'SIMPLE CHURCH' OR ANOTHER SMOKE SCREEN?
By Paul Proctor
August 8, 2007
Well, it seems the mad scientists of the church growth movement have once again emerged from the laboratory of the living dead with yet another chia pet project for the jaded masses. The latest concoction they've come up with is something called "Simple Church."
Apparently, after a decade or so of injecting the "body of Christ" with every conceivable church growth hormone known to man, church leaders have determined that, in light of the plummeting numbers, it is now time to go cold turkey and ditch all of that junk we were sold and told we had to have to succeed in the 90s and try something new.
I wonder if any of them are offering refunds on their old books, programs, DVDs and conferences? And, what do we do with all of our Plexiglas podiums, disco balls, food courts and state of the art worship venues we went millions of dollars in debt for? Is Bono still in vogue and do we get to keep those big screens and sound systems for future concerts, videos and games or are they on the chopping block as well? Maybe they could rent them out to finance this new venture.
Is it possible that our debt-heavy economy has finally forced some of today's over-indulgent mega-churches into corporate downsizing for the sake of survival and they're just calling it "Simple Church" in an effort to save face? Or could it be that so many customers, I mean Christians, have been lost to bibles-only home churches that the Southern Baptist Convention had to make its play for that market with a few Simple Church products and services in order to snag the strays and keep them coming to the CGM trough?
Whatever the case, Lifeway Christian Resource's employee communications editor, Kelly Davis Shrout, who evidently prefers to go by the name "Kelly Davis," authored an article last year about a book her boss co-wrote with Eric Geiger on the subject of Simple Church. Lifeway is the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention and Thom S. Rainer is its president and CEO. The June 5th 2006 piece titled, Rainer, Geiger Offer Simple Concept Of Discipleship In New B&H Book, began this way:
Look at Apple's iPod or Google's Web site. Consider Southwest Airlines or Papa John's Pizza. What do these successful companies have in common?
Funny how ecclesiastical fashions change with the seasons, isn't it? - Swinging to and fro above the brethren like the Sword of Damocles. And what should we make of churches that chase the world here and there like the paparazzi pursuing Paris Hilton to capture and copy every cute, cunning and controversial pose?
Why follow the Living Word of God when corporations we've come to love and trust like Apple, Google, Southwest Airlines and Papa John's Pizza know the way to the Promised Land of Simple Success?
The Lifeway article continued with this:
A new revolution toward simplicity has impacted how individuals respond to information. And the movement toward simplicity also affects how churches minister to their congregations, according to the authors.
In light of the corporate templates already cited, one can only imagine what LifeWay's idea of "biblical" might be. Are we to assume that this puff piece Mrs. Shrout put together for her boss's book is about an effort to "make disciples" for Jesus Christ? If so, why then is our Lord never mentioned in the article?
Maybe a better question would be: Whom are they endeavoring to make disciples for? - Because what I'm seeing exalted in her comments again and again is not a Person, but a process. And, frankly, there's so much ambiguity in the piece about that 4-step process, (clarity, movement, alignment and focus) it's hard to make any real sense of it, which is ironic considering the book is about simplifying.
Moreover, when did Jesus ever commission us to design and promote a process that advances "the movement of the gospel?" - and what exactly does that phrase mean anyway?
Were we not called to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ - to simply preach and teach the Word of God - serve one another in love and humility - proclaim the good news by obediently following the Holy Spirit's leading, like the Apostle Paul - sacrificing ourselves even unto death for the cause of Christ regardless of the "impact" or "movement" we may or may not see with our envious eyes?
Mrs. Shrout goes on to write:
Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Geiger, executive pastor of Christ Fellowship in Miami, offer church leaders the ethos behind designing a simple process of discipleship.
Yes, of course - if it were just "the latest fad or methodology," it would be viewed as cheap, temporal and of little or no eternal value, wouldn't it? But instead, Mr. Rainer calls it a "philosophy."
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." - Colossians 2:8
Wouldn't that include the rudiments of the business world?
So, what ever happened to focusing on Jesus Christ and His Word? If our focus is to instead be on "ministries that really matter," just who determines which ministries really matter, LifeWay's president and CEO or his co-author, Eric Geiger, one the "coaches" for hire at simplechurch.org, aka, Ministry Advantage?
If you go to their website you will see some of the same infamous names we've come to know and avoid over the years - like Willow Creek Association's chairman of the board, Bill Hybels and The Leadership Network's own founder and chairman, Bob Buford - both church growth kingpins who, along with others listed, heartily endorse the Simple Church concept and Ministry Advantage.
On the Ministry Advantage website you'll find such unbiblical practices and principals promoted as "personality and behavioral assessments" and how to reach your "maximum redemptive potential," not to mention those eye-catching charts and graphs over in their Rai$ing Re$ource$ section.
It should also be noted that under the subtitle "Origins and Influences," Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia, describes Simple Church this way:
Sociologically speaking, simple church could be seen as a subset of Emerging church (although many in the simple church movement would not see themselves as part of emerging church), a phenomenon rising from the conversation between Christianity and the culture and worldview of postmodernism. Many in the emerging church movement would consider simple church to be represented in expressions such as house church and unique gatherings like Church in a pub.
If Simple Church is indeed a subset of the Emerging Church, which many view as an offshoot of the church growth movement, then it only further validates the contention of some that they all come from the same unbiblical origin, and though often appearing to be unrelated, are ultimately heading in the same heretical direction.
Near the end of Mrs. Shrout's LifeWay article, she quotes Eric Geiger as saying:
"This book is not about how we as pastors make our lives easier�it's about designing a process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth so their lives are transformed."
But, what process can men possibly design to replace the work of the Holy Spirit? And just how can a church "transform lives" by imitating Papa John's Pizza? Does the Word of God instruct us to be transformed by the principles and processes of the business world? On the contrary:
"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." - Romans 12:2
Whatever you might think of the Simple Church concept, this Lifeway article by Mrs. Shrout says nothing about preaching Christ crucified or feeding the Lord's sheep, but only promotes another book, program and process designed by men who are focused on Results & Relationships rather than repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
In my opinion, what we have here is not regeneration, but only regurgitation.
"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly." - Proverbs 26:11
� 2007 Paul Proctor - All Rights Reserved
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Paul Proctor, a rural resident of the Volunteer state and seasoned veteran of the country music industry, retired from showbiz in the late 1990's to dedicate himself to addressing important social issues from a distinctly biblical perspective. As a freelance writer and regular columnist for NewsWithViews.com, he extols the wisdom and truths of scripture through commentary and insight on cultural trends and current events. His articles appear regularly on a variety of news and opinion sites across the internet and in print.
Whatever you might think of the Simple Church concept, this Lifeway article by Mrs. Shrout says nothing about preaching Christ crucified or feeding the Lord's sheep, but only promotes another book, program...