Simplifying the Complex

In my experience ministry is messy.  Can it really be simple, straight-forward and focused?  Our leadership team has been going through a strategic planning process and one of our leaders suggested we read the book “Simple Church” by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger.  The just of the book is that you should have a clear mission and that programs should be aligned in a “process” that leads toward the fulfillment of that mission.  This is nothing new, we all know the importance of a clear and focused mission.

What was a bit different about “Simple Church” was the emphasis on the “process.” The official definition for a “simple church” given was a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. The examples given in the book of process focused mission statement was “Love God, love others, serve the world.” (p.38)  The emphasis of a “Simple Church” structure is on movement through the process.

While Embrace is not a “church”, our goal is similar; individual and communities transformation.  Our mission is to “Prevent and End poverty and homelessness in the city of Richmond by engaging, equipping, and empowering people of faith to do works of service”.   It is our belief that if we unite people of faith from across the city around the issue of poverty; we will help prevent and end homelessness in Richmond.

Embrace is a bit unique because we are working with two different demographic groups; homeless and at-risk individuals and people of faith largely from the suburbs; our goal being to unite the two in a way that both are transformed.   We often use the metaphor of a bridge to depict our ministry process with the goal of the two sides of our ministry uniting in the center of the bridge and then individuals being empowered to move back and forth as cross cultural missionaries thus transforming both the urban context and communities of faith.

Our “process” for ministering to each side of the bridge is similar; 1) Engage in service through large group events (Faith Works Program), 2.) Equip potential leaders through missional communities (Community Works) ; 3.) Unite leaders who then empower one another through mentoring (Dream Works) and 4.) Release proven leaders to expand the ministry by empowering them with employment as urban missionaries (Just Works).  I never thought of our programs and mission from the perspective of a “process” but I can see how this would be very helpful.

I do have one issue with the “Simple Church” approach.  It is too simple!  There is the assumption that spiritual growth is linear; ie has a designated starting place and ending place.  The example given is that people come to love God, then love their neighbors, then serve their community.  However, I believe growth is a bit more complex and more circular with access points throughout the process and the process being an unending journey.  I have seen the spiritual journey depicted through a spiral type design and I think that is a better image than a baseball diamond or a straight line.  Each stage we go through we get nearer and nearer to the core of our faith.

Overall  “Simple Church” was an interesting read and I pray the insights we all glean from the book will help us better focus our ministry efforts.  I encourage the rest of our Embrace team to reflect on our “process” and how our current programs fit into that process from both sides of the bridge.  How are people moving through that process?  How do we know the process is working? Are there activities that do not fit within the process?  Is there a smooth handoff between programs and activities that insures people know the next step in the process?  Has the process been communicated and is it clear? I encourage you to post your thoughts and insights on this blog or to raise them in your group huddles.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Simplifying the Complex

  1. Howard P

    Great post Wendy. I think that one of the hardest things about introducing systematic process into ministry is that people can begin to feel “systemized”. Once this happens, there is a tendency to resist what it is the system is designed to get them to do, or move them through. Much of theology, it seems to me, is about detecting the rules of the invisible system God has in place to draw us back into him. As human beings, as we experience and discern these rules in our own journeys, we try create structures that will help facilitate movement of people in accordance with them. We believe that the better we do this, the more efficiently we will be at “saving”, growing, and ultimately transforming human lives and societies as a whole. The problem I see is that as people begin to get a feel for the systems they are in, there is a tendency to want to “game” it for selfish interest rather than to engage it in the spirit and toward the purposes originally intended. This usually happens when they feel manipulated by the people who are responsible for creating the systems results…….which I think in turn has much to do with why it is so hard to maintain authentic relationships within such structures, because the moment people begin to feel they are being gamed or manipulated by one another for purposes connected with results, it becomes hard to trust that we that the relationships is grounded in an authentic desire to love and be with one another, more than it is about using each other to achieve some ends.

    Just flowing. Those are the things poppin to mind for me.

  2. wmccaig

    Thanks Howard. Great insights. I totally agree. I expected this book to be “organic” in nature but it was more systematic. It felt a lot like the old Saddleback approach which assumes one size fits all…like a manufacturing type approach to ministry.

    However, there were some good points made. For example, we have four programs and there is a strong relationship between the four. However, I don’t think we have done a very good job of linking the four together and gaining all the synergy that we could from our combined efforts. I think when we think “programmatically” instead of “systematically” we end up with a discombobulated mess which is what I think the book was speaking against and which I think is found in many churches. However, if the “process” becomes an idol and we do not recognize the movement of the spirit we become enslaved to the process and fail to move with God and become institutionalized and locked in the process. It’s a hard balance. I have been looking for structures that allow for the movement of the spirit but still maintain that clarity of vision and mission. Still looking…

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