Misunderstanding the Simple Church

4e7b370473562cefa7508b9e2fb9ae22Simple Church was a recent hot seller on the need to bring clarity and synergy to being the church, with disciple-making being the biblically-required focus. Simple is often misunderstood as simplistic, so when people tell me that Australian churches need to simplify, they are often just seeking a reduction in activity. Churches are not unreasonably complex in most cases, though. They don’t typically place heavy demands on the same volunteers because church staff usually know how busy many people are. Churches may need to occasionally navigate the complexities of life a little better, but they intentionally seek an alignment of heart in voluntary cooperation with a shared mission. Our own vision can’t be at the expense of uniting with that of a local church. This intent helps to create a simpler church by making it less about what we think it should be and more about what it is called to be. Here are three keys all Christians can adopt to help make this happen.  

  1. Priorities of the heart need to be properly understood by leaders.

Alignment can’t force time commitments that people are simply unable to make. Understanding that work schedules do impact upon what people can do, for example, means a better focus is on how our disposable time is used. Identifying where that time is going and what is done with it will say more about priorities than measuring compliance with expectations.

Nevertheless, Jesus did say that our heart will follow what we treasure (Luke 12:34), so Christians will make godly choices if committed to God Himself and to spiritual growth, irrespective of how others behave. Inspiration certainly motivates. People may help or hinder, too, but hurt people will hurt people and imperfect people impact people imperfectly. Commitment to people is nevertheless because of Jesus, so we serve Him when we have relationship with Him and use our unique gifts to do this wholeheartedly. Pulling away from church, from teams or from involvement because of offence with individuals actually pulls away from others in our spiritual family.

Our commitment to God will be shallow, though, if our whole lives are not focused on His priorities for the church which involve a cost to discipleship, inclusive of obedience, submission and service. There is no second class of Christian that gets to section off a small slice of life for Jesus and to retain the rest for doing life on our terms.

However, the majority of people don’t have an attitude problem. They are often just busy, tired and overwhelmed by life. Leaders need to remember that most people who come to church actually want to be there and want their lives to make a difference. Legitimate busyness with some aspects of our overall mission necessarily limits other areas, sometimes, so we can’t easily project expectations on to busy individuals whose worlds we may not understand.

  1. Pastors created in people’s image and likeness are destined to let them down.

Speaking of projecting expectations, people can easily require pastors to be who they need them to be, even if this is not intentional. The speed dial pastoral carer fits with a fee-for-service mentality that can creep in because of how the wider world works. Some people need a pastor who will ‘pop in’ or attend to what is needed in a church, given that he or she is the paid or responsible leader.

If this village parson model of the nineteenth century is maintained, though, a church will not grow and leaders will not be raised, nor mission proceed.

When expectations are created around what the pastor (or staff) should do for the church because of being paid or in charge, we miss the fact that the Bible’s role description for ministers is to equip all Christians to do the work (Ephesians 4:12).

Christians are to be mobilised in doing the work of the church because they in fact are the church. Money merely helps and it can fund specialised roles, but is not the determining factor.  Other priorities, even personal ministry goals, need to be evaluated very carefully, lest pastors and churches be positioned to ultimately fail people’s individualised expectations.

We can avoid the pressure of false expectations by valuing, measuring and celebrating the right outcomes with a collectively willingness to share in their implementation as part of shaping a unifying vision.

This requires us to become part of the solutions, rather than the problems, that churches face when they comprise people with different ideals and interests.

  1. Perceptions are not always fair, but you need to deal with them and not just change them.

Many people have great and noble aspirations, sowing themselves into worthwhile, even God-inspired, causes. This doesn’t mean, however, that others will, or should, share the same passion. Many people believe that their good idea needs to become someone else’s burden but, as we say in our church, he-who-gets-the-vision-gets-the-job.

Mobilising people and resources may need assistance and affirmation from a local church and it may also need some quality control!  However, individuals often need to generate a perception of particular importance that others will want to engage with. Importance cannot be presumed to be self-evident, even when the cause is great.

We will always therefore have church activities, events, music and styles that differ in their practice from our own preferences. We need to hold our convictions lightly where these are not foundational to our faith. Leaders need to concede that not everyone will or should be involved in (or like) everything, but people can be encouraged to live in relative harmony with that which serves the needs of diverse groups of people. A test of the heart is a willingness to serve and promote those things we don’t always like personally!

So dealing with priorities, pastors and perceptions is a key to simplifying church life. People who typically connect well with others and do life without excess tension typically have a clear vision for their own life in harmony with that of the church, they seek to support and respect leadership and value its input, and they minimise expectations of others. The end result is an alignment of hearts and an amplification of vision that brings fruit and fun within any community of faith.

The irony of autonomy is that, whilst it breaks free of the worst elements of leader-regulation, it actually shifts the problem to promote self-regulation. Denominations and incorporated associations are not evil, but actually serve the Kingdom of God well when functioning at their best.

Where Jesus is allowed to be the head of His church, it will surely grow and will therefore need leadership, administration and resources. When these are aligned to a shared purpose, they provide a busy church but one that is really only too busy when people would rather be somewhere else.

This simpler church is one in which everyone’s will is laid down and their large or small resources of time and finance are shared for the love of the church that is the bride of Christ. And what better way to show our respect for Jesus than to love His wife!


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