This is not a book review of Rainer’s 2005 text, Simple Church, but more a reflection based on the book. I will give you a quick summation before I leave you with my thoughts. Rainer, a church consultant and strategist and current president of the SBC publishing monolith Lifeway Books, writes with Eric Geiger, a pastor in Miami, to encourage pastors and church leaders to transition from a traditional, multi-layered, strictly hierarchical, unfocused style of church to a simple, streamlined model that articulates a simple vision for the church and judges all activity by it. The simple church cuts out unnecessary activities, activities that do not directly enhance the ministry focus of the congregation, and leaves members with a fluid, accessible church experience that is not cluttered by dozens of programs, initiatives, and competing motives and methods.
I would not agree with everything in Simple Church, and I do not typically lean heavily on the church consultant market for ideas, but I think Rainer is onto something here. The simple church model is, in a word, compelling. How many of us have experienced life in a church with little idea of where it’s going and even less formal articulation of how it will get there? How many of us have served in churches filled with unconnected ministries and a lack of a driving vision? How many of us have wearied of multiple weekly commitments that feel more like duties than opportunities? Simple Church has some good things to say to such people. I am not one to encourage people to be disheartened and frustrated by their church, but I would say that a church that possesses a simple vision and takes a few concrete steps to get there is on the right track.
Don’t mishear me. I’m not saying that I want to dumb down doctrine or some such awful thing. But I do think that, in a complex and busy world, there is much to say for simplicity. Historical Christianity, after all, was simple. You went to church all day on Sunday, if you were in a confessional tradition, and then you worked the rest of the week. If you were a good husband and father, you led your family in some form of domestic worship. That was pretty much it. We make the mistake sometimes of assuming that the overcrowded modern church calendar is the historical norm and the very fulfillment of the New Testament ideal for the church. Other than the Sunday service, there is no weekly calendar laid out for the congregation. We have the freedom, then, to be simple. In the midst of church life that seems anything but restful and nourishing, we can claim simplicity for ourselves. We can seek a vibrant, rich, doctrinally driven, joyful church life that focuses on itself on worshipping God as laid out in the Bible–and the biblical plan is very simple–through weekly gathering and through specific engagement in evangelism and discipleship. You and I do not have to gasp for breath in order to be faithful church members. As Dr. Thom Rainer so helpfully reminds us, church life can be simple. No, let’s rephrase that. It not only can be simple, it was meant to be so.