I’m wading in and weighing in on the “simple church” concept. No fear, I will attempt to offend everyone equally; I’m an equal opportunity offender. (That’s supposed to sound humorous, so chuckle quietly.)
I have spiritual sons and daughters and friends who see simple as the wave of tomorrow. I agree but in a very broad sense. I find some agreement on many of the critical definers that drive the movement. I also agree that the concept of simplification empowers the Body to function more efficiently: less administration, more ministry.
However, “simple,” though advertised to the contrary, is actually not a way of doing church as much as philosophical shift, a point of emphasis, a focused strategy. Several shifts are occurring right now, reactions to the condition of church-anity, and “simple” is one of them. None of these shifts has produced a spiritual consensus with a “thus saith the Lord” authority, and none of these shifts is, in and of itself, “the right way.” It is all part of a work in process that is altering the Body in fundamental ways.
Like other movements, “simple” hasn’t grown up yet, so we need to continue to ask, What will this turn into? It is not what it is or we perceive to be, but what it will lead to.
Do I Believe in Simple Church?
Of course! Really what I like is simplified ekklesia, but the reduced-to-its-bare-minimums concept is appealing in terms of minimizing or eliminating the pretentious trappings of church-anity that distract and diminish from the functions of ministry leadership as designed by Jesus.
I like “real people, real needs, real time” ministry. I believe in the ministry of Jesus, applied within the cultures of the world within kingdom strategies set by Jesus according to the seasons of the Father.
But we gotta define terms here, folks, cause there’s a whole spectrum of stuff out there being labeled “simple” that is everything from total stupid to revolutionary revival. And, a whole bunch of wanna-be syndromes plague the trend. Churches trying to get out of a rut have made shipwrecks pretzeling themselves to a some novel perception of simple christianism, desperate to escape the dead end of religion.
I personally encourage people to read Barna’s books. I read books by Cole and Viola, and I’ve read a host of internet interactions because I know God is moving the Body toward restoration. For example, God is building a European underground movement that will utilize some aspects of “simplified, apostolic leadership” to create release a revival there. Similar strategies are available for Muslim nations, parts of Asia, and Indonesia, etc. (This is a scandalous oversimplification, but we are talking about ‘simplifying’ here.)
We need to redefine “church,” and the simple shift demands a healthy reassessment of basic definitions. It may be one of the great places to start implementing fundamental change. The English term “church” is itself a strong indicator of the need for change. It was required by royal mandate as the English word for the Greek term, ekklesia, in the King James Version because it has more to do with “place or building,” and the king wanted control of the church by controlling its buildings. The original term fully expresses the idea of a “called together assembly.” It does not refer to a building but a strategic kingdom meeting called by the King.
So, right here and now I scream, “Yes! The Body of Christ is not a building.” We don’t go to church. We are the church. Good start but a long way from some definitions of “simple church.” Saying that doesn’t mean I agree with the conclusions of Barna and Viola either. It also a long way from even a basic understanding of the ekklesia; eliminating building from the definition does redefine church or the way we do church. Moving “church” into smaller buildings is simply relocating from one building to another, and arguments for house church as more Biblical don’t move us toward a better understanding of ekklesia just because they lack stained glass and a pipe organ.
Church does have something to do with being together, and “simple” sometimes means that we have moved to a different location and brag that we aren’t stuck in a cathedral. Simply moving “church” to a house, a pub, a cafe, or a closet doesn’t redefine “church” too much although it can vastly affect the functions of the Body.
So, I don’t waste any time arguing the point about where to meet because where to meet is so incidental to the called together assembly that it cannot be part of the definition at all. Buildings are tools. Big gathering. Big building. Little gathering. Little building. The idea that when a group outgrows its building, it needs to divide defines “church” by building as surely as the steeplehouses. Many simple folks waste a lot of energy trying to create a house church model from Scripture. It ain’t there!
Many small groups are functions of the ekklesia, meeting in homes, businesses, coffee shops, but part of a church. So, they are not home churches in the strictest sense. Home church networks meet in homes but retain apostolic leadership; however, this is simply smaller meetings in smaller buildings functioning in a different way. In other words, that doesn’t redefine “church.” It is a strategy, not a definition.
It is totally valid and Biblical for a called together assembly to happen in a house! Obvious – so obvious that it requires no discussion at all! However, it is not an exclusive Biblical model of church, superior, original, better, best, or simple. It is just another building that accommodates the Body functioning together.
I would mention here that the idea that a family is a church is simply ludicrous. A family is a family. The called together assembly is a different kind of family. So, the simple concept of “me and my family are God’s model for church” is not consistent and cannot function as the called together assembly. Eliminate this idea from the discussion. Nothing wrong with a family worshipping together, and I am obviously not criticizing that; I am making the point that family doesn’t substitute for the called together assembly and is not a model of the ekklesia because it cannot function as the ekklesia.
Simple or Simplistic?
Starting with “the church is not a building” is a good place for redefining the Body. Of course, you will have an impossible time proving Biblically that a building cannot be used for a called together assembly even if it seats 40,000 people! Some argue against the idea of the church functioning in large groups at all, misinterpreting Acts to say that immediately the Body was born it started functioning as house church.
The point is that we have to speak of function, not numbers or location, when we speak of the Body of Christ. The Body can function with 2 or 3, but then Jesus says if that doesn’t resolve the issue, “take it to the whole called together assembly.” This clarifies that “church can be simplified for function” but it also clarifies that “church requires more than 2 or 3 as a complete or, for want of a better term, technical definition of “ekklesia.”
The called together assembly is located and locatable, however, because it is called together by Jesus to conduct kingdom business. When assembled, it assembles in a place. When He says, “Where two or three are called together in My authority, My Name, I am there,” He says that the ekklesia is what He builds with His presence. In this sense church isn’t planted, ekklesia happens and then it functions in settings and numbers appropriate to the ministry and purpose of the meeting.
In the example of “two or three,” the obvious function and purpose has to do with the very two or three who are dealing with a breach of trust between members of the Body. Jesus says, My called together assembly can be fully functional for this purpose when two or three witnesses establish.
We cannot define “church” as anything other than something called together by Jesus. Putting His Name on something doesn’t make it His. Using His Name but “bringing Him what we want Him to have,” isn’t kingdom. Jesus calls together so we can get Him what He wants. Many shall say ‘Lord, Lord’ in the day – He doesn’t not know them because He didn’t call them together, and all their wonderful works didn’t fit His strategic function for His ekklesia.
So, no one has the authority to just go do whatever they want and call it the ekklesia. Simple or simplistic, we must understand that there are prerequisites and purposes to the Body. To simplify in response to some philosophical trend towards an interpretation of postmodernism or making church more approachable, fun, or successful does nothing to clarify these prerequisites. When it comes to the Body, it either is or it ain’t called together by Jesus.
Want simplification? I say a hardy “Amen!” Speak out to cut back on the subculturalism of church-anity that seeks to escape the culture instead of confronting it, I’m with ya. Cry out to curb the desperate need to conform to the culture more than confront it? I say “I’m there, man!”
We are not here to dumb the kingdom down so we can keep our kids interested. Work to remove the trappings of religion from church and return to original intention and design? “I will help you lead the parade.” In the fullness of time by the fullness of Spirit, we are about to see the fullness of the Church.
But turn down the dial on passion, spiritual reality, gifts, miracles, preaching, personal transformation, discipling, holiness, revival, “evangelism as life change?” No. Back up on abortion, Israel, and preach a social gospel that’s not the gospel at all? Forget it! Turn the ekklesia into a prayer party, BBQ, and let’s hang out and call it church? Not! Having a party with Christians in not the ekklesia. No way! Its a party.
Two or three’s? I got ’em and love’em! Is this the church? Jesus points out that the ekkesia can function with two or three, but the context couldn’t be more clear: two or three witnesses should take reconciliation to step two and He will be present for reconciliation because the Body can function in this respect with two or three people present. The Body can pray as the Body and function in this way with kingdom authority. Two or three can pray. Two or three can learn. Two or three can resolve. Two or three ain’t the whole of it, though.
Remember, I’m clarifying, not putting words into the mouths of any of the leaders of the movement who understand some of these distinctions better than I do. I am speaking to the vast spectrum of stuff labeled “simple” as the latest excuse to be rebellious against the leadership of Jesus. That’s just bad spiritual behavior.
However, He defines “ekklesia” in step three [Matthew 18] as a greater calling together, “the whole ekklesia.” So, He clarifies that the ekklesia can function in some respects with two or three and accomplish valid kingdom business, but the two or three is part of the greater assembly. This whole ekklesia has another level of leadership which Jesus bestowed upon it: apostles and prophets being foundational, then teachers, pastors and evangels.
Certainly, ekklesia seems more simple with ten or twenty people involved! I’m with you there. And, I have learned and taught leaders to minister to two the same as you would minister to 2,000. ‘If you can’t do it for two…’
However, there is way too much Bible about massive assemblies to ignore. Jesus had a leadership strategy to lead a called together assembly of thousands before the thousands were saved; He didn’t have a strategy to eliminate the assembling of thousands.
I firmly believe in house church! There I said it. I believe in small groups and I believe in 2r3’s. I don’t believe that any one of these is a superior universal model of the functions of the Body. I certainly agree with those who practice house church as a network or part of a larger accountability and leadership strategy that gives them access and interaction with a “whole ekklesia.”
I do believe that we have organized the proper functions of the Body right out of church-anity. We sweated them out, vomited them out, and pretty well purged ourselves of our vital organs, flopped our liver and pancreas right out onto the floor! We wonder why we are seeing millions walking away from the empty plastic shell of church-anity. Simple. It lacks authenticity.
On the other hand, there’s no reason to condemn assemblies of thousands as not being “authentic ekklesia” just because they are big or meet in a big building. The issue isn’t how big or how many. The issue is function. Are we functioning according to Jesus’ design? Are we doing the ministry of Jesus?
When a movement is born, the simple seems enviable and inevitable. “Just do it! It’s on, baby! Look out, world, here we come!”
But the reality is that maturity brings us into new seasons that require us to develop “leaders who make leaders.” If we don’t, the simple will become something else or stop being simple altogether. In other words, when we successfully do what we set out to do, we must require mature leadership in order to keep the simple functioning simply. That leadership requires a broader definition of ekklesia.
Some of what is now being heralded as “simple” is what used to be called “parachurch ministry” and was tolerated as a necessary sideline by the otherwise engaged “main thing,” or “real” church. Because church-anity built heirarchies of administrative bureacracy and called it leadership, the work of ministry had to be done by parachurch ministries. Church moved and removed itself several steps away from the ministry of Jesus and professionalized the clergy, leaving the ministry of Jesus to parachurch ministries.
This kinda church is dying and we need to let it die, help it die, and work to kill it dead!
Jesus made His ministry simple enough that we need to become like little children to function, but eternal enough that we need mature leaders to make us accountable for our assignments. (When we become like little children, we need spiritual parents. We never walk into a maturity that releases us from accountability.) He made the complex simple and we have no mandate to make the simple complex; we do have a mandate to take over the world.
Some stuff called “simple” is really simplistic. It lacks vital elements of kingdom leadership and function, and will not be able to retrieve or reinsert it later on in the process the way it is designed to function. In other words, simplistic will turn into something else.
Some of what is called “simple” is really disfunction. It is amateur hour at the times when we need to experienced expertise. It is malpractice when we need to diagnosis with accuracy and specialization of anointing.
Some small group and home group stuff is simple enough: bunch of bitter, offended, selfish, weird, controlling people who simply can’t get along with themselves let alone anybody else. Come on, you know it is true of some or many of the excuses used to “get back to basics.” They say, “It is all about Jesus.” Of course, I understand the phrase, but strictly speaking Jesus made it all about us! He went to Heaven and insisted we do the stuff, we learn to work together, and we establish kingdom as He builds His Body.
Really. Let’s be intellectually honest. A lot of the simple church is too simiplistic; it denys some vitals it needs to be part of the called together assembly. It is a spiritual vagabond mentality that separates people down to the least common denominator because of personal issues people refuse to take to the Cross.
It says, “It’s just me and you, and I’m worried about you.” It ignores the realities of learning to get along by simplistically refusing to get with anyone except those with whom we get along. Unity is not achieved by disunity! Unity based upon natural agreement of opinion and shared offense is an exact opposite of relationships within the Body. It is not even a variant stepchild church; it is something else.
We get a whole bunch of justifications for bad spiritual behavior. We get proof-texting justifications built with simplistic, stick this on your fridge stuff like “two or three gathered” is the church. Pull a phrase out and build a doctrine that fits your experience or what you demand, then cry out that anything bigger is uncivilized. This is the “I want to be a big duck in a little puddle syndrome.” It redefines church to fit something we can control.
Truth be told, some big ministries are winning souls and discipling believers into leaders. Some little ministries are winning souls and discipling believers into leaders. Some big ministries are just spectator-based shows for the performance of super saints. Some little ministries are just spectator-based shows for the performance of super saints.
Whether or not the show is on national television – which can be a good or bad thing – or the show is in your living room – which can be a good or bad thing – isn’t the issue. If it is a show, you are out of order because the show isn’t the assignment even if it is part of the strategy to fulfill the assignment.
People get healed in big settings and little settings. People hear preaching in little settings or big settings. The model is not limited cause it’s not about the model; it is about the function!
Simplified is Good
Simplified means cutting out the stuff that isn’t part of the functionality of the Body. The leadership of the Body is given by Jesus to get the whole Body doing its thing, so the whole Body gets the full benefit of being joined together, “joints that supply.”
While winning the lost is part of the kingdom mandate and we should be doing it with passion and power, it is simply wrong to say that the function of the Body is only reproduction. In the sense of giving birth, teaching doctrine, fellowshipping, or whatever emphasis you demand to be “the one and only,” all are equally part of the functions of the Body and none is especially more valuable or honorable. The Body ministry is for the Body, and we get people into the Body so they can receive Body ministry.
It is functional failure that keeps us from reaching the lost, not model or operational failure. There is also the reality that no matter how good you may be at evangelism, some people refuse the Gospel. This is not the failure of the Body or Jesus or the Anointing, so don’t get into some dead-end false expectations that “if only” everybody would do “whatever” we would win everyone or even win more people.
Some are saying that winning the lost is all there is. Really? What Bible you reading? You just gonna give birth and walk away? Hit and run evangelism? Baby born. Put in spiritual freezer till Jesus comes?
Some people are using simple as the mode of operation because they are saying that antichrist is taking over so we need to hibernate till the Lord shows up. Really? House church will be the strategy of the end times because we are all gonna need to hide away? Really? Come on! Jesus talks about overcoming, not being overcome. Get outa the bunker and die if necessary!
So, you are saying that you have a lot to offer in terms of leadership and ministry so you need to have your own show? Really? House church will be your gig? Really? Come on! Jesus talks about making yourself obsolete by making leaders who can do what you do and then surpass you so you aren’t needed anymore. If you do ministry cause you need to feel needed or be in control…
Simple church has become a movement and within the movement are some really, positive, healthy elements. Within the same movement are several glaring errors, traps, and dead ends. Simple church is so complex, it takes a library to explain it because the definitions of “simple” are complex. Some are simply wonderful. Some are simply terrible.
Some aspects of simple church seem focused more on numbers, avoiding identification with the big boys. The very people complaining about measuring success with numbers are measuring success with numbers. They are trying too hard. They are defining simple with smaller.
On the other hand, simple church is winning souls and making disciples! It is successfully establishing kingdom and doing a great job! It is functioning very well in some instances and when it does function properly, Biblically, it builds kingdom! I love that! Simple will be growing up in the next decade, and we will see what it turns into.
In some areas of the world, location is house or hidden place. It is not about the fact that a house is the location, however, it is about function! To copycat the location without the function is to create an aberrant model, or to simplistically ape your exposure to something you learned from a conference and expect God to react to your latest setup for ministry.
The ekklesia is changing, returning to ministry-of-Jesus functions. Rapidly. Permanently. No going back. The change is causing a monumental shaking and shifting. In this time, many lack the fundamentals required to interpret the shift. Many are fighting the shift, bemoaning the shift. Some are fighting for last generation’s show. Sorry. That show is over, folks!
In the midst of this cataclysmic shift, something consistent with original design is forming. When we return to the ministry of Jesus, we will be forced to focus upon leadership. The ministry of Jesus produces strategic leaders.
This is a harvest of leaders to be trained, so you cannot do harvest for the sake of harvest and walk away. You must be a leader who makes leaders.
It is difficult to start simple church with complex people; and when the simple people grow up, they change the simple into the complex. That’s because the kingdom is not as simple as ‘church’ the way we would like to define it.
If we are establishing kingdom, we will discover a complexity in spiritual things that requires depth. If we are building a Sunday School class, we can do things more simply; it would be part of something complex. If we want to return to the basics of the ekklesia, we will discover that Jesus gave us a complex mandate – He is restoring all things and His called together assembly is responsible to establish the culture of the kingdom of heaven everywhere they go.
The ekklesia was born and became complex almost immediately. The leadership strategy of Jesus kept the momentum strong because He kept feeding the momentum with new leaders. In other words, I fear that some of what is defined as “simple” church is merely one aspect of the Body attempting to function as if it is everything. That cannot be sustained.
So ‘simplified is on’ in my book! Enough with the trappings, the stained glass, and the monkey suits. But there is more to simple church than a preacher in jeans, a guitar riff, and some cool high-five, bro’. There is more to simple than finding a way to make post-modernistic people feel religious relevancy. We don’t respond to culture, we confront it and transform it. Postmodernism is a spiritual condition to be confronted and demolished.
We are not here to get people ready for heaven. God does that. We are here to get people ready to live holy and godly in this present world so we can alter that world.
I see simplified church impacting Europe in the next ten years like the underground church of Asia. I see simple church offering an alternative function for revolutionary revival. I see simplified churches that have thousands of people functioning within them, breaking barriers, reshaping a generation with radical passion for Jesus.
I see simple church growing up as a matrix, producing a new generation of leaders for cultures in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. So, when it grows up it will mature into something more complex.
As an evangelistic tool it will run its course unless a new form of discipling develops that moves the simple into something more that matures the movement. The present momentum is gobbling up one particular aspect of Jesus’ ministry, but long term dietary implications will soon emerge. As an evangelistic tool it can produce baptisms, but producing baptisms hasn’t been our big problem. Making disciples has been.
Understand what I mean by that ridiculously inadequate statement: several of our ministry efforts have been able to bring millions into the kingdom without producing generations of leaders who can adequately function as kingdom leaders within their respective cultures. Of course, this isn’t any criticism of evangelism, by any means! It is an observation that Jesus designed something that requires more than getting people born again.
So I guess so far I’m into simplified ekklesia more than simple church. [I strongly oppose emerging church errors that move us further from Scripture.] I think something healthy may come from people with passion moving together in simple ways, but I see the dangers of fragmentation in those who simply wish to be left alone to do whatever they wish and call it “simple church” to avoid dealing with their issues or avoid accountability to kingdom leadership.
Simple church can push us to the end point of the book of Judges where “everyone did that which was right in their own eyes.”
Great overview..really touches on what a lot of folks are understanding and misunderstanding.