Saturday, November 22, 2014

Just Ten Days To Go!

Only ten more days until the publication of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity!

Although I am the editor of this book, it is not my book. Rather, it's really a book owned by twenty-four different people. That's probably one of the reasons I'm so excited about it. This is not just my thoughts; it's much better than that. It is a compilation of what a diverse group of Christians believes about simple church life.

I'm also very pleased that this is not a homogeneous group. Although we all have Christ in common, we have many differences: backgrounds, locations, genders, occupations, races, and (gasp!) some doctrinal issues. We even chose a wide variety of bible translations to use in this book (eight total).

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity has not been written from a narrow perspective. Rather, a bunch of Christ followers from all over the world (literally) have joined together to discuss some of the wonderful benefits of simple church life. I hope you are blessed by it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Church Simply: Everybody Actively Use Your Spiritual Gifts!

One key aspect to simple church life is that everyone is encouraged and expected to actively use his or her spiritual gifts to serve the body.

This is based on the view of the body described in I Corinthians 12. Paul informs us that every member of the body is important. The body will not function properly unless all body parts are healthy and active. None are ignored. None are more important than others. In order for the body to do what it is supposed to do, every part must be up and running.

For this to occur the body as a whole has to trust the lead of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit not only bestows spiritual gifts, but also leads believers into using these gifts. The body must respond to the Spirit's leading by encouraging everyone to use their own gifts actively for the building up of the entire body. Everybody matters.

One place many churches (regardless of form) fail is in encouraging everyone to be active. It's easy to simply let some folks sort of sit quietly in the background and not do much. If this happens the body will suffer - possibly in ways it hasn't really considered. Since I Cor. 12 is true, then everybody needs everybody. We the church must get the message out that every believer has the responsibility to be active. Let's not guilt one another in this, but instead encourage each other. Ironically, this means we will be encouraging each other to encourage each other.

The church is stunted when a small number of people do most of the ministry. That model makes for a sick body, where some parts are overworked and others are undeveloped. Much healthier is a body where every part is in shape from regular exercise. Let's all do our part by using our gifts to serve and encouraging others to do so.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Church Simply: The Spirit Leads the Meetings

As churches come together, who's in charge? Who leads? Who points the way forward?

In simple church gatherings it is the Holy Spirit who leads.

It is the Spirit and only the Spirit. The Spirit needs no help. The Spirit desires no assistance. He can direct things just fine on his own. He doesn't request human "sub-leaders" to get out in front of the body.

When we look in the pages of the New Testament we see believers gather together for mutual edification. As they do this they rely on the Spirit to lead. When we analyze their get-togethers, we see free-flowing gatherings where those involved act for the betterment of others. We don't see a great deal of pre-planning; the believers wait for the Spirit to lead them in edifying activities.

Acts chapters two and four illustrate what the Spirit's leadership can bring about.

Much of the institutional church is pastor-centric. Pastors lead almost everything and are a key focus of the body. For better or worse they point the way forward. They are at the head of almost all the important decisions. Whenever a big activity takes place, the pastors are front-and-center. If you look in the New Testament you simply do not see this. We see elders within local bodies, but these men lead through serving, not decision-making. They don't stand out in front. Like the other folks, they wait for the Spirit to lead.

This is one of the greatest differences between simple churches and institutional/traditional churches. While the Spirit leads simple churches in general and their gatherings in particular, it is the pastors who lead institutional churches. To say otherwise would be to ignore the obvious.

Bodies of believers do well to follow the Holy Spirit. He is God after all. We can and must trust the Spirit to lead us in how he wants us to live as his church. He will not fail us. Let us not fail him.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Only Two Weeks Until Publication!

I am getting more and more excited about Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity as the publication date (Dec. 2nd) approaches. The more discussions I'm having with others about this book, the more I realize that the general message is resonating with many people. Christians with all sorts of church backgrounds are interested in what the contributors of this book have to say. I've been somewhat overwhelmed by the response so far.

Chuck McKnight, one of the contributors, made an interesting observation this week. He said, "I just skimmed through the contributor bios in the back of Simple Church. Looks like almost half of us are either foreign missionaries or missionary kids (myself included in the latter)." I knew we had a variety of people writing, but I didn't realize the overseas connection. This makes sense. Living overseas forces people out of comfort zones and often leads them into asking hard questions about all sorts of things - including church life.

You can pre-order the book by visiting Redeeming Press or Amazon. The Kindle version is available as well.

Happy reading!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Church Simply: A Real Lord's Supper

Confession time: I love to eat. Food is excellent. It is best served with good company.

Simple church gatherings almost always involve eating of some kind. Many of these meals are real Lord's Suppers. I'm referring to an actual meal that celebrates what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. We see this in various places in the New Testament. For example, in Acts 20:7 we read, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight." Please notice that the body gathered for a specific purpose: "...when we were gathered together to break bread..."

Earlier in Acts, we see that the early believers dedicated themselves to several things, one of these being the "breaking of bread" (2:42).

The Corinthian church was struggling with the Lord's Supper. Some in the body were abusing it. The wording of chapter 11 only makes sense in the context of an actual meal. Paul does not tell them to stop eating a meal; rather, he instructs them in how to eat it properly.

Many institutional churches are starving themselves. The Lord's Supper celebration has been changed into a Lord's Snack funeral-like ceremony. This is a sad deviation for the worse.

One of the best aspects of gathering with other believers is eating together. There is something about eating together that brings about community life. It is easy to have conversations when sitting around the table. The body comes together as it all shares food together. Part of this meal, although I don't think it is required, is the bread and the cup. The eating and drinking of these helps remind us of what Jesus has done and also fosters the unity of the body.

I love the above icon because it shows a real meal in action. People are happy. There's even a dog at the table. The meal is portrayed as an active, joyful occasion. This is what the Lord's Supper should be.

When the church gathers, one thing we should all be thinking is, "Let's eat!" And by "eat," we are referring to a real supper.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Church Simply: Why Get Together Anyway? Mutual Edification

One source of great confusion in much of the church today is why the church gets together. This is fascinating because churches gather so regularly. You would think that the people would know why they are doing so. When asked, most Christians respond with the vague, " worship." However, they can neither support this biblically nor even accurately define it.

At least some of this confusion stems from the term "worship service." Since people attend these ceremonies, they think this is when "worship" happens. It is all one big confusing mess. The reason for all this, of course, is that worship is not why the church gathers (worship is a 24/7 exercise). Rather, the church comes together for mutual edification.

I Corinthians 14:26 is an extremely important verse. Paul writes, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." Paul is less concerned with their specific activities than he is with why they are doing what they are doing. All should be for the building up of the body into maturity in Christ. We see an active body where each person uses his or her gifts to build up others.

Mutual edification is easy to define. Because of that, it is easy for local bodies of believers to make this the focus of their gatherings. They can step back and see if what they are doing is actually accomplishing what it should. On the other hand, when churches focus on worship, it is nearly impossible to determine what their meetings are accomplishing.

Before even gathering together churches should ask the "Why?" question. The answer to this question is much more important than the "Who? What? Where? When? and How?" questions. If a church doesn't know why it comes together, then none of the other answers matter.

Simple churches meet for mutual edification of the body. It's as simple as that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Contributing Authors Blogging About "Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity"

Most of the twenty-four contributors to Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity are also bloggers. Several of them have written recent blog posts about the book. Click on any of the following names to see what they have to say about the upcoming publication:

Keith Giles
Chris Jefferies
Miguel Labrador
Chuck McKnight
Will Rochow
Steve Scott
Arthur Sido
Kathleen Ward

You can pre-order the book here or here. For the Kindle version, click here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Now Available for Pre-Order!

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is now available! You can pre-order it through either Redeeming Press or If you are the Kindle sort, the book is available for you as well.

I admit that it is sort of an odd experience seeing my name on the cover of a book. After all, I'm the editor but did not actually write most of the book (only two of the chapters to be exact). I'm thrilled that we have so many different contributors. The variety of writers makes the book more interesting and, I believe, more powerful. It is many voices speaking as one about the power and beauty of simple church life.

If you have any questions about the book, please contact me. Feel free to ask in the blog comments or send an email. Please also be in prayer that God will use this book to bring about increased dialogue, understanding, and unity within his body. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

THE BIG NEWS: The Book Nears Completion!

We're nearing the finish line. Praise the Lord!

Much like an engagement is not real until there is a ring, a book doesn't seem real until there is a cover. Well, we have a cover. What you see above is a first draft of the cover of the new book I'm editing. We may make some minor changes, but for the most part what you see above is what the cover will be.

The first thing that jumps off the cover is that the name of the book has changed. The original title was What We're For. However, Jeremy Myers (publisher) and I decided that we needed a title that more clearly describes what the book is all about. Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity points any interested readers to the general theme of the book.

I selected the icon on the front cover to emphasize the interaction between unity and diversity. Jeremy provided me with about thirty different possible icon choices. So far I've received positive feedback about this selection.

The back cover lists the contributors not in alphabetical order, but rather in the order their chapters appear in the book. The book contains 26 chapters; Jeremy and I each wrote two. The interesting thing about this book is that quite a bit of diversity actually exists among the various contributors. However, we all agree primarily that Jesus is Lord, and secondarily that simple church practices are the most effective pattern for church life.

We hope and pray that God will use this book to generate discussion, understanding, and unity within the broader body of Christ.

We are aiming for a publication date of later this month or early December. I'll post more about it as the date approaches.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Church Simply: Let's Have a Family Gathering

Simple church gatherings are just that: simple.

In every country in the world families get together. The purpose is usually to enjoy one another's company. There may be some planning, but for the most part it is the spontaneous interactions that are most important. Families just enjoy being together. It is much more about who is there than what is happening.

Simple church gatherings are like this. The body of Christ is one large family. Because of this, church gatherings should be be family gatherings. This can occur any place, any time, with any number of people. The purpose is to give believers the opportunity to glorify God through mutual edification.

This all happens most effectively when church meetings are family meetings.

When we look to the pages of the New Testament we see the redeemed coming together simply. They generally met in homes. We're told in Acts 2:42 that they, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." This is not complex. However, it is very important. The importance lies in the community atmosphere that encourages the building up of the body.

Much of the church today seems to think that complexity equals excellence. Look at almost any mega church website to see this. The irony is that the scriptures show us the opposite. Simple is generally better. Family gatherings happen in simple environments. When large groups meet in big buildings for worship ceremonies, family dynamics cannot exist.

Local bodies of believers do well to think of their meetings as family get togethers. This keeps things simple and relaxed. Planning is minimized while edification is maximized.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Church Simply: Christ as the Unquestioned Head

All true followers of Jesus believe that Christ is their Head. All groups of believers also hold to this truth. Christ does not tolerate competition to his throne, not should he.

That said, many churches confuse this fact through their forms. The confusion stems from what appears to be many "little heads" that come between Christ and his people. These little heads are the various forms of clergy that pervade church life. If you attend any worship service you'll see a small number of people who lead the activity and perform most of the tasks. From an observer's position, these folks seem to be in control.

In simple church life Jesus Christ is the only Head both in reality and in form. No clergy exists. When believers gather simply the only person in charge is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads the body in pointing to only one Head: Jesus. There is no confusion. There are no little heads. Jesus' Headship is unquestioned in belief, form, and function. As the above image suggests, we are all equal cogs in the life of the church with Jesus Christ at the center, unchallenged in any way.

Ephesians 1:22-23 says, "And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."

Later in that same epistle we read, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (4:15).

Colossians 1:18 informs us, "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent."

None of these verses hint that Christ desires any sort of assistance in his Headship. Rather, he demands that he alone be supreme; everyone else serves in equal capacities as the members of his body. In simple church life this is a reality. Everything points squarely to Jesus as Head. No confusion exists or is tolerated. Nobody plays the middle-man role of little head.

The beauty of this is that everyone has a clear view of Christ. He receives all the glory while we receive the edification. Every body part is active in working with all the others to carry out the desires of the Head. All are equivalent in looking to the Head for leadership and guidance.

When the body works this way it is a wondrous thing to behold.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Church Simply: The N. T. Model

One foundational principle of simple church life is that God has provided for us what we need. He has done this through the Holy Spirit and through the bible. The Holy Spirit guides us all throughout the day, and also specifically when we read the scriptures. Since we are New Covenant people, we look primarily to the pages of the New Testament to see how God wants us to live church life. We don't need or want man's traditions. Rather, we believe the bible - through the illumination provided by the Holy Spirit - is sufficient for us.

The New Testament shows us a church of imperfect people who do some great things and make some mistakes. That sounds like us today. This makes sense since they were regular people learning to live for Christ in the midst of a pagan culture (something like ours). We have an advantage over those first believers: we can learn both from what they did well and from their blunders. We owe those first believers a deep debt of gratitude.

The gospel accounts show us Jesus is all his glory. We also see his earliest followers trying to figure out who he is. As we turn to the book of Acts, we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is when church life really begins to take off. We see a church feeling its way through living as followers of Christ empowered by the Spirit. We also see them living simply. They gather in homes to edify one another. They eat together. They pray together. They serve one another. They live holy lives. They share the gospel generously.

Most of the remainder of the New Testament provides us with letters to churches dealing with specific issues. Many of these are "occasional" letters," meaning that they were written for specific occasions or reasons. The writers encouraged the new believers in enduring in the face of persecution, and also challenged them when they were living in a manner inconsistent with following after Christ. These letters are a treasure trove for us. We learn a massive amount about how we should be living today. One thing we continue to see is a simple manner of church life.

God has given us all we need to live as the church he desires. We have the Holy Spirit and the bible. We don't have to invent anything. We have all we need.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Church Simply: An Introduction

I love Jesus Christ and his church. Since you are reading this blog my guess is that you do, too. We all want to see the church thrive, making a significant difference in this world. We desire to see a church that looks different from secular culture, but which still engages that culture with both the truth and love of Christ.

I strongly believe that practicing church life in a simple manner is the most effective way to edify the body of Christ. It's also the best way to interact with unbelievers. This should not be surprising to us since simple church practices are modeled directly after what we see practiced by the early church in scripture. The early church was by no means perfect (see for example the book of I Corinthians); however, we can learn much from their simple practices. A prime example of this comes from Acts 2:42. We're told that the early believers, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." This is surely not all they did, but it does instruct us in the simple model they followed.

A simple model of church life avoids many of the time and money consuming practices that have developed through hundreds of years of man's traditions. These things include salaried pastors, worship services/ceremonies, large church buildings, and never-ending church programs. Instead, a philosophy of simple church is to get together as a large family to edify one another through simple means. This edification ought to lead the body both into living holier lives and into sharing the gospel more freely and frequently.

The longer I live the more I believe that the church (at least in this country) has generally lost its way. While millions of people genuinely love Jesus Christ and his church, most of those same people do not know or understand just how wonderful body life can be. This is not due to lack of intelligence; rather, most of these sweet folks have just never thought about it. Week after week they unknowingly follow the traditions of men.

This is the first post in a series I'm going to call Church Simply (thanks to Felicity Dale for the name inspiration).

My purpose is to discuss simple church forms and practices in a simple manner. I hope to encourage those already involved in simple church and to challenge those who are willing to accept it.

Church life practiced simply is a wonderful model for the church to follow. My hope is that more and more believers will turn from their current traditional practices to see just how exhilarating simple church life can be.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Alarming Facts About Pastors

Pastors of institutional churches face many challenges and difficulties. What is the solution to this? Traditional answers usually focus on being nicer to the pastor, supporting the pastor better, not expecting so much of the pastor, and paying the pastor more.

The folks at Fellowship of the Lamb have a different idea. Click here to read "Alarming Facts About Pastors." The authors offer a far different solution to problems within the institutional pastorate.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Great Quote

I saw this on Twitter a few days ago:

"The greatest distraction to discipleship in church history is trying to pull off an amazing Sunday service."

Thanks to Seth McBee (@sdmcbee) and Kathleen Ward (@ChurchInACircle).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Smoke Shack: A Model for Church Meetings

Many of you know that I work at JCB here in Savannah. JCB's smoking policy is fairly simple: if you choose to smoke, you have to do so at the one designated location outside the building. This "smoke shack" is little more than a metal overhang where the smokers congregate throughout the day.

Although I do not smoke, my specific job duties have me walk near the smoke shack several times per day. I can't stand the smell, but what I see fascinates me. The smokers have inadvertently found a good model for church meetings.

Those who smoke talk with each other, stand around, and share an activity: they smoke. Everyone gets to participate. Each person, regardless of specific job in the factory and offices, is on a level playing field at the smoke shack. Little is planned; conversation is spontaneous. All involved seem to be having a good time. No one is required to attend. Rather, they simply come when they want to. The smokers generally enjoy each other's company. Everyone is to some extent encouraged through the conversations.

The model I'm describing from the smoke shack also sounds like an excellent one for church gatherings. How absurd it is that regular folks know how to get together in a manner that encourages the group, but the church generally does not. Most churches believe that a special ceremony is needed to please God. This could not be more incorrect. God wants His church to gather to build up the church. This happens through free-flowing, spontaneous, Spirit-led get togethers.

Frankly, it looks a lot like what I see at the smoke shack.

Monday, October 20, 2014

If Sermons Were Edifying the Church Would be Much More Mature

Sermons are ubiquitous. Almost all institutional churches have some type of sermon during their large weekly meetings. The denomination, style, size, and location do not matter; some form of sermon, message, speech, or monologue will be present.

This is significant because it means that each week thousands upon thousands of sermons are preached around the globe. Simple math suggests that every year hundreds of thousands of sermons are delivered to/at the church worldwide.

Despite all these sermons, the church in general is not very mature. The body of Christ as a whole continues to struggle with many elementary issues that mature Christians should have dealt with long ago. Why is this the case? If sermons are edifying to the church, then in light of their frequency, the church should be very mature. So why is the church (at least in this country) generally failing to reach maturity in Christ?

The reason is simple, profound, and troubling: sermons are not edifying.

I'm not suggesting that all sermons are bad and that no one knows how to preach. Rather, I'm saying that the very act of monologue style proclamation to a quiet audience is in and of itself not edifying. No matter how good, entertaining, attention-grabbing, informative, and/or challenging the sermon is, it still fails to build up the body.

The reason for this is that lecture is not edifying. It is one of the poorest forms of teaching. And yet, sermon after sermon is delivered week after week after week. Why? Pastors need to earn their paychecks and tradition tells them to do so. The people in the pews are used to sitting and listening. Sermons go largely unchallenged because "we've always done it that way."

If sermons were actually edifying, the church would be much stronger, holier, and vibrant.

What the church needs is a different form of communication between members during gatherings. Edification occurs when all are free to speak as led by the Holy Spirit. When this happens the body can and will grow.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Series Summary: Old Testament Interpretive Problems Always Lead to Church Problems

The Bible is a wonderful book given to us by a wonderful God. It is, therefore, imperative that we interpret it correctly. When we fail to do so it frequently leads to all sorts of difficulties. In this particular blog series, I've discussed several of the church problems that stem specifically from poor interpretation of the Old Testament. Whenever the body of Christ attempts to apply Old Covenant principles and practices to New Covenant life, only bad things come of it. My hope is that the people of God as a whole will embrace our freedom in Christ and His plan for His church.

Click below to read any of the posts in this series:

Poor Interpretation of the Old Testament Always Leads to a Multitude of Church Problems
We Do Not Have to Follow the O.T. Law
Jesus Christ Fulfilled the Law. We Don't Have to, Nor Could We.
All of the O.T. is Not the O.T. Law
Genre, Genre, Genre
Abraham vs. Moses
No Mention of Sinai in Hebrews 11
Jesus Christ and the Tithe
We Do Not Have to Follow the 10 Commandments
We Are Free in Christ!