More metrics for a post-Christendom age: simplicity

4. Is your congregation–and its members–intentionally pursuing simplicity? My hunch is you’re not. My hunch is that church, for a lot of your members, is just another place in our cultural landscape where people are being asked to do more.

I think the absolute spiritual challenge of our age is related to simplicity. Taking intentional steps to slow down and pare down are crucial for paying attention to God. And there’s no other place where people are going to be asked to do that. Not at their work, not in their kids’ lives, not in the media they consume. Church has to be the place where that happens.

I was listening to a group of church members recently talk about what they thought was keeping their congregation from reaching their full potential. The consistent answer, stated variously, was that they needed more human resource. They didn’t have critical mass, or people with enough time, or enough staff. And several of them mentioned that church was getting less than their best because their jobs required too much of them. They perceived that the solution was more. More overworked, overstressed people just like themselves. It didn’t occur to them that the solution might be to simplify.

And while we can take many steps to make our personal and family lives more simple, we also need to make our church lives more simple. Congregations cannot do every good thing that is possible for them to do. My friend, Randy Harris, says that if you’re too busy, God didn’t get you there. And I think this applies to congregations as well. We do everything good we can think of without asking what is the one thing to which God is calling us.

And here’s the leading indicator that we’re still “if we build it they will come” churches. We spend an enormous amount of time and energy on Sunday mornings and have very little left for anything else. I’m trying not to sound like an old grumpy man here (fail), but the energy we expend on worship and classes is insane.  We keep making things more and more complex.

So, is your church fostering practices and habits of simplicity. Do you have stories of people downsizing their lives? Have you learned to value the beauty of simplicity? Do you know the value of shorter congregational lists?

If you become this kind of church, you might not be the biggest in your corner of the world. But maybe you will have traded size for spiritual sanity, spectators for communities of practice and mission.

 

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
This entry was posted in Christian practice, missional leadership, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to More metrics for a post-Christendom age: simplicity

  1. Adam says:

    As one of the leading voices at a congregation striving to embody just this sort of change, I can tell you that I had very little appreciation for just how hard this particular transition is. It is a very difficult swim upstream to embrace the “less is healthier” character of living as a church. I realized that this transition would not be overnight, but I thought it would be much easier to gain support across the board among leadership in our church. What I have found is that while our leaders are theologically and ideologically on board, no one wants to be the minister responsible for slaughtering all of the “golden calves” (unfair loaded term) in their ministry–I think that the fear is that folks within our church family who have not come to theologically embrace simplicity as a healthy discipleship will decry and oppose a minister who is not “doing as much as they used to in order to grow their ministry.” I have found it is not as simple as getting my leadership on board–this has to be appreciated and affirmed by the whole church to create a culture where this healthy (non)practice can take root and bear its spiritual fruit.

    Thanks for your insights.

    • Mark Love says:

      Adam, you are absolutely right about this. I think there are strategies to put some ministries in hospice, though this is still tough. I think the bigger thing is to rehearse stories of simplicity, smoke em if you got em, so to speak. Cultural changes like this don’t happen overnight, and they only happen when people learn to tell a different kind of story about themselves.

      I think Church of the Savior might be a good story to familiarize yourself with. Telling that story might put some flesh and bones on this for your leaders.

  2. Sean says:

    Yes. In fact, my congregation is deliberately pursuing simplicity. And I love it!

  3. bms says:

    In the small, but growing rural church with which I minister, this is an interesting thing for us. We really don’t have any ‘programs’ to speak of, unless you count the card-sending encouragement ministry & summer devotionals for the teens. But as we grow, some of our leadership is thinking about ways of ‘increasing our time together’ (another way of saying ‘get more programs’). I’ve essentially embraced simplicity, but without intentionality. Now we’re facing having to make it intentional.

  4. One strategy I’ve heard for those of us still getting used to the idea of eliminating programs is to proclaim a future (maybe even months/years in the future) and very specific date by which time everyone knows and can anticipate THE END. At that time have a huge celebration to recall the wonderful stories related to its life, so that it can be put to be peacefully.

    • Mark Love says:

      Susan, a good strategy. That’s what I mean when I say we have to put some programs in hospice. It won’t work in every case to announce a date because some people won’t let go of their pet ministry. But you can keep them comfortable without life-saving measures.

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