #4: You get to decide who’s in your oikos.

That is false.  That is false.  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! You can ask God for an inter-oikos trade, but probably won’t get it.  People will consistently wander in and out of your oikos and those migratory patterns will probably not be as much the result of your personal magnetism as they will be the result of divinely orchestrated circumstances.

Myth #5: Oikos is all about growing a church.

That is false.  Actually, oikos won’t grow a church nearly as fast 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 an alarming number of Christians in our culture who simply move across town to the church that has better programs, better bands, better preachers.  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.

We are not about simply adding bodies to our services.  If you’re visiting with us today, please don’t think that we consider you another notch on our gun belts.  You’ve been invited here today because Jesus really loves you.  Someone in your oikos is a Jesus-follower, so he or she really loves you too.  But the real reason any of us are here is because we have always been on Jesus’ radar screen.

We’re not after you.  Jesus is after all of us.  We were all at the heart of Christ’s mission to the world.  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 left the Father, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, rose from the grave to conquer death and then ascended back to the Father.  He finished the job He came to accomplish and then He left.  That’s why we call Easter Weekend the Passion of Christ!  That was His passion.  That was His focus.  That was in His five percent!  That was something that He and He alone could accomplish.  Nobody could save the human race but Jesus.  If He hadn’t bothered to passionately engage His unique mission, then something really really important would have never been accomplished and we would all be left to wallow in our sin.

Jesus was all about focus.  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 (we call them 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 5%; that’s our world; that’s the world God wants to change through us.  So, together, let’s get focused.

What exactly is the mission of this church?  To help you become great in the Kingdom by focusing on the most important arena of your life.  When people decide to do that amazing things happen.  You’re not going to want to miss what’s next.  This weekend 46 people are being be baptized on our two campuses at HDC.  Please do not leave until I come back in a few minutes and close the service.


That can happen to you and for the people God has brought around you.  Your world can be transformed.  If you believe that, then I want to pray for you.  Some of you have already made that commitment- to bring that kind of focus to your lives, to ask God to generate that level of passion in your heart- so that you’re not just watching this kind of transformation in other people’s lives and relationships month after month, but you’re experiencing it in yours.  If you’d like to ask God to use you to change the world, then I want you to stand up today.  By doing so, you’re making a commitment to say no to those things in your life that distract you from the main thing.  You’re saying that you will make that list, if you haven’t already, and will pray every day that God would change you and use you to somehow reach them.  Your five hours start right now.