jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

simple church

I have friends who have ventured into House Church models at various points. Some of them have eventually journeyed back to more ‘traditional’ models (that’s a misnomer here, as it does not get more ancient and therefore more traditional than house churches), while others (like this one) are still going strong and enjoying the exciting journey.

Some 500 years ago Jesus took Scripture out of the sole possession of the institution and placed it back into the hands of ordinary persons. Is it possible that we are on the cusp of a new reformation? A reformation where Jesus takes His church out of the sole possession of the institution and places it back into the hands of ordinary persons? This is a challenge for someone like myself, who has been trained in my bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs to be a ‘professional minister.’ If Jesus wanted to do this, would I be willing to go with Him? Would I be willing to get a job making tents or something? Would I be willing to lose my sense of control? Would I be willing to become an ordinary member of the BOC (Body of Christ) and lose my status as a trained and licensed professional in the CoG?

I must admit that while I have been on a journey for a few years now that has helped me to see the Church as something that is organic, something that shows up in the midst of life, this thought of a new reformation and a ‘new’ model is still quite new to me. But I am now ready to learn more. If you are ready to learn with me I have a few places you can start (not necessarily in this order). First, glance at this wikipedia entry, which clarifies a bit the preferred nomenclature of Simple Church over House Church. Second, skim the introduction chapter of this book (you can do that online here). Finally, watch this ten minute video. I would be interested in any thoughts that anyone has.

16 comments on “simple church

  1. steve wright
    April 17, 2008

    I was reading the preview on the book you linked us to big J. Good stuff there. Anyway, I’m like you. Most of this is new to me but grabs my heart somehow. The word simple jumps out at me and kicks my butt. It is great. I like what the opening said when the author narrows it all down to clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. I can grab those four and run with them anywhere in the world and that appeals to me. I loved it when the author said, “complexity is out. Out of style at least…people are hungry for simple because the world has become much more complex.”

    I think simple helps us to not be just busy but alive with ministry. Well anyway, I think that was the point. Good stuff, let’s see where it all goes. Thanks for the info and now I’m off to watch the video.

  2. steve wright
    April 17, 2008

    Okay, I watched the video. I like the concept of, “we share our life together and not just an hour together.”

    However, could we not still have a simple church (Small group) and still have the traditional church also.

    I mean if we divide our small groups up the same way with the same philosophy of “simple church” could we not have both?

    I would have the group study, do group activities together and community outreach.

    I’m not sure if they are saying they don’t attend a traditional body. You could help me with that big J.

  3. darrellbjr
    April 17, 2008

    “Simple Church” is one of my most current reads. “Organic Community” is next.

    Wikipedia pointed out the criticism of Barna’s “Revolution”, and I’ve taken issue with the critics. Barna claims he never intended to advocate the annihilation of traditional church, but was only trying to highlight a new direction that churches needed to consider incorporating.

    I believe the struggle is to find a balance between organic and structured. Structure without organic becomes dead…organic without structure grows wild. While the criticisms may have some base, by and large they come across as simple excuses to maintain the status quo.

    As for Rainer and Geiger’s “Simple Church”, it advocates the structured church becoming more missional in its focus and therefore taking on aspects of an organic model by its simplicity.

    Once again, Jon, you’re hitting close to home.

  4. Jonathan Stone
    April 17, 2008

    Great question(s) Steve. This is very much along some of the same lines that I am currently wrestling. I am typically not an ‘either/or’ guy. So, I suppose that in the end I would want to push for a blended model along the lines of your questions. I think that the term ‘simple church,’ as opposed to ‘house church,’ leaves open the possibility for such a blended model. Perhaps that is part of what the so-called ‘simple church movement’ had in mind in finding the new terminology. I think they wanted to distance themselves from some of the preconceived ideas about the ‘house church movement’ and keep the focus on simplifying church AND allowing room for a full diversity of ‘organic’ expressions and forms of church. I mentioned Johnny Taylor’s church as an example, but he will probably resist having their church reduced to this label. In fact, they envision themselves having physical property one day, and are currently discussing what that would and/or should look like if it ever happens. So, I think the potential here is in creating enough room that an assortment of models would emerge. However, what they might share in common is a simplified model that can be easily multiplied and an organic approach to gathering ‘beyond Sunday,’–both of which revolve around a central, missional focus of incarnating Christ in the world. Those are my present thinkings anyway.

  5. Jonathan Stone
    April 17, 2008

    Darrell, thanks for chiming in. I did not see your comment until after I responded to Steve. Your comments are very helpful, and I can see you have been wrestling with this for some time now. I did not realize I was hitting close to home! : )

  6. Jonathan Stone
    April 17, 2008

    Whoops! I forgot to insert the URL, but here’s Johnny Taylor’s link.

  7. jason
    April 18, 2008

    jon,

    I read this book last year. It totally revamped who I was. I admit I was nervous to try to be more simple, but it has been revolutionary. I am still on this simple journey and at times I get tempted to complicate things but God is helping me by keeping my focus on Him.

  8. Johnny Taylor
    April 19, 2008

    Jonathan,

    You’re right. I’m not sure why its so, but I do resist any label. Maybe its because I want to reserve the right to change? I’m not sure. I think it limits God and serves as a artificial boundary between people. Except, when I notice someone who doesn’t “get” what I’m trying to do, I am not at any loss for choice labels for them.

    Anyway, I think the term simple church is an attempt to refresh the conversation. Language is always imperfect but it does carry the idea that Floyd McClung shared with us about the “minimum essential requirements” for church.

    There is no doubt when we set out to show the world that Jesus is the Christ we often become a stumbling block just like Peter did in Matt. 16.

    When I read the story of the first disciples who made up the church the did continue in the temple (macro) and the house (micro) daily.

    jet

  9. Dennis J. ADams
    April 19, 2008

    Simple is good, change is necessary and making it simple is truly really the ingredient for success. That is all I have to type, I want to make it simple!

  10. m.d. mcmullin
    April 19, 2008

    I’m really into simple and organic. The church where we have served full time the last 3.5 years is very much program-driven and…. non-simple. This was one factor ( a big one) contributing to our recent departure. We felt we needed to make a life change and felt led to something more organic and relational.

    It was scary when I realized that I didn’t want to get paid to be a minister any more and that (at least in our setting) have paid “clergy” was an excuse for “lay” to lay back and let the hired guns do the ministry. I too have been “trained” and still have student loans for that “training”.

    I am now in Cleveland (as of 2 days ago) so let’s meet up in the next couple of weeks and chat.

  11. Jonathan Stone
    April 21, 2008

    Jason:
    Let me borrow the book from you!

    Johnny:
    I’m glad you reminded me of McClungs’ “minimum essential requirements.” I had forgotten about that. And it’s interesting to consider temple as macro and house as micro–it gives some ‘mind fodder’ and more language for focusing on the ‘little things’ without necessarily abandoning the ‘big things.’

    Dennis:
    Nice simple comment! I agree that ‘success’ is tied to whether or not we figure out how to make it AND keep it simple. This makes SO much sense when you think about it! The church cannot run with a vision that requires a doctorate degree to interpret OR implement.

    Mike:
    Great clever semantic reference (“lay people ‘laying’ back). Our people are dying in our pews b/c of their lack of involvement and participation in being and doing church! We (the clergy) often feel frustrated at our people for what appears to be a lack of passion and/or commitment to get plugged in. And I’m sure they have some responsibility in it. However, I’m beginning to think that the biggest thing that is holding them back is actually us, especially our inability to cast a vision that awakens their latent desires to participate, as well as our inability to create fluid and organic structures that they can jump into once those desires are awakened. And yes, we need to get together very soon.

  12. Johnny Taylor
    April 21, 2008

    ‘mind fodder,’ that’s a new one for me. i like it.

    jet

  13. Gene Batten
    April 22, 2008

    My prayers are with you as you seek truth.
    I would say that this is what Jesus has always wanted, not something new.
    Man has slowly corrupted Church for their own desires, even if it was in the name of vision.
    “Professional Ministry” is one of the biggest paradoxes ever invented by man in my humble opinion.
    Blessings and let the revelation continue to flow.
    -Gene

  14. Jonathan Stone
    April 23, 2008

    Gene, thanks for the prayers! It’s interesting, ‘professional ministry’ in American Culture got ‘amped up’ to a new level after WWII, when we saw seminaries spring up across the USA. Kennon Callahan, a Methodist educator and author, noted in the early ’80’s that ‘professional ministry’ was dead, and the time for missional believers had come. At the same time we (CoG) were just getting our first seminary going. We keep trying to ‘catch up’ but often pick up things that other movements are already ‘casting off.’ The word seminary comes from the same latin word from which we get the word enseminate. Seminary is suppose to be a place where ‘holy seeds’ are sown into hearts. Unfortunately, I also had a lot of weeds sown into my heart during those years. Nonetheless, I have to admit, that some incredibly holy things happened in me during that educational journey. I guess the Lord works through ‘all things.’ I just have to let the Lord continue to show me where the weeds are at.

  15. Peter Pollock
    April 26, 2008

    Jonathan,

    I love the place that God is bringing you to. It must be pretty scary in many ways! God is bigger than all your fears though!

    I am one of those people who God has called to start a ‘simple church’ although in understanding I may have a head start on you because:

    1) I grew up in a fairly traditional church but it was not one which made a distinction between lay people and clergy.

    2) God started taking me this direction maybe 10 years ago so I’m really pretty comfortable with it now.

    Johnny Taylor is a great guy for you to be in contact with, I believe that God has given him some great insight and understanding particularly where this new movement fits with the CoG.

    I would recommend you look at The River which is a church which has gone a long way toward finding a balance between church life being based in home fellowships and also collectively having a campus. Their campus is used for worship meetings and absolutely anything else which they or the community need to use a building for. It is not a ‘church’ to them, it is just a facility.

    Let me ask you all this: We all know that ‘the church’ is the people not the building… OK, so if your building was destroyed, would your church still exist?

  16. Jonathan Stone
    May 1, 2008

    Peter:
    Thanks for the encouragement. It is indeed an exciting journey, which makes most of the fears fade away! I’m so blessed to be hooked up with Johnny Taylor! And I will check out the River soon. Thanks for the heads up on that, and thanks for stopping in and commenting! Make it a habit!

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2008 by in missional, sustainability, trends, vision.
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