Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book Review: Simple Church

I just finished reading the book Simple Church: Returning to God's Process For Making Disciples by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger. I have read quite a number of church growth and management books. This one follows the normal suite of taking modern business management techniques and applying it to the church management. In this case, product design is the current trend in business success thinking and is now applied to the church. It is keenly illustrated from the world of business and case studies from churches. The Scriptural justification for the principles in the book are in short supply. There is some use of Scripture, however, as many management books do, this book makes a heavy use of definitions, statistics, and case studies. The style is easy to read and gets the main points across easily.

The basic idea is that churches that have a simple design of ministry empirically are shown to grow the most. The product is defined in the book as discipleship process. Christians and seekers come to church to grow spiritually, therefore, everything outside of that sphere is really a distraction. Then the corollary is that churches with a complex smorgasbord are offering many products that detract from their main core business, discipleship to Jesus Christ.

Perhaps both a strength and a weakness of the book is that it does not tell one actually how to implement this. The implementation is left to the imagination of the pastors who will have to make it happen. It is implied that simple design means using small groups. This need not be so. Other models for simple design could be focus on a worship service and then visitation by the pastor. This model has been successful. Elders (deacons or other lay leaders) follow the example of the pastor and visit those in need. Another model that I have seen used is the Navigator model of one-to-one discipleship. I have never seen this used as a sole means of discipleship but I think it could be done in a simple design church. While the book has a strength in not actually offering a design outright, it also has a weakness in not seeing a variety of simple designs. The authors point to one certain design to follow, that is the small group church, rather than simply discussing design features that make a strong design and listing a variety of examples. A variety of designs should be listed in the updated for future versions of the book. Also, churches in other cultures should also be addressed as well as churches in other periods of history. Adding these to the research, not the illustrations, could help to make the book transcend the immediate context of today.

Perhaps the most important contribution to thinking on church management the book makes is that people need to feel the know what you are about. It must, must be easily understood. By analogy, if I enter a store, if I have to know where their organization headquarters is, and what their process for promoting their employees, there is something wrong. The church need NOT be hard to understand nor hard to navigate within.

Also, check out this article in Wikipedia on Simple Church. This is something quite different from what is talked about in this book.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Veiled Confessions

Veils function in a variety of ways with people. It is usually a garment for women. Modern American brides wear a white veil as almost a bridal crown. Usually very little is hidden by the veil in this situation. A widow will wear a black veil to show just how sad she is and to hide the tears and puffy red nose. It works just the opposite of the bridal veil. The Arab veil is used as a way of segregating society. Women are only seen by other women and their close male relatives. Still this is a sort of hiding but one that is imposed by society. It is expected.

When I was in California I attended Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay. Bill Holdridge was my pastor there but he has moved on to teach at a Bible College in Brazil. I loved Bill's preaching and I have tried to pattern my own preaching after his. Any way I do like his preaching and think that if he is teaching at a Bible College it is good thing to have someone of his caliber passing the torch to the next generation of evangelists, pastors and missionaries. Talking about passing the torch, Bill's son Nate has become the Pastor of Next Generation at Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay. I am also one to whom Bill passed the torch. Bill participated in a discipleship program called “Barnabas” which has ties to Ray Steadman of Peninsula Bible Church. Ray Steadman taught the pastor of Mayflower Church in Pacific Grove, who may have been Cliff Stabler if I remember correctly. That pastor taught Bill. Bill taught Steve Martell. Steve Martell taught me the material. One of the main points of the material was an honesty with God, with others and with yourself. Ray Steadman's favorite books of the Bible is 2 Corinthians. The most striking point made in the material is how there is a tendency to be on a spiritual roller coaster at the beginning of the Christian life. Sooner or later we want to fake it. We want others to think we have it together when we don't. The Scripture used was from II Corinthians 3:

“6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: 8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? 9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. 12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: 13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: 14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. 15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. 16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. 17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

The emphasis of the in the Barnabas curriculum was that people tend to not allow the Spirit of the Lord to work but instead put up a vail. We want to be strong but the Lord is most glorified in saving us rather than us being strong. If the Lord has done something good in our life, we want that to be what people see, not our sin. The Barnabas program encouraged transparency and honesty. While I have tried to maintain this sort of transparency, I sometimes fail. I also find that people will use this against me. If I confess a fault, they jump on it and broad cast it to others. When other see the glory of the Lord fading from my face, I want to put up a veil so that others don't see how I am not walking in glory.

Paul in discussing his own weakness calls himself the chief of sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15) I don't think Paul is feigning humility here or trying manage expectations. I believe he is actually calling himself the chief of sinners to communicate how evil he has been. It is unclear to me if he means that he was actually the most sinful person alive, which seems to me a terribly difficult thing to judge. Perhaps he just means an extremely sinful person that is an example to all. But by this he is trying to encourage others that there is hope for others though they have sinned greatly. Read Paul's words for yourself from 1 Timothy 1:

“12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. 17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

I'm reading through Earl Creps book Off Road Disciplines. It is a good book and I have started reading his blog. This week he has a post that mentions that he feels that there is freedom in declaring yourself ignorant when you give a talk. Perhaps it is freeing to lower the expectations of others so you do not have to live up to them. I'm not sure if it is a fad right now to talk this way, but I have heard it a lot here lately.

Last spring we had a men's advance (same thing as a retreat only not so wimpy) and the speaker was there to talk about raising children for Christ. He then introduced himself as being a failure. He told how though he worked with a nationally known youth discipleship organization, however his son was not embracing the faith. Personally, I would have loved to hear what this man had to say about youth discipleship, but his talk on raising a family seemed to be dead before the party began. He did not confess his failure and then declare the Word of God, he let us just share in our own ignorance. I'm not saying that guy has worse or better faults than my own, it just does not seem fitting to listen to someone who claims to have no advise. It might appeal to someone who likes to get a lot of attention to have the floor given to them by the conference or class speaker. Then it becomes a platform for the bold, desperate, or needy to get their speaking needs out on the group.

It is great to be honest about faults with a crowd when teaching or preaching. If one is truly honest it can be refreshing, it can be invigorating, it can be eye-opening, and it can even be jarring. But I have noticed with more than one teacher that they use a confession not as a method of leading someone to a better path but as a buffer against expectations. Perhaps this resonates with youth culture today. Somehow I doubt it. I think most people respect a fellow struggler but do not care to invest their time with a fellow who fails to struggle.

Rather than being a lowering of the veil off our faces we can use a confession as a means putting up a veil. It is how we lower expectations, give ourselves an opportunity to not work so hard and generally take it easy. We should be honest. We should take down the veils in our lives that keep us from being close to God and people. This will mean that we confess sin privately and sometimes publicly. It means that we take criticism well. While veils may be a feminine garment in our culture, Moses wore a veil and many a Christian of both genders is wearing a metaphorical veil today. God calls us to take down the veil.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Time with People is Sermon Preparation

Ten Questions for Expositors - Keller is a post over at Unashamed Workman that is an interview with Pastor Tim Keller. The most striking thing he discusses in my opinion is how spending time with people is sermon preparation time.