Resisting Complexity

As usual, I get the sense that I’m a few steps behind my colleagues. That’s ok, as the youngest of three children, I learned a lot and avoided many mistakes by being last. I just finished reading ‘Simple Church’, commended by Jeff Loach in his blog, Passionately His. I also detected that the principles found in this book are often expounded in the blog of another friend/colleague, Carey Nieuwhof. Being the 3rd among friends to weigh in here, I’ll be brief in order to avoid redundancy.

First let me offer a qualifier for my friends who like to ‘sink their teeth’ into reformed theology…This is no theological treatise. Not enough close.

Let me offer an analogy, which I hope will highlight the value of this book. Think of the church as a house. The church, like a house, needs a firm foundation. This, of course, is Jesus Christ. On this foundation are other materials: walls, floors, ceilings, windows, etc. If you’re looking for a book to help you build appropriate structures, I would recommend something like Mark Dever’s, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.

Dever’s book, along with John MacArthur’s, The Master’s Plan for the Church, tend to do a great job in helping us to build on the right foundation and they provide excellent guidance for selecting the best materials with which to build. However, what is often lacking in such books is a description of a helpful layout. How many walls? How many rooms? How far apart should the windows be?, and so on. What often results is that we have a firm structure, built with all the right materials, but due to lack of attention to layout, we have difficulty navigating within the structure.

Simple Church has a word for this poor layout: Complexity

The thesis of this book is that complexity hinders the spiritual progress, vitality, and growth of the local church. Simplicity, on the other hand, promotes all of these things. Therefore, local congregations would do well to engage in an Extreme Makeover: Church Edition. Congregations should take steps to eliminate complexity, based on the principle that less is more.

I realize that such a principle is counterintuitive. The authors also recognize this and offer this response based upon their research:

Less really is more. Less programs mean more focus on the programs offered. Less programs means more excellence. Less programs mean more energy for each program. Less programs mean more money allocated to each program. Less programs mean more people coming to the ones that are offered. 

In highlighting the value of Simple Church and the emphasis on “layout”, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I am placing substance on the periphery. A house with an appealing, sensible, layout is not desirable if it is built on sinking sand with defective materials. Nevertheless, I am grateful for a book like Simple Church, which warns me to resist complexity at every turn. 

My experience confirms the thesis of the authors on the complexity side. I hope to be able to say the same as I lead the people entrusted to my care towards a more simple way of being the church in this world.

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