I was born in a family of several pastors, starting with my paternal grandfather. Three generations later we are still a family of believers – and ministers. Church has always been a major part of our family culture. As a child I saw the church in what now seems like a peak in its modern history. Believers were generally solid in their walk, the message preached was without compromise, and the worship flowed from passionate hearts. There was no advertising, except for a cross on top of the church that flashed the words “Jesus Saves” at night in two languages. Persecution – mainly in the form of mocking – was part of our daily lives as we lived visibly separate from the world and its ways. Being a Christian came at a price that we were accustomed to.
The church of my childhood was very different from today’s. Every generation must find ways to reach the unsaved and care for the flock effectively. Societies change all the time; changes in virtues, evils and technology continue to force changes in our behaviours. Some respond positively, and go along with these changes, but others find it too hard and prefer to live in the past. Also, given the fact that we live together with at least three generations in any society, it is clear that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to effective ministry. Add to that the influence of immigration, and you have a more complex task at hand than our grandparents and parents had to deal with.
I often wonder about the first church that was so effective, and how they would handle the challenges that we face today. But they lived at another time with their own unique issues, many about which we have no clue today. The apostle Paul talks about the many dangers that he faced, giving us a peek into the world that he lived in. Despite the hardship, unfair treatment, various life-threatening dangers, backstabbing, etc., he had a major impact on his world – and that of future generations, including our own.
The church underwent some major changes since its inception on the Day of Pentecost, resulting in the many different movements with their own doctrines and methods of today. It seems that certain traditions have become the very reason for existence for some groups, while the message of salvation and discipleship to spiritual maturity lost its place of importance for them.
It is not the purpose of this blog to criticize the church. I realize that we need a diversity of methods and applications to reach a population so diverse in its appetites, cultural perceptions, sensitivities and challenges as ours. Most people are just too busy to investigate spiritual messages that come to them; if it doesn’t resonate with them right away, they simply ignore it and go about the demands of modern life. Others have been burned by the church, and refuse to get involved for reasons of their own, or they backslide because the church failed them in some way. The number of “nones” – people who have no allegiance to any religion – is growing faster by the day.
“No Religion” does not necessarily mean these people don’t believe, it usually means that they don’t go to church. This is the group that we should be concerned about. The “organized church” does not appeal to them, and, apparently, nothing that the church does can change that. People are either tired of church programs, demands placed on them, policies that make no sense, a lack of time, or a host of other reasons. It is surprising to see how easily some believers leave their church – and church life altogether. As a pastor who led churches on two continents, I have always found that there are more believers outside the church than inside. This is not good for them – or the church at large.
Without criticizing the church in any of its many forms, I want to investigate a growing movement that might be able to catch those that are falling through the cracks: the simple church. I have always believed that the church will end the way it started – in the homes of disciples.
The focus of the simple church is on the basic calling of the church only. No energy or resources are spent on programs or activities that don’t produce mature followers for the Lord Jesus Christ. Its overhead expenses are low, the level of accountability and transparency are high, and the quality of pastoral care and discipleship beyond comparison.
In this series of blogs I will give detailed attention to the vision, structure and operation of the simple church. But first we need to take a fresh look at what the church is. So much has changed in the church world, and the Scriptural definition of the church became so vague that it hardly compares with the church that we read about in the Bible.
If you are part of the “nones,” we need to talk. It is not good to be a homeless Christian.