Book Review: The Simple Church

A few months ago I went down to visit my first church.  I had heard it wasn’t the same and after several people advised me not to expect the same church… I knew I needed to stop in.

You see, the reason I chose to attend the church in the first place, so many decades ago, was for the amazing way they pulled people together.  It was a built in community.  You showed up, you showed up some more, they put you to work.  You didn’t even need to ask.  If they even remotely thought you were a somewhat regular attender they gave you a job.  It taught me something without even knowing it.  It taught me that community among believers was important!

It also pulled me in to a deeper relationship with Christ.  By showing up on a Sunday for the service and listening to the announcements of bible studies and need for volunteers in the various ministries I was being pulled into the desire to help a group of people I was falling in love with.

God was building a family around me and it was apparent this family WANTED me there!  It didn’t matter if I was a believer of Christ’s yet or not.  They needed help and this broken young girl was answering the call to simply ‘help’ in whatever way they needed it.  It led to me accepting Christ and falling in love with Him and His church and all the people in it!

It started out simple.  They needed help decorating the church for Christmas.  I did that each year for over 20 years. 

They needed help in the child care rooms. … and for 7+ years I answered that call. 

They needed someone to perform little skits and 1 person acts during children’s church or awana’s… I was there. 

They needed a puppeteer… I was there…

They needed someone to lead the Timothy program… I was there

They needed a volunteer for 5days of fun.. I was there..

They needed a writer. a facilitator, someone to set up chairs… or serve food… or clean up… I was there. 

I went to a church in most peoples eyes that would be considered a big church… To me it was perfect.  and Home.  And they always needed me.  They needed everyone!  We were a body of believers with Christ in common and saving the lost. 

The Pastor’s goal was simple…. If someone walks in the door.. give them something to do.. so they have a purpose and feel wanted and needed… and put them to work for God.  If there wasn’t anything for them to do.. then a new ministry was created!  

It really was that simple. 

I saw ministries start up and take off for a few years and change and close and reformat as people came and went.  But one thing was for certain…. If you attended that church… you were going to be serving the Kingdom of God. 

I loved that church.  The feeling of home and love and purpose. A God given purpose.

As happens, God called the pastor home and a few other pastor’s took over.  Our new pastor, who is a firehouse for the Lord saw me on this trip and came up to check in on me.  We talked a bit, between services, on church life and differences in the churches and something he said caught my attention: 

“That’s the Simple Church.  It’s a whole concept of no programs in a church.  It was written about 10-15 years ago and we are just now seeing the devastation, among the churches here,  that the book has caused. “

The fact this pastor would take the time to talk to me was heart warming.  But the fact he was still acting as my pastor and helping me understand something I was seeing in this world… was classic ‘him’.  Always helping a believer understand no matter how deep the question.

I explained the conversation to my husband and we set out on finding the book when I came back.    Find it we did.  Co-written by an author we respected Thom S. Rainer and an unknown to us author Eric Geiger.  I set off to read the book. 

Mind you this book is not written for me.  It’s written for other clergy to read.  But I had questions and in this world we do life in… this book was set to answer my questions.  And answering them… it did do!  Sadly.

The book shows through examples of other churches how to create a church without programs .. It recommends a church focus on what their ministry is.. and eliminate everything that doesn’t fit into that category…  meaning, everyone else’s ministries that don’t focus on the main churches.

It’s a few chapters into the book I realized that the reason my friends were warning me that our church was not the same… was that they appeared to have been following this concept. 

Take away all the programs… which just before we moved away the church was doing just that.  Any group that met at the church was being asked to take their meetings to their homes.  They wanted  all bible studies to be home bible studies. 

And while there is nothing wrong with home bible studies… The churches are missing a huge opportunity when they do this.  People are more apt to walk into a study at a church.. then a study at a private home!  In all the studies I have attended, in and out of homes, never once did I have a walk in just happen to knock on a private home’s front door.  But I can not count how many times I had someone just fling open the door and walk into the church meeting room asking if they could sit in… or asking for prayer… or stumble in, in tears… 

The book appears to be more concerned with money being used to fund programs… and not enhance the ‘process’..(pg208) And while they are right.. that most people don’t see the hidden costs… isn’t that what the volunteers are for?  And donations to the church for said projects?  If we put people to work and they feel an ownership in the church.. aren’t they apt to give more because this is now ‘their’ church?  

What is the process they keep talking about?  Is it really moving people around into transformation?  For the churches purpose?  And who is keeping track of each persons progress in this process?  Is the goal of the church to grow… and not deepen the lives of the members? 

I jest a little here.  Read the book.  As I did and you will see just how many of our churches are following this concept.  And why our churches are half empty!  The chapter on saying NO to most everything struck me as utterly sad.  All the ministry opportunities lost.. and the lives unreached.

People NEED community!  They need to feel a sense of ownership in their church.  They need to feel needed and wanted and valuable to the body of believers.  They need to SERVE.  We are servants!!! And when a group of servants are not allowed to serve.. and told to sit on the side lines and just bring new people to church… they tend to just sit… and wait… and well… those that are true servants tend to self feed and find other ways to full-fill their God given talents.  In essence, they leave the church behind, or risk getting left behind themselves!

My problem with the whole concept is it appears to leave out God in the whole mix.  Stick with me here… People need to feel that they are needed.  When someone walks in the door and is asked to do a job.. no matter if they are members or not.. they are more apt to stick around and see if they are needed more.  The more the person is at church.. the more Jesus might rub off on them!!!!!

I once asked a pastor if there was a place where I could serve.  I was told ‘No.  We are really blessed at this church.  Everything is covered.’  I was lost.  Literally and utterly lost.  This place I wanted to call home, didn’t want me to even sweep the church!

Jesus needs us all.  Every one of us.  He needs our hands chopping salad, setting up chairs, flipping burgers, handing out song sheets, running the sound board, playing with the kids, parking cars, working security, finding ways to reach the lost, raising money for the ministry trips….. As my old pastor used to say… If we don’t have a place to put someone to work… we need to start a new ministry.  That was a smart Pastor. 

I’ve heard and read that pastors and elders are tired.  I’ve even had elders tell me personally that they are tired, or they couldn’t possibly put more on their plate.  They are missing the point… Church isn’t all about what they are doing for the people.  We are all the church!!!  All I see are people sitting and waiting to do something and not being given the chance to just run with it.  Or if they are…. they aren’t given enough freedom to do it to completion and it sits and falls flat.  Waiting for the next person in line to make a move… Only to be left waiting.  If the elders are tired they need to pull someone in and delegate to them!   In case you miss my point… I’m talking about a volunteer in the church! 

I have visited way to many churches that I now wonder, are they following this concept?  I had the privilege of talking to some long time friends while visiting our prior church.  They were so ecstatic that programs were coming back.  They needed places to go and community around them.  Places to invite their neighbors and friends too.   They desire to feel a part of something bigger then them and watching God work through them to reach the lost around them.  I stood at the bulletin board in the pass-way and saw it full of fliers of events going on… fundraisers in action… and one person stopped me.. hugged me and whispered… isn’t it great, we have things to do here again!   It’s been 9 years since I was gone.  9 years since I volunteered at this church.  I wondered if she knew I was no longer in the area… we both attended different service times..

The programs are back!  The outreach to the community has started again… Yes that is wonderful!  At least for this community it is a blessing once again.

Now we need to pray for the other churches to catch on. 

The words this pastor left me with as he ran off to do the 930 service was this…  “Pray, pray, pray and pray even more.”  In those few short moments he heard my heart, gave me homework and advised me to take it to the Top of The Chain. 

Pray for our churches!

BTW the service was amazing!!!!!  😉

I feel the need to post this disclaimer… I am not a pastor.. I am church goer.  I am not educated in the seminary field… I am a long time Church goer… I have studied community and friendships and what makes people work and not…. These are just my observations in our crazy world…. And as I always say.. my opinion only really matter to me… and my dog!  Who currently is begging to be fed. 

 

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