Thinking Out Loud

May 26, 2011

Small Is Big: Exploring the Simple Church Concept

As churches of all size discover the ‘small group’ or ‘cell group’ concept, many choose to call what they do ‘home church’ or ‘house church,’ the latter term heretofore reserved for entirely different.  So Tony & Felicity Dale, longtime pioneers and advocates for the other kind of house church, have chosen to go with the term ‘simple church’ to describe their efforts and their vision. 

The full title of the Barna Books paperback is, Small is Big: Unleashing the big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches, and is itself a revision of a title from two years earlier, The Rabbit and the Elephant.  (A gratis copy was provided by Tyndale House.)   Unlike its oft-confused counterpart, a true simple church is a freestanding model lacking nothing in terms of resources that a larger church might have to offer, though with obvious downscaling of programs and amenities such as nurseries, youth ministries, worship bands, etc.

Having said all that, toward the end of the book, the authors relate ways in which simple churches and megachurches are in fact sharing resources, and how megachurch staff are studying the intimacy and community of the microchurch to see what might be learned. 

But in another section, where there is discussion of people exiting larger churches missing the diversity and excitement of the larger crowd, they refer to a period of ‘detox’ while withdrawing from the large church experience.  Personally, I think the language might have offered a better term, because whether or not the authors intended it, there is the implicit suggestion that there is something ‘toxic’ from which the former parishioner must be cleansed.

The authors’ experience and knowledge of this movement both in the UK and the USA is probably quite unrivaled. As I read it, I thought of people I know who are doing this very thing, and considered that this could be a ‘calling card’ of sorts to fully explain what they do to anyone curious.  This book defines both the blessings of this rapdily growing type of church experience, as well as the pitfalls and dangers of beginning incorrectly.

One of my concerns about the house simple church movement has always been that it tends to attract those from the charismatic end of the larger evangelical spectrum.  Several times here, the language used to describe their gatherings talks about ‘prophetic words’ and ‘moving in the gifts of the Spirit;’ terms that are familiar enough to many of us, but equally unfamiliar to, for sake of illustration, Baptists.  And I suppose that if the simple church movement is really going to sweep across a broader or more mainstream Evangelical landscape, I’d like to see people doing simple church in a way that, for sake of illustration, a Baptist would be comfortable attending. 

Or maybe I’m wrong on that altogether.  Perhaps the simple church movement is in fact a movement in a slightly more Charismatic direction; that in the absence of structures and programs and hierarchies, dependence on the Holy Spirit has to be elevated.  This is reinforced when you consider that if you were to attend a simple church with Tony and Felicity, one of the first two things you might notice is that no one individual is in charge and there is no prescribed ‘order of service.’  While the worship might consist of a few songs you know, there is also spontaneous worship and what we know as ‘sermon’ is often replaced by a much more interactive time of people sharing insights into God’s word, and linking testimonies to teaching.

There are some aspects of Small is Big that reiterated material I had already covered in books by Michael Frost and Frank Viola and Wayne Jacobsen, and reinforced many things I already believe.  But if the simple church concept is new to you, I would suggest (a) read the book, as it is a complete encyclopedia of everything you need to know about this subject; and (b) find out if there is a simple church meeting somewhere nearby and make arrangements to attend.

It might be the closest you get to experiencing what the early church in Acts experienced.

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February 2, 2011

Wednesday Link List

We read blogs so you don’t have to!  Or something.

  • Brent Mosley is president of Bluefish TV, the company that makes — among other things — those little two-minute video clips that start your weekly worship service.  He blogs, too.  Check out Is The Church Telling The Complete Story?
  • Speaking of video, it’s been three years since it was filmed and two years since it was released on DVD, but now you can watch Joe Manafo’s detailed 42-minute documentary study of alternative churches in Canada in its entirety at the website for One Size Fits All.
  • A list with ten things is actually easier to produce than when you decide to narrow it down to five.  And these five are well-chosen.  Trevin Wax posts Five Trends to Watch for in Evangelical Christianity.
  • And speaking of Trevin, here’s a video of a church promotion that he (and Zach at Vitamin Z) think is one of the best church advertisements ever.  “Before we tell you who we are, we want to tell you who we were.”
  • Contemporary Christian book author Skye Jethani tells why he doesn’t read many books by contemporary Christian book authors, in a piece at Out of Ur provocatively titled, I Read Dead People.
  • Dan Horwedel whisks you on a link-list journey of his own in a fascinating examination of the Christian worship song, God of This City.  Both the major-key version and the minor-key version.
  • I don’t read — let alone link — to Ann Welch’s blog very often because it’s more of a women’s blog and a parenting blog, but she’s been in the link-list here since day one because she is a blogger who has my utmost respect. Here’s a shorter piece even the guys can take a minute to read at her blog Resolved 2 Worship, titled Dart Throwing.  (Turn your speakers up, too; she’s got a great blog playlist.)
  • Chuck Colson believes that while most Christian children’s books contain a Bible narrative followed by “the moral of the story,” we need to teach kids to recognize the worldview being promoted in everything they read.  And he’s introducing a product that will help them do just that.
  • Pete Wilson raises the oft-discussed issue of swearing, or things that some people consider swearing.   200 comments so far about words like darn, dang, heck, geez, and shoot.  (And then, Daniel Jepson raises the same topic, too.)
  • A woman in a senior’s home invites John Shore into her room, and then dies holding on to John’s hand.  Yikes!  Obviously, readers are wondering why the story is just surfacing now.
  • Albert Mohler thinks that Piers Morgan’s interview with Joel Osteen identifies one topic where we either stand for Biblical truth or we try to dance around its politically incorrect implications.  Mohler says that sooner or later we’ll have to deal with our own Osteen Moment.
  • A Tennessee pastor refused to baptize a couple’s baby because the couple wasn’t married. He wants to make a statement about teen pregnancy.
  • Time for a quick hymn sing.  Here’s a couple of versions of a classic hymn that is well-known in England but not at all in North America.  One version is more modern, the other is most formal, but both of them work.  Check out Tell Out My Soul.
  • This week we should pay Trevin a commission.  If you’ve read the bestselling book Radical by David Platt (Waterbrook), you know all about “Secret Church.”  Well, this year, the event is available as a simulcast for any church that wants in. (Posted even though the event is a Lifeway thing. Look guys; no hard feelings!)
  • Here’s a return of a Link List favorite; Mike Morgan’s weekly comic, For Heaven’s Sake.

January 11, 2009

Blog Updates

lynxMedia Section

In the lynx links section today I’ve added two new listings under “Media.”  The documentary on Lonnie Frisbee has been covered here before, but today we’re also adding a link to a Canadian documentary that deals with “fringe” churches.    Here’s how I described it in an e-mail this week:

one-size-fits-all2Some of you may have heard Joe Manafo speak at the Canadian Youth Workers Conference.   Joe is part of an alternative church plant in Sarnia called theStory and founder of Thinkerlabs. He has recently completed a 43-minute DVD documentary called One Size Fits All? – Exploring New and Evolving Forms of Church in Canada …   The documentary covers church plants in every province except Newfoundland.   You can learn more at  http://www.onesizefitsall.ca/ The price is $24.99 CDN and we’re carrying these to support Joe’s efforts both at film making and research, hoping that you’ll want to do the same.

If you’re one of my local readers, we picked this up for our bookstore; if you’re reading from anywhere else you can order it from the website.   Unfortunately, I didn’t ask Joe to include a “demo” at this stage, but you’ll find some sample clips on the website.

This Just In:

No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver or purple.   (Interesting that three of those are colors, since there’s also no way to really describe color.)   Break into groups of three or four and discuss.

linksMore About Lynx Links:

I also added a couple of new blogs to the links today.   What I’m always looking for is something that is generally Christ-focused (or at least church-focused, or Bible-focused) on a day-to-day basis, with frequent new posts, that is not too dry or too deep for the average person, visually engaging, and not solely of interest to professional clergy, and not too Twittery (i.e. self-focused).   Got suggestions?

ESV Study Bible clarification:

Jon Rising, who blogs at Word and Spirit sent me this the other day and I thought I should share it:

Tim Challies does not agree that the ESV Study Bible is strongly Reformed in its theology. Here is what he blogged:

esv-study-bible“…The ESV Study Bible, on the other hand, offers a wider or less-defined perspective. Where the doctrine is clear and undisputed among Evangelicals, so too are the notes. But where doctrines are controversial and within the area of Christian freedom or disputable matters, the notes tend not to take a firm position, even when the author or editor is firmly in one camp or the other. Whether this is positive or negative may well depend on the individual reader.
To satisfy my curiosity, I opened my NIV Study Bible, Reformation Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible and ESV Study Bible and compared their notes on several areas of controversial theology—end times, predestination and spiritual gifts. None of these Bibles offered notes that were unbiblical so I was left looking for the differences in perspective.

In general I found that theMacArthur Study Bible offered the most defined position. This makes good sense as it represents the position of a single individual. This was followed by the Reformation Study Bible which offers the position of many individuals but each of them drawn from a very consistent theological position. The ESV Study Bible came next, offering a charitable but open view on most of these issues. The NIV Study Bible seemed almost to shy away from some of the issues.

So while it is clear that the ESV Study Bible is not distinctly Reformed in its position, neither is it Arminian. It is not cessationist or continuationist and is neither amillennial nor premillennial. In fact, it seems as if it emulates the parent who tells one of his children to cut the last piece of cake in half and the other to choose the first piece. In many cases a person from one perspective wrote the notes while a person from the other perspective screened them. This ensures the notes maintain both charity and some degree of objectivity in those areas of dispute.”

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