The book Simple Church greatly impacted how I pastor Creekside Bible Church. The book offers data showing that when churches make clear a simple discipleship process and focus on doing a few things well (rather than trying to do a lot of things), they are better for it (primarily in numerical growth). Admittedly, I had a predisposition towards liking the contents of this book. I am an avid/outspoken fan of Apple products. Apple has become one of the most successful companies in the world by making things simple for customers and by being simple as a company – focusing on making a few products great rather than making a lot of products mediocre. Apple is so connected to simplicity that one of their most iconic advertising campaigns declared, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Due to my love of Apple, a book that preached a simple model for church was right up my ally and I bought in wholeheartedly.
In my two years as the pastor of Creekside, I have worked to make it simple. We make clear to people that we want them to fulfill their scriptural obligations to the church through four simple actions: believe, gather, connect, and serve. This is illustrated through the language of stepping stones (Simple Church points to the importance of illustrating the discipleship process). We don’t do much of anything that doesn’t support these four aspects of the church; we work hard on excelling doing activities that support these actions. Seemingly, this has worked well for our church.
Before I make the big transition, let me state that I am still a fan of striving to simplify church. I would counsel all churches to be as simple as possible in their approach to programing. That said, I see several problems with viewing church too simplistically.
Discipleship isn’t as simple as showing up at a church program…
Outlining a simple approach to discipleship is not inherently bad. In fact, it is good for people at my church, or any church, to know some key steps to spiritual growth.
However, when we make discipleship too simple we run the risk of stymying discipleship. If someone equates closeness to God with only believing in Jesus, going to church, showing up at a small group, and offering some time to make the church better (our steps in different words), they might never recognize that there are a myriad of other important factors in our relationship with God. This could lead someone to thinking that they are living the perfect Christian life when in actuality their lives are full of sin and lack Christian virtue. Someone could fulfill the above list and still be a horrible spouse. Someone could fulfill the above list and be a jerk that nobody likes. Someone could fulfill the above list and not be a Christian (save believing in Jesus)! We do a disservice to people if we make them think that being a growing Christian is only about believing in Jesus and showing up at the church’s programs.
We believe that if someone does the above-stated actions then they are well on their way to fulfilling their biblically given duties at church. But, we know that church responsibility is only part of the Christian life. Thus, we try to keep in our people’s minds seven signs of a disciple that are listed in the Bible. These signs cannot be seen through simple eyes without being trampled by dishonesty or legalism because of their generalized nature:
1. Recognition of sin.
2. Love of God and others.
3. The Fruits of the Spirit.
4. Avoidance of sin.
5. A life demonstrated by an overall morality.
6. Following the Holy Spirit’s leading.
7. Obeying the decrees made in the Bible.
God equips people for specific ministries…[bra_blockquote align=’right’]Leaders of churches ought to think long and hard before dismissing the gifts of a person in their church because it doesn’t fit into their simple model.[/bra_blockquote]To make church simple without deviation is to squelch what God might do in the church. The Bible tells us that God has equipped each believer for works of service. Leaders of churches ought to think long and hard before dismissing the gifts of a person in their church because it doesn’t fit into their simple model.
Just this morning I had a conversation with someone at Creekside in which they demonstrated a passion for ministering to veterans. He has a military background and gifts that would be valuable in this type of service. I think it would be wrong if, in an effort to be simple, I told him that his passion couldn’t be acted upon at our church because it didn’t strictly fit into our model.
This doesn’t mean that every time a person has a passion a new ministry is created at our church. I have not intent to launch a formalized ministry to veterans tomorrow. However, if two or three others say the same thing to me or another leader in the church and they have complimentary skills and gifts to the man I have mentioned, it would be wrong for us to dismiss it because it makes us less simple; it would be right and good for us to prayerfully consider if God is leading us to do some type of ministry to veterans. I think simple is great, but not at the expense of being obedient to the direction and leading of God.
At Creekside we strive not to miss the Holy Spirit’s leading when it comes to ministry. Thus, as we train people to be servants of the church, we examine and file their gifts, skills, passions, and experiences. At Saddleback Church they have a similar process. The main difference between their approach and ours is that we try to see how God is moving corporately instead of only individually. Admittedly, this is much easier when you aren’t one of the largest churches in America.
Church as family…
Think about the last Thanksgiving dinner you had with your family. Was it simple? Was your grandma trying to get you to recite the families traditional reading while your uncle was trying to watch the Cowboys game and you were complaining that you were starving because the food wasn’t ready? Maybe that was just my last Thanksgiving dinner, but many experience something similar. Families are not simple. They are messy.
The reason that families aren’t simple is probably beyond my scope of knowledge. But, let me just offer one thought: Families are messy because they love and stay together despite the differences, problems, and difficulties of individuals. When someone can’t stand the people they work with, they quit. When friends hurt us, we can make new ones. When our families fail us, something innately tells us to keep loving, keep helping, keep serving, keep going…
The Bible describes church as family. If you have been around the church long enough then you know that just as in a biological families, there are plenty of difficult people in churches. But, when we treat church as that which it is, a family, we must keep going. This will inevitably be messy, no matter how many programs are stripped away.
Furthermore, if we are truly going to be unified in a way that produces mutual discipleship, it can’t be simple. There are too many opinions, personalities, and thoughts for deep relationships to always be simple. If a church is too simple, they probably aren’t accomplishing much of anything![bra_blockquote align=’right’]Rarely have I left a conversation in which I confronted someone about sin thinking, “That was simple.”[/bra_blockquote]Rarely have I left a conversation in which I confronted someone about sin thinking, “That was simple.” People’s lives are messy and thus, church cannot always be simple.
I love my iPhone for it’s simplicity. I love the church despite it’s complexity.
It is amazing just how the church family can mimic a nuclear, so to speak, family. My question though is, how do we enact the family-esque setting?
Say though, to play devil’s advocate so to speak, the church is more like a family; we attend to each other & support each other, etc…. What then? Do we shoulder together & help move forward with the launching of particular ministries previously foreign to church policy; Church Foreign Policy Mandates?
Do we help bolster each other in our daily walks? Do we call on each other & ask if a person needs help or prayer with anything? Do we break trust in terms of severe issues?
If someone disagrees with church theology, how do we handle that? Do we stand our ground or quietly acquiesce? In terms of church business I am reminded of an informal piece of advice a brother once gave to his elder brother;
“Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.”
Is this our family?
Or is this all a pipe dream?
People seem far too busy with their own lives & hobbies/free time to spend so much time as to positively affect or effect any one outside of their inner circle’s life. And what is being part of the church family, being in their circle? Is it simply chatting over coffee & pastries pre-service or is it deeper? I am reminded of a quote when thinking of close family & trust;
“…the fact is, Greg, with the knowledge you’ve been given,
you are now on the inside of
what I like to call…”the Byrnes family circle of trust.””
Maybe it is not that dramatic, but then, should it be? In times of crisis should we not go to our church for support? Families should stick together in times of crisis, should they not? No, they should. We also bond & hold dear to our hearts those very things our brothers & sisters hold to their hearts.
What exactly should the church look like, in terms of family? The Godfather or Meet The Parents? And while this is not a movie, each of us are actors in a play that has been going on for quite a few thousand years now, & very well could go on for a few thousand more.
First, thanks for reading and interacting. I always appreciate people stopping by the blog.
You say that you are going to play devil’s advocate, but your sarcastic questions only seem to reinforce in the importance of viewing church as a family.
It would take two or three more full blog posts to answer all of your questions. Let me try to hit them all with just a couple of thoughts: 1) I have found/seen what you are describing (in a backwards way) for church. As a teenager in my last church before I began working at Creekside, I found a bunch of adults who cared about me and helped me grow into a spiritual adult. Nine years later I am still looking back on my years at that church with fondness and gladness. At Creekside I see consistently seen people give rides, provide meals, pray for others, offer encouragement, laugh with each other, and genuinely act out the familial nature of a church. 2) I have found a weird phenomenon in church that doesn’t exist in families. The less a person contributes the more apt they are to treat the church like a family. Likewise, the less a person contributes, the less they feel like it is a family and the more they complain about not being taken care of or fed or connected. Generally, the people who contribute little will complain and eventually find a reason to leave the church. Mark Driscoll excellently illustrates this in a video that I posted under the “Family” section of a post called A Sermon on Donkeys, A Sermon on Donkeys, God’s Disappearing Presence, and Family“. I bring this up because I think that many (of course, not all) in a church feel like they aren’t a part of the family because they aren’t participating in the life of the family. I have found, for me, that when I deeply care about the church and those within it – striving to serve it and them – the church feels more and more like family.
I have written and spoken on church as family in two other places. Check out the series Church As… and the post Church As Family if you haven’t already.
I am sorry if my comments came across as sarcasm; they were not intended to be so. I do see what you mean about people helping people, etc, & I agree. I think I may have been coming from a different, albeit, confused angle; your response helped to clear it up.
I didn’t take your comments as sarcastic. I think you raised good questions!