Thom Rainer’s latest book (along with Eric Geiger) is entitled Simple Church – Returning to God’s process for making Disciples.

What a novel idea…

Or is it now a trendy idea, given much of what is happening in emerging circles?

Whatever the case I am sure simplicity is a definite key to continual growth in discipleship. I imagine that’s why Jesus summed up the entire law with two commands – love God – love others. That’s it. Do just this and you’re on the road!

So how on earth did it get so complex?…

How did we somehow turn something so obvious and straightforward into a job for theologically trained experts?

My guess is that as churches took on clergy as paid professionals, as we have become property developers and CEO’s and as we have sought to work with a programmatic mentality and imititate the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of this world, we have added layers of complexity that just do not need to be there.

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole book, but the first chapter is very hopeful. In simply describing the frantic life of Pastor ‘Rush’ I am sure Rainer will pick up many readers. This complex task that is now ministry leaves poor old ‘Rush’ a weary and conflicted man, wishing for a way out of his confusing and jam packed life.

Rainer then goes to describe the ‘revolution of simple’ using Apple and Google as secular examples before offering Jesus as the primary biblical model of simplification. In distilling the 613 Jewish laws into two principles, ‘simple’ is a good word to describe him.

At Upstream we came to realise recently that even with such a small group and so early in the journey we had made our task more complex than we needed to. So we too have been engaging in a process of simplification – not because people are dumb and can’t follow complex tasks, but because (as my wife would say) discipleship is not meant to be complex.

On a pragmatic level I believe that if people can’t articulate what they are on about in 1 or 2 sentences then they probably haven’t really got it.

And if they can’t describe how things work in another 1 or 2 sentences then its also too complicated.

Rainer and Geiger suggests that there are four steps to achieve simplicity: clarity, movement, alignment and focus.

Start with clarity, they advise. “Clarity is the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people,” they write. “If you want your process to be clear, you must define it, illustrate it, discuss it and measure it. You must also constantly monitor the understanding of your people in regard to your process.”

Movement is the next step in the simplicity process. “Movement is the sequential steps in the process that causes people to move to greater areas of commitment,” they write. Rainer and Geiger detail five prescriptions and examples of how to create movement in a church.

Alignment follows movement and involves maximizing the energy of all members. “Alignment is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.”

Focus, the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside the simple ministry process. Rainer and Geiger outline the importance of eliminating nonessential programs within the church.I’m interested to read the whole book as Breakout Churches (another Rainer book) was also an excellent read.

As part of our re-thinking at Upstream we are trying to make our core practices as simple as possible (note: like Rainer we agree that ‘simple’ does not necessarily equate to ‘easy’)

Last week I suggested to our crew that being a disciple of Jesus involved growth in 3 broad areas and if we worked in these we would probably get things happening.

The picture below shows the three areas.

Its true that all of us are stronger in some areas than others and this is our gift to the body.

I lean towards the ‘loving God/loving the world’ side so I am more naturally a disciplined, task oriented and outward focused leader. In our team meeting the other night we each marked ourselves on the diagram according to where we felt we naturally fitted and it was good to see a balance of people in different places. (I put my x on the left side just below the red arrow head)

I should add that this is not a model I have tested at any length but rather is just a helpful lens for us to view discipleship thru. If you have any comments or observations then send them thru.

What does it mean in practice?

Well, as we seek to develop ‘core practices’ that shape us in our journey towards Christlikeness we will be framing up 3 common practices – one for each area that we all do and then adding one or two other personal practices in each area that we see as important in our own growth.

Tomorrow night we come together to give shape to those common practices. I have some strong feelings on what is important for us and have already made my own thinking known on the general form I feel they should take.

I believe that under ‘loving God’ we need to agree to a certain degree of engagement with scripture. Given this is our primary source of revelation (and also one of the most neglected aspects of our discipleship) I’d like to put this firmly on the agenda. Anyone who wants to disagree on that one will be in for a stoush!

When it comes to ‘loving the world’, I believe we need to keep it simple again and ask each person to be committed to at least one ongoing relationship within our local community. People can add other practices (eg workplace) as they wish, but this would seem an obvious place to start given that we are a team with a local focus.

And finally under ‘loving one another’ I am thinking that if we were to take the ‘one another’s’ from the New Testament and simply do one or two of these a week to each other then it would be a practical step towards developing our own community relationships.

We have agreed that we will meet up regularly in 2’s and 3’s to encourage each other, provide accountability and to share what we are doing. I like Neil Cole’s ideas on Life Transformation Groups, so we will be seeking to draw on his learning there without necessarily being a direct imitation.

My hope is that as we do this we will all be both growing in discipleship as we practice in the key areas and operating with common understandings of our purpose as a community.

I know there’s nothing very spectacular about all of that, but I actually think that’s the whole point…

To see a different yet also simple and easily transferable expression of discipleship have a look at the Lifeshapes stuff from St Thoms in Sheffield. Andrew Dowsett has probably blogged on it somewhere!

Of course at the end of the day, models and diagrams mean bugger all if we don’t just get on with it…

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