Book Review – Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger’s “Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples”

On the surface, being the pastor of a simple church sounds great!  Right?  As a pastor, there have been many church growth programs, ideas, methods, etc. which have come my way.  Some I have tried implementing in the churches I have served.  All seem to have a common theme which is moreMore ministries, more people, more workers, more money, more time, more resources to purchase, more complexity!  Is more really better?  I don’t think so and if more is not healthy then I would rather have less or at least simple.  According to Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger the local church needs to get back to simply making disciples and in their book, “Simple Church” they say this can be done through a strategic process.  They define a simple church as “a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”[1]  They are not alone in this concept as companies such as Google, Papa John’s, and Apple have capitalized on simplistic marketing of their products.  The local church can easily become over taxed by “doing” instead of “being”.  Please do not misunderstand, we are supposed to be doing the work of the ministry but this work should come naturally out of who we are as a Christian and as a local church.

Rainer and Geiger present a comparison between a simple church (Cross Church) and a complex church (First Church).  Cross Church is operating on a simple paradigm of processing converts through four stages: (1) Clarity, (2) Movement, (3) Alignment, and (4) Focus.  Did you notice simple has just taken on a fourfold paradigm?  Perhaps, you can relate to my “midway-the-book” thought, “Oh no, this is just another method being promoted as the latest greatest thing for pastors.”  I must admit I have become somewhat of a skeptic.  I have realized there are no easy answers to the problem of declining church health.  The bottom line is Jesus instructed his disciples to follow him.  In doing so, they left all they had in absolute surrender and ventured on a journey of a lifetime.  That is not easy and that is the radical call of discipleship we must get back to in order to simplify our lives and ministries.

First, we clarify (or re-clarify) the mission of the church.  We are in the promotion business.  We are not promoting our ministries, programs, building campaigns, church growth strategies, agendas, etc.  In simplistic terms we are promoting only One, the Lord Jesus Christ!  Pretty simple, huh?  Sure but if your bulletin reflects anything like the ones from churches which I have served as pastor you might think otherwise.  What a wake-up call!

Second, we need to mobilize believers into action.  This is not an easy task because most folks I have met are not eager to take up a cross, a crown, yes, but not a cross.  We have given folks so many options and in doing so we have cluttered the simplistic call to radical discipleship.  Have you ever given thought to how heavy the cross was that Jesus carried?  I think he may have been dragging the base of the cross up Calvary’s hill.  If so, the base would act as a brace keeping him from backsliding (not in a spiritual sense but a physical sense).  If the church is mobilized in following Jesus we will be gaining ground and not losing.

Third, we need to be properly aligned in order to receive the blessings and anointing of God.  Jesus had twelve which after his ascension turned into one hundred and twenty, which after Pentecost turned into over three thousand!  We need to align ourselves with what God is doing.  If we can come together in unity regarding following Jesus we can experience true revival!

Fourth, we must keep our focus.  It is so easy to lose focus.  One thing we must do is “keep the main thing the main thing.”  Jesus is the main thing and he has given the church a mission and vision.  If we can rediscover and regain his mission and his vision, the church will be on the way toward becoming healthy.

To simplify, the fourfold paradigm is really a call to radical discipleship.  Can we complicate this?  Sure, we can!  What I would like to do is issue this challenge to the readers of my post for this blog.  It is not an ice bucket challenge.  I challenge each one of us to simplify our personal walk with the Lord.  Are we seeking to promote Jesus in every area of our lives?  Are we mobile and carrying our cross?  Are we right in the center of God’s will and purpose for our lives?  Has anything blurred or encroached upon our vision?  I am just offering a simple challenge to do some personal reflection.

               [1] Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, (Nashville TN: B & H Publishing Group), 2011, 60.

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