What the Book is About

Simple Church offers a strategy for churches to simplify their disciple-making processes, thereby increasing the effectiveness with which they advance God’s kingdom. The book is based on a significant research project done through LifeWay Christian Resources. Over 500 churches responded to a comprehensive survey, with roughly half of respondents considered “growing, vibrant” churches, and the other half being churches that have either plateaued or are experiencing decline. The churches surveyed varied significantly in size, location, style, and ministry focus. Not all vibrant churches were large, and not all plateaued churches were small.

The research revealed that vibrant churches have a significant statistical relationship to simplicity in their approach to ministry and disciple-making. This does not mean, however, that these churches don’t have much to offer, or do things the easy way. In the words of the authors, “simple is basic, uncomplicated, and fundamental.” (p. 16) A simple church is not a shallow church; it is a church that has a clear process for helping people become committed disciples of Jesus Christ.

To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process. This process must be clear. It must move people toward maturity. It must be integrated fully into your church, and you must get rid of the clutter around it.-Simple Church

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I’ve begun reading Walter Brueggemann again. This time I’ve picked up a little book called Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile.

The spirit of the age, he argues, is one of autonomy. Everybody is an authority unto themselves. We all do as we please.

There was a similar spirit making the rounds in Jeremiah’s Jerusalem. Just listen to the people’s attitude reflected in Jeremiah 18:12. But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’” We’re all going to do what we want to do.

Jeremiah, on the other hand, had a deep and unshakeable sense that God had called him to the prophetic ministry, and as a result, God had certain claims upon his life. “Such a call is not an event, but an ongoing dynamic of a growing and powerful claim.” (18)

Such a sense of call in our time is profoundly countercultural, because the primary ideological voices of our time are the voices of autonomy; to do one’s own thing, self-actualization, self-assertion, self-fulfillment. The ideology of our time is to propose that one can live “an uncalled life,” one not referred to any purpose beyond one’s self.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Let’s assume that this is true. Historically, Christians have understood this “wonderful plan” in terms of God’s call on your life. The specifics are different for everyone, but the implications are universal.

If God has called you, then he has called you to life in the context of his kingdom and within the purpose of his mission.

Because God has called you to life in his kingdom and for the purpose of his mission, you are subject to his rule and his purposes. You cannot simply do what you want.

Life in God’s kingdom and for his mission happens in the Church. Specifically, for you, it happens in the context of the local congregation to which you belong.

God has ordained certain men and women to exercise leadership and authority within your congregation. This authority is exercised in the name of, and in the manner of, Jesus Christ.

For the sake of the vitality of his kingdom and the accomplishing of his mission, God has proclaimed that there must be order within the churches. Just as in your family, one important component of church order is submission to the leadership of the church. You cannot simply do what you want. (Of course, neither can your leaders. But that side of the equation has been beaten like a dead horse. It’s the other side that needs to be addressed today.) 


Submission to your leaders is an act of discernment of the motives of your heart.

Therefore, for the sake of God’s kingdom and mission, you are subject to the leaders of your church.

No one, at least no Christian, can lead an uncalled life. Neither can any Christian lead an unsubmitted life.

This means that, if you are to live into your calling, then you must listen to, even submit to, your leaders. This is an activity that can only be accomplished in the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. It is an act of discernment of the faithfulness of your leaders, and perhaps more importantly, of the motives of your own heart.

We crave autonomy, but autonomy is incompatible with the God-called life. You are subject to God. And you are subject to the authorities he has placed in your life.

Consider that, as you faithfully pursue this calling, God will some day place you in a position of authority in your church. Having practiced submission already, you will be more equipped to lead those in your care. You might even say that submission, over time, will give you a certain moral authority that is otherwise impossible to attain.

I’m kind of a tech geek. A videographer by trade, I’ve also found myself on the business side of Photoshop crafting countless sermon slides and church program brochures. By far, the most common stock image we use in the Church is of some person standing on top of a mountain with their arms outstretched in exultation. They’ve conquered the impossible peak, and now they’re either, a) enjoying the fullness of life Jesus promised in that one glorious moment; b) worshipping God in the splendor of his creation; or c) celebrating the tangible reality that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength – in particular, climbing this mountain.

The message we send through the use of this imagery is that this is the kind of life God wants you to live. Successful and free. Celebratory and worshipful. God wants all of us to climb our metaphorical mountains and find freedom from the trials and obstacles in our life. And to a certain extent I think that’s true, but it fails to tell the whole story.

Jesus went up on a mountain and stretched his arms out wide, but instead of smiling silently and embracing the accomplishment of conquering the hill, he screamed in agony as the Roman soldiers pierced his flesh with spikes. Rather than drinking in the scenery and breathing in the wildly fresh mountain air, he drank bitter wine vinegar and breathed his last. And it is this, the image of the broken and dying Son of God, not the conquering hero of the stock photograph, that God intends to be normative for those who would follow Jesus.

The real deal we make with God when we answer his call on our lives is to willingly enter into redemptive suffering. That is, after all, the essence of the cross. The call of Jesus is not to find success or fulfillment, but to take up our own crosses and follow him; that is, to live lives that reflect the crucifixion and resurrection (the Gospel!) of Jesus our King. This is the deal that God makes with us, the one that Jesus talked about again and again, but that we are angrily offended by whenever it manifests itself in our lives.

In my arrogant sense of entitlement, I thought the rules didn’t apply to me. I thought that the process of church planting, because it’s so inherently difficult (especially the way I decided to do it), was suffering enough. I thought the mere act of pursuing my dream of Ember Church was all the redemptive suffering my life required. My cup would be full. So when my son’s issues surfaced, I took offence at God. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was already carrying my cross! (Although now I can see that the pursuit of one’s dreams is far different than carrying one’s cross.) I was doing God’s work, so God was supposed to take care of me.

The reality is that God was, and is, taking care of me. He was helping me to understand, to truly know, both his own son and mine. The deep, relational knowledge of Jesus Christ is forged in the furnace of suffering, loss, frustration, and disappointment. The secret of the kingdom of God is that redemptive suffering and failure are kingdom victory. The paradigm of true Christian faith isn’t the victorious and exultant climber atop the mountain; it’s the broken and bloodied Son of God stuck to the cross atop the hill. We who minister in this kingdom should expect our lives to more often reflect the latter than the former.

Every once in a while you come across a book that is good for your soul, steering you back onto a course you hadn’t yet become aware you had left. I’ve had the good fortune of reading two of those in the past couple months. The first was Pure Scum by Mike Sares (you can read my review of it here), and the second was The Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

The Pastor is a memoir, the bulk of which is taken up with Peterson’s life before he moved to Vancouver. It is filled with stories of his childhood in Montana and his church-planting days in the Baltimore area. Peterson’s pastoral reflections are priceless, and should be read by everyone in the ministry.

0323 The Pastor Eugene Peterson Message Bible coverIt’s difficult to review a memoir. They’re his stories. It was his life. What I want to write about, then, is how his book impacted me on a personal level.

There are many temptations in ministry. Envy is one. Whose church is biggest? Whose church is most renowned? Which pastor has the national ministry? Who is saving the most souls? Whose books are selling fastest? Inevitably, the answer is, “Someone else.” Envy is a pastor-killer. Go to any church conference and you’ll hear pastors comparing attendance figures. If that ain’t sad…

Peterson has taught me that none of that matters. It’s all a trap. His church never grew past a few hundred–paltry numbers in today’s megachurch climate. His words to a friend seeking significance through church size hit me like a ton of bricks: “The church you want and expect is the enemy of the church you are being given.” If you’re a pastor or in the ministry, you need to read that sentence again. Write it down, hang it on your door. Put it on your computer desktop. Here, let me type it bigger and bolder so you can read it better.

The church you want and expect is the enemy of the church you are being given.

Is it sinking in yet? God is giving and has given you a church, a congregation, a flock. (Not, by the way, an audience. God never gives you an audience.) But you are discontent with your church. You lust for more attendees, more resources, a wider appeal, a broader reach, more recognition, more fame, a book contract, a speaking circuit… The list goes on and on. But God doesn’t care about your selfish lusts, and he certainly doesn’t owe you anything. The church you want and expect is the enemy of the church you are being given. Embrace the church God has given you. Embrace the people under your spiritual care. Be their shepherd.

When I decided to go ahead with planting Ember Church in the fall of 2010, I was overwhelmed by the process. I knew there was a lot of work to be done, but I didn’t know where to start. I found a lot of books on church planting, but couldn’t tell which ones were good and which ones weren’t. I tried judging those books by their covers, but this turned out to be a bad idea. The old saying is true after all, I suppose.

9780801072628It wasn’t until several months into the process that I finally picked up The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting by Aubrey Malphurs, and I immediately wished I had read this book sooner. This book is exactly what it says it is: the nuts and bolts of a project that can often seem overwhelmingly complex and about as solid as water. Malphurs helps the reader get his hands on and head around the process of church planting.

The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting demystifies the church planting process and gives new church planters (like myself) a plan and some solid direction for accomplishing their end of this task. He simplifies the ministry of the new church down to the overall mission of the Church, which is to make disciples. Keeping this mission in the front of your mind, regardless of how you frame it for your church, will keep you on track as you trudge through the difficult phase of church planning and planting.

As somebody who is doing this right now, I can’t think of a better book to give to church planters than Aubrey Malphurs’ The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting. It’s simple, practical, readable, and comes with an abundance of support material (16 appendices!) to help guide you through this difficult process. If you’re thinking about planting a church, read this book first. If you’re on a church plant team, get it for your pastor! The more time you spend with this book, the more time you will save and the more frustration you will avoid in the church planting process.

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