Jesus people, loving people

Simple church

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail…
Onward Christian Soldiers

The church of Jesus is constant – this is Jesus’ promise. He has promised, however, to preserve his people, not any particular denomination or institution. In so many churches so much effort, time and money goes into maintaining structures. When we consider the future, the question we ask ourselves shouldn’t be “how can we preserve [insert your church name here]?” but “how can we more effectively spread the gospel and make disciples of Jesus in our locality?”

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis wrote:

“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”

Church, in essence, is simple, and we must stick to what’s necessary to achieve the mission of the church, which is drawing men and women into Christ.

Jesus’ big message was the good news of the kingdom, and the early church understood this as their organising truth. Way before they had any buildings, budgets and cumbersome institutions, the gospel was enough for them.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Corinthians 1:1

If you look at a medicine packet, you’ll see it contains active and inactive ingredients. The inactive ones are there to bind the pill together and help with taste and swallowing. Only the active ingredient(s) makes any difference. The message of the cross is our active ingredient. It needs some structure and we must gather, but if we have too much or try to be too clever we’re in danger of emptying the cross of its power. The message of the cross is in itself a powerful force.

In the 1950’s there were 2 million Christians in China. Mao tried to stamp them out by various brutal means. In the 1980’s, western missionaries were allowed back in and found that the church had grown to 60 million, without any central organisation, money or events. They had one another, the Holy Spirit, the message of the cross and not much else. Everything else had been stripped away and through it they found a simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. Only when we have nothing left except Christ can we truly realise he is all we need.

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:3

Mission is simpler than we think and the spread of the gospel can be much more organic than we realise. Years ago just after I became a christian I invited my friends from the pub round to my house so I could share my testimony with them, but they couldn’t understand why I needed to do it that way when I could just tell them there in the pub- which is what I ended up doing, there and then.

What sort of structure and organisation do we need to be an effective church today? E.Stanley Jones writes:

It is the depravity of institutions and movements that given in the beginning to express life, they often end in throttling that very life. Therefore, they need constant review, perpetual criticism and continuous bringing back to the original purposes and spirit. The Christian church is no exception. It is the chief illustration of the above.

It’s our heart to bring our church back to its original purposes and spirit. We don’t have the resources or finances that we had. This forces us toward simplicity. What do we need? Less admin, more mission. Change provokes a range of responses but our aim is to reduce church-as-institution and grow church-as-people built around the original purpose – a simple and pure devotion to Christ. Our greatest resource is the message of the cross, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

A simple church with a simple message is a powerful force.

Published 3rd May 2019 with tags: church church planting cross gospel prophetic vision

Comments

  1. Penny says:

    Yeah. I tell my friends that despite our best efforts, we have built ourselves a structure that God in his mercy is dismantling for us, and focusing us on what matters.
    I have long appreciated Paul’s words in which he is determined to communicate the work of the cross only, and I aim to reach a person’s heart, not their brain.

  2. John Lewis says:

    God bless you Penny, but why are you so certain that it is God that has dismantled the Jesus Army? Consider what has opened since the Church gave up that vision- Our society has become even more unequal and the poor are being damaged- I see this every week, as I now run a support group for the families of prisoners, is this the result of politics or the spiritual war? These men and women need the Church to be an army to fight for them- and this used to be our mission- Do we need a new one or do we need to be the army now?

  3. Malcolm Lisle says:

    In a changing world this church’s approach needs to change. We were run by professional middle class people who were downsizing. They gave us huge amounts of money and became our leaders. Today there is less interest in downsizing and most working class people struggle financially with lower wages and soaring house prices. Latterly community seems dominated by people on benefits and people with mental health problems. What kind of community would the people John is working with fit into? I always thought that this church said fine words about poverty, in Britain and the 3rd world, and hoarded loads of money in the bank. Then we created Jesus Centres. Now the Jesus Centres and the community houses are getting more difficult to run. The people this church is trying to help don’t have the capacity to run a complicated system created by university graduates. We must simplify.

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