I will answer that question near the end of this post but here are a couple of things the church is not first. I have been reading the Ranier & Geiger book Simple Church the past few days and have been greatly disappointed in what they have said. First of all, I want to say this upfront so there is no confusion, that book is nothing but the K.I.S.S. principle wrapped in a different package. That is it. They are not saying anything new, innovative, or vital. We learned the K.I.S.S. principle almost 40 years ago in undergrad school and even then that idea was not new.
Second, I do not have much contact with church consultants and only have read a couple of them and seen 1 in action many years ago so this is not going to be an opinion on that small business practice. I am merely going to focus on what was written in that book and the few personal experiences I have had.
Third, It would be nice if they stuck to their promise. In Chapter 1 page 3 and the first complete sentence they write they say “This book is not about another church model.” Well they lied, the whole book is another church model and it is their spin on the K.I.S.S. principle with some new age buzz words thrown in to look official.
In the few experiences I have had with church consultants, Jesus and God seem to be in the distant background as in this book Jesus is not mentioned until page 16, after 12 pages of extolling the secular world corporations for their using the simple idea to function in the business world. I did not notice God being mentioned until page 130 and then Jesus makes another appearance around 150 or 158. Everything in between is all about their ideas, their strategies their research.
I know it is hard to write as God is leading because many people are put off by the perceived favoritism God may be showing and those two authors may be good Christians yet I found the book to be mostly them and their thinking with the divine thrown to look good. I say this because of their comparison to the t.v. show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Their comparison fails for that show only deals with the surface issues and those authors’ model does the same thing. It only deals with the superficial, the surface and if everything looks like it is working then they are happy regardless of the spiritual problems their process fails to address. Those authors also ignore biblical instructions that the church is the light unto a dark world not vice versa thus their enthusiasm for that show is in error especially since that show has no guidance from God at all nor is built upon a spiritual foundation.
Its foundation is to make money for as many people as possible while looking good when doing it. One of the biggest problems I found with that book is that its idea of success is if the process is working and people are moving. On page 61 the authors state:
A simple church is designed around a straightforward and strategic process.
That was their answer to the problem they identified in the previous paragraph:
The design of the church is centered on something
The authors missed the boat because the church is to be centered around Christ not a human process and the church needs to be guided by God and the HS not by how people are moved along the process. Throughout the book, the Trinity is left out of the process as the authors think that vibrant churches, healthy ones are always growing churches. It is all about numbers for the authors.
Yet in God’s eyes success is not seen only in growth, not only does God see success with obedience, holiness, spiritual maturity but he also sees it when a church doe snot grow in numbers or when the numbers deplete as God does prune his people (Jn. 15:2) , getting rid of the deadwood. We need to see success as God sees it not as church consultants want it to be.
The other thing that bothered me a lot about this book was its desire to make church a business and not a place where Christ reigns. Everything is business ideology not biblical instruction in that church model. As I read the book, I remembered an ad for a church I came across many years ago. The ad said in part– ‘this is a small business…’ and no. The church is not a small business it is something different, something unique but somewhere in the 20th century or possibly sooner, Christians lost sight of what the church really is and turned it into a McDonald’s for the religious.
Not all churches are that way but they seem to all be made from the same cookie cutter mode, even in this country they appear to be the same as North American ones. It is sad as spiritual problems are not contained to the hours of 9-5 and no weekends. Yet what I have seen from church consultants is that they want the secular business ideology and process and not God’s.
Yes church leaders worry about numbers but guess what? God did not make numbers a criteria for being a good steward of his congregations. Numbers should be the last thing on any pastor’s or church leaders’ minds as they leave that to God and simply implement his instructions correctly so that the people can see that God is real and that he cares for everyone.
So that brings me to what is a church or what is the church. And it is actually more simple than the model those authors gave in their book. To put it in a few words, the church humbly obeys God. When we talk about love, we mean God’s idea of love, not the secular world’s idea. The difference is God’s idea includes and not limited to the following– we teach the truth, we do not lie to one another, we do not play favorites, we stand with God on what is or isn’t sin, we stand for God’s justice, God’s fairness, we discipline correctly and for real offenses not perceived slight.
The church is the light showing the way to the straight and narrow road and it does not compromise in hopes of getting rear ends in the pews. We do not allow false teaching or teachers and the church shows compassion to all especially those who have erred or fallen. We are a spiritual hospital for those challenged in their faith and we do not accept sinful humans ideas over God’s biblical ones.
The church is more than a business; it is more than a process or a few programs; it is more than anything this world can offer because it follows a God who is more than anything else. It is a place where those struggling can come and not be judged or condemned but guided back to the truth and repentance and it is a place of worship, where people can express their love to God without fear and without games.
The church is a place of rest, an oasis for all those weary and worn out. Then all of these activities are guided by God so that we do them correctly so that no one is lost and if one is lost, we make sure the other 99 are safe and go out in search of that one lost member. We do not leave them for the world to swallow them up.
The church is not the secular world and should not possess any of that world’s qualities or thinking. We do not need church consultants for this biblical simplicity, all we need is Christ and the HS. We lean not on our own understanding but trust God (Prov. 3). The church is special because God is special and because God cares, the church truly cares. Church consultants are business thinkers not spiritual thinkers.
When the church does that then maybe we can say along with David, ‘I was glad when they said let us go to the house of the Lord.’ (Ps. 122:1)