Matthew’s Party

As Jesus was leaving, he saw a tax collector named Matthew sitting at the place for paying taxes. Jesus said to him, “Come with me.” Matthew got up and went with him. Later, Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at Matthew’s house. Many tax collectors and other sinners were also there. Some Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and other sinners?” Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, `Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.”
Matthew 9: 9 – 13

Gospel Notes

Back in the late 1980s I went to a seminar on reaching Baby Boomers, led by Jack Sims. Jack and Richard Rossi started a controversial church in the United States called “Matthew’s Party”. The church met in a bar, served wine and hor d’oerves, worshipped with rock music, was attended by movie stars, and gave the offering back to anyone in attendance who needed the money. If I remember right, they didn’t do any communal singing – as it was counter culture for most of the people there.

Jack explained that when Matthew met Jesus, it wasn’t possible for them to meet up at the local synagogue. It would have been cultural suicide for Matthew to turn up there. He and his friends probably wouldn’t be welcomed anyway. So he invited Jesus over to his place, held a party, and got his friends to meet Jesus in their space.

I took that to heart. What would it look like if people got to meet Jesus in friendly spaces that didn’t drip with the mood of church meetings? What if we met in restaurants or cafes? Since that time, I’ve experimented with Restaurant Church, Cafe Church, and House Church. In each of those settings there’s an opportunity to reinvent worship and learning. Meeting round tables usually rules out communal singing. It leads to conversation instead of lecturing. All these settings lend themselves to story telling, laughter and connecting with the difference Jesus might make in our lives.

Andrew Jones, (Tall Skinny Kiwi) posted a few gripes about house church networks back in July 2004 (based on article from 2002). He points out that the focus needs to change from “Our House” to “Their House”. His words:

Much of the present house church movement is still an attempt to contain and control the meetings in their own camp, in this case OUR HOUSE. The full gains that are available will not be realised until we can begin to let the movement flow into THEIR HOUSES. The church in Lydia’s house was just that – in Lydia’s house. Matthew’s party was in Matthew’s house. Not the more convenient house of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. And don’t tell me it was her stomach complaints that kept them away. It was strategy, not dysentery, that led them to Matthew’s house. Jesus told his missionaries to put peace on THEIR (those other people, the ones they were sent to) HOUSE, enter their house, live in their house, eat in their house, heal someone or something in their house. Right there is the base of a new church and it is in THEIR house. Think of the benefits. Financial, because if the party is in their house then they pay for it. Security, because if the party is in their house then they will guarantee every one is safe.Culture, because the friends of the host already appreciate the culture of their style of music and culture so there is no culture barrier. Convenience, because they already have that house.

I warm to Andrew’s challenge. One of the best experiences of church I’ve had recently was the blessing of a child eighteen months ago. The family had family connections with the Uniting Church elsewhere. And they wanted to have their boy baptised. We looked at the options and chose a service of thanksgiving and blessing. The next door neighbours were members of Pacific Parks Uniting, our house church network. They looked at coming along to one of our homes for a service. But they had about 50 friends and relatives to fit in. So we had it all at their place. What a celebration! We showed photographs of all the meaningful people in their life together on PowerPoint, through the TV. We had poetry, prayer, Bible readings, and a song on the stereo. The next door neighbours presented the certificate. And then we cracked open the bubbly. Way to go. Maybe we’ll get together again at their place, for another experience of church. Hope so.

8 Replies to “Matthew’s Party”

  1. and also – I remember seeing a “Matthew’s Party” on TV around June 1987 when i was lived in California – i was really inspired by the idea – i wonder if it was the same church?

  2. Dear Duncan,
    Thank you so much for your article about Matthew’s Party, the church Jack Sims and I started in the 80’s. Your article is really powerful about meeting people in their houses, on their home turf, like Jesus and the apostles did. it meant a lot to see your blog, as you know, we were heavily criticized for this at the time. Jack has since passed away, and I miss him, and it touched me to see you and others remembered.
    God bless
    Richard Rossi

  3. duncan

    i was thinking about matthews party this morning – i am sure it is the same one i saw in 1987 on tv. i wonder if we should ask jack or richard to give some documentation or tell some stories about those days???????

    for the sake of posterity.

  4. thanx for your request for stories. believe it or not, Jack Sims lost his ordination papers over “Matthew’s Party” because one of the matthew’s parties was at a public place that served alcohol. we were not serving alcohol, but some people who ordered alcohol came in with their glasses and drank at “matthew’s party.” well, word got back to the well-respected evangelical group that credentialed Jack because of all the media coverage of matthew’s party on CNN, USA Today, Nightline with Ted Koppel, etc… they saw a close-up of a guy with a glass of wine at the gathering and Jack lost his papers. he was kind of proud of that. he said his epitaph would hopefully read “a friend of sinners”. he died in 1993 in a private place crash. i’ll share some more memories some time if you’d like.

  5. Hiya – I met Jack Sims at the Anaheim Vineyard in 1986 with Randy Rigby who brought Jack to lunch. I was playing bass with JW and Randy, and Randy thought it was a great idea for us to meet. i loved the idea of Matthews Party and it has stayed with us since. Our church, Follys End is about to start this week with a Matthews Party in our basement club. I’d love to hear from anyone else who is interested in giving us wisdom from their experiences. blessings, DM

  6. Hi Duncan.

    this is a great historical list of comments. The story continues. A few months ago I met with Richard Rossi and heard more of the Matthews Party story. Another interesting connection is the In-N-Out Burger connection, a recent book by Stacy Perman on the burger chain mentions Matthews Party and the tragic plane crash that killed both Rich Snyder and Jack SIms.

    also interesting is the connection between MP, Calvary Chapel and Vineyard.

    thanks for keeping this thread going.

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