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If you were to walk into my office you’d see on the wall behind me my seminary degree from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia; which would be what most people walking into their pastors offices would expect to see. But that’s not all you would see, you’d also see two black frames with pictures of me and pastors from the previous churches I’ve served at standing together with handwritten exhortations from them to me under the pictures. You see I’m fully aware that more than degrees, or awards we may hang in remembrance of accomplishments; what has shaped a pastor most are those he’s worked under and beside, and the story they share together.

You could say that there is a wisdom for ministry needed, as well as a wisdom from prior ministry because there is always more to learn for pastors. Not only for the sake of other people’s ministry needs, but as well for the sake of their own; pastors can never stop along the way in their discipleship journey. Theirs is a ‘spiritualit of the road’ to quote David J. Bosch’s famous book title.

Thom and Eric get this as well, and so after helping you and I see in the last chapter that being simple means embracing change, they’re ready to take you and I on a tour through three different yet simple churches own journey’s of becoming simple.

Simple Church 04 THREE SIMPLE STORIES

R & E take you and I through their experiences with three simple churches stories in this chapter: the first is Immanual, a rural church in the buckle of the bible belt; the second is Christ Church where Eric is the assistant pastor; and the last is North Point, the model simple church according to R & E. Before they jump into looking at these three, R & E use the language of the “gates of hell” to talk about the nature of the church as a moving offensive reality versus the reality of Satan and hell as only defensive, already defeated. The question isn’t whether we’ll win or not but by how much, R & E use this how much to motivate you and I to consider change for the sake of those without Christ, and Immanuel church is a good place for them to talk about this because Immanuel was doing well but in the end when it became simple it touched many more lives.

Immanuel is in the Bible belt, but unlike churches around it that are stagnant, Immanuel has double its size in the space of two years. Its purpose is its process, and it can be summarized as follows – Connecting, Growing, Serving. Sunday worship is ‘designed’ for people to connect, people move from connecting to growing by first attending an adult Sunday school and then moving into a community group, and from here to serving. Its sequential and intentional and every ministry is aligned to these three, there aren’t different purpose statements for different divisions of the church. But with Clarity, Movement, and Alignment comes the difficult task of Focus; and in the Bible belt focus means not having everything everyone else has, doing more by doing less. Some of the Fringe benefits from this move to being simple for Immanuel has been increased morale, an every-increasing sense of urgency in moving people through the process, spiritual growth, conversions, stewardship, and increasing unity around the purpose.

Christ Fellowship where Eric serves is a multi-ethnic church outside Miami, and its big! Over the years a group of pastors/leaders began to get dissatisfied with the live of the church and wanted change, wanted more intentional formation of disciples. Their purpose needing to become their process. Their purpose is Connect to God, Connect to Others, Connect to Serving, and Connect to the Lost. In order to develop a sense of sequentially in their process they had to make some very difficult decisions and move some thriving ministries around as well as combined some. Change was costly, but not changing would have been more costly. The first step happens in the weekly worship service, the second inside community groups, the third happens through service teams throughout the week, and the final step happens through emphasizing relational, lifestyle evangelism to the lost. The people are encouraged to bring people into the church services, Sunday is the beginning of the process for Christ Fellowship. In order to develop focus at Christ Fellowship they made big changes but took time in them, one change occured over a two-year span.  

Northpoint is the third story, Andy Stanley is the pastor. R & E say, “Northpoint is the epitome of simple. They are pioneers. “Stanley believes that “ministry natural drifts toward complexity, that complexity just happens.” What does clarity look like at Northpoint? They catch phrase is we have to move people from the foyer to the kitchen. I.E. from the place that is least intimate and involved to the place where change and living relationship happen. The foyer is the first step, it happens on Sunday at worship; the living room is the next step it happens at Group Link which doesn’t happen but a few times a year; and the last step is the kitchen, small groups but even the kitchen offers opportunities for growth by starting new small groups. Its simple and straightforward. Northpoint is different than Immanuel and Christ Fellowship in that they started out this way, they didn’t have to implement it so their Focus process looks different. Alignment is centered around the foyer to the kitchen model as part of every department in the church. The entire church breathes the air of excellency according to R & E. Focus for Northpoint is helping bring their biggest circle of people – the foyer; into their smallest circle of people – the kitchen. There are no environments were people stay forever, they’re on the move. Its Simple.

From this point on R & E say its time to get specific and practical; all of part two of this book is dedicated to bringing you and I as readers slowly through these four points: Clarity, Movement, Alignment, and Focus.

Afterthoughts:

This was a good chapter because the churches R & E chose as examples were very different churches, implementing the Simple Church philosophy at different stages in their lives. I noticed a trend that the churches were all baptists churches. (Correction, someone informed me Northpoint is not, my apologies). One of the challenges I think Presbyterians will face as they consider becoming Simple is the ‘process’ dimension. Particularly because the trend in the process among these three churches was viewing Sunday as the place to first connect to community and gearing Sunday around that connecting point (Eric’s church, Christ Fellowship was a bit different here though).

Ecclesiology is diverse in the PCA, but the viewpoint of seeing Sunday as the corporate gathering of the saints in worship to God through Christ is something most PCA churches spend themselves on. Sunday is less about welcoming visitors and more about offering up praise to God (I’m speaking in generalities here). Making that time seeker-sensitive or attractional or evangelisitically intentional is not something the majority of the PCA churches are going to be willing to do. Its an ecclesiology shift. One that I believe each church would weigh theologically first, and then afterward pragmatically. My assumption though is that holding the two together in a ‘third way’ approach is the best resolve to take on the matter.

I for one appreciate the Simple model but process is going to be a tough challenge for me; perhaps shifting the picture from a linear movement to a dance between centripetal & centrifugal movements. Sunday worship is where it could begin for outsiders but also where it coalesces for insiders which in turn pushes them outward again….but is this Simple?