Our church staff at Central has recently been discussing the book Simple Church -- we have had a great discussion thus far! I believe that this book is one critical piece the Holy Spirit is putting in place in order to change the leadership culture of Central. The idea, simply put (!) is that churches usually make their ministries complex because they are not intentional about a clear process by which their church seeks to "make disciples." So if a church has defined a clear process for making disciples, and then aligns their ministry with that process, the life of that church will naturally become simpler.
The trick is, churches by nature don't drift toward simplicity -- churches naturally drift toward complexity. We start traditions, programs, and events, and then those things simply cannot be allowed to die. So our calendars and our closets become cluttered with stuff that doesn't really push us toward our Jesus-given goal of making disciples.
This discussion of Simple Church is an intentional move to 1) define our discipleship process at Central, and 2) to streamline what we do to align with that process. So far we have hammered out the process by which Central makes disciples. There are four steps:
1. Be connected to Jesus.
2. Grow together as disciples.
3. Serve our neighbors.
4. Share the good news of Jesus.
This four-step process is both descriptive and prescriptive. The goal is that when we see what we're doing, we will evaluate it through this four-step grid, and that we will change the details of our ministry so that this grid becomes more and more descriptive of Central. It may require changing our staffing, our programs, how we spend our time, the events on our calendars, and more. But we're convinced that these four steps are the right four things for us to be pursuing in order to make disciples.
(A word of definition: A "disciple" is simply one who follows Jesus. Peter and Andrew, in Mark 1, took a few steps down the beach when Jesus said, "Come, follow me ..." and at that point they were disciples. People may be interested in Jesus or apathetic toward Jesus, and they may even believe in Jesus, without being disciples. A disciple is not one who has arrived at some standard of holiness. Not at all! Rather, a disciple is one who has begun the process of trying to align their life with the pursuit of following Jesus. Simple.)
Some of our staff have noted the irony that when you go looking for the book Simple Church, you find dozens and dozens of resources. Simple Youth Ministry. Simple Life. Simple Church for Small Churches. Simple Church for Churches With Red Carpet. Simple Church for Churches with Middle-Aged Male Pastors Who Like Golf.
Okay, I made a couple of those up. But you get the idea. They've complexified Simple Church.
We went looking for Simple role models. Jason, our tech guy, went looking for "simple" websites from other churches highlighted as simple churches. He found churches "programmed up the wazoo" to borrow his colorful phrase. Churches that advertise themselves as "simple" have page after page of programs, calendars cluttered with all kinds of stuff. Not inspiring, even if that plethora of programs are all organized by a three-or-four-step process of some kind.
At Central, we are trying to do something that takes us beyond this way of being simple. Part of what has the potential to make Central different, I think, is that over the last several years, God has led us through a transition to focus more on people than programs. So we've recognized that it might be a bad idea for the staff to teach more classes -- that might just be another way to clutter up people's lives, even if the various classes offered all fit within some understanding of a discipleship process.
So the reason we're headed toward something different is that prior to doing Simple Church we've also turned the corner from investing in programs to investing in people -- the shift toward investing in the people who will lead Pastorates and D4D groups is a truly revolutionary shift that allows "simple" to become a reality. At least potentially.
You also see this in our staff as we discuss "simple" and what it could mean at Central. We're much more willing to cut programs or combine programs because we recognize that the real task is not to protect our programmatic turf, but to build up people who can then disciple others (2 Timothy 2:2).
I have to admit that I have high hopes that Central's ministry may become truly simple -- not in a way that just masks and organizes our clutter, but in a way that gets people's focus back where it should be -- on loving God with all their hearts, connecting with other believers in a way that spurs growth, and in loving this world in a way that meets people's needs and communicates the amazing love and power of Jesus in a concrete way.