Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Not Really So Simple


Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples
by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger

Once again, I must apologize for my gap between posts. Ordinarily I like to post every couple of days, but it was a crazy busy weekend at work, and now G. has come down with strep throat AGAIN! For those who are keeping track, this is the third time in about seven weeks, with a bout of pneumonia thrown in around his birthday just to keep things interesting. Poor little guy. He is usually so cheerful, it is heartbreaking to see him point to his throat and say "OWIE!" He is now on yet another antibiotic, so hopefully will be feeling better soon.

Frankly, this book left me absolutely cold. For one thing, it's language is much more evangelical than my taste, but I usually can get past that if the writer has something interesting to say. The book also is poorly written. If another sentence began with "According to our research..." or "We asked the vibrant and comparison church leaders to evaluate..." I thought I would scream.

It's not to say that these guys do not have some good ideas. I agree with them that faith communities thrive best when the relationships are strong among the members and when they are committed as a group to learning more about how we are called to relate to God and each other. However, they claim to want to strip church life down to its barest essentials. Having served in churches in the past that were over programmed, I certainly see the value in doing fewer things better rather than trying to provide a program for every perceived need that comes along. However, Rainer and Geiger claim that their research shows that "growing" churches commit to a certain process from which they will not deviate. Everything in the life of the church is evaluated according to how well it fits in with their process. Sounds to me like the church leaders are going to spend so much time evaluating and tinkering with their process and "moving" people through the process that they are going to have little time for the relationships that they claim are so important.

I think one thing that I am reacting to is that any cookie cutter formula for being the church bugs me. So much emphasis on "process" and "evaluation" and "paradigm" a) makes me yawn and b) leaves little room for the work of the Holy Spirit. Plus I just do not think there is any one way to be a faith community. I am the first to admit that I am not a terribly strategic thinker - I tend to follow instincts more than process, so it could be that this way of thinking about church leadership makes me feel defensive. Having said that, though, with Rainer and Geiger focusing so much on moving people through a process of discipleship, it seems that we are trying to force them along, getting them to conform as quickly as possible to our agenda, rather than journeying with them as they experience Christ in their own lives.

One of my favorite ways of describing the faith journey is that each of us (and creation as a whole) is a "work in progress," moving forward and sometimes backward as we muddle through trying to become the people God has created us to be. Rainer and Geiger seem to think that people reach a phase where they are done, they have moved through all the steps and are now disciples. That just does not make any sense to me. I am not questioning the results of their research, as it sounds very methodical and well thought out. I would just raise the possibility that those churches that are growing are doing so as a result of something else about their spirit or way of relating to one another or their commitment. Being "simple churches" may make it easier to develop these other aspects of the community, but I doubt that the simplicity in itself is the primary attraction for people.

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?

Reverent Reader

7 Comments:

At 4/30/08, 10:51 PM , Blogger Roy said...

I completely agree with you that it's possible to structure the Christian life so tightly that there is no space for the unpredictable movement of grace. All this attention on doing it right reduces the faith community merely to a social organization hardly different from any other.

 
At 5/1/08, 1:59 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

That's well said, Roy. I guess I am just leery of too much structure and not enough Spirit (appropriate I guess, since Pentecost is looming).

 
At 5/4/08, 8:59 PM , Blogger reverendmother said...

I'm glad you reviewed this book.

Well, I think the "too much structure" thing is as much a danger in the average mainline program-size church as it is in the churches outlined in this book.

The book drove me absolutely crazy because the writing style was so annoying. That said, I bought a copy for every member of our program staff.

I recognize our church in the cautionary examples. We are busy, but not always intentional. Our ministries are in "competition" with one another for volunteers. We have no process of evaluation, instead relying on a "1 lost sheep" mentality (if even one person is served by it, it was worth it). We do not have a good sense of clear mission--if it's a good thing to do, we'll do it, even if it's not "ours" to do.

And our church is not unique in my experience.

I'm not sold on the authors' remedy. I don't think people can go through the conveyor belt of faith. On the other hand, the book has inspired us to make a few changes, for the better I hope.

I am glad you read and reviewed the book. I think you bring up some good points, though I think I was more sympathetic to it. (But grr!! the writing drove me crazy)

 
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