Simple Church

Sometimes it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately with people that are really excited about ‘Simple Church.’ I’d be excited about it too if it weren’t capitalized. I’m all for simple church life. But ‘Simple Church’ is a way of doing church in homes with built-in organizational expectations and many come with networking machinery attached. This is the latest incarnation of relational church models that have unfolded in the past two decades—Cell, House, Organic, and now Simple. I’m concerned that once we get our eyes on models for replicating some form of what we call church, we get our eyes off of Jesus and miss what he would do to connect us with others both local and distant.

I got this note from a brother last week:

Hey Wayne: I stumbled over one of your articles (on the net) and the title was Why House Church Isn’t the Answer.  I just wanted to thank you!  For someone who is getting ready to start up a network of house/organic Churches in the Southeastern United States, this article was exactly what I needed to hear I sent it out to all my friends who are helping make this dream a reality! The form is not what is important, and that is a huge statement coming from a former denominational youth pastor.  I wanted to just say thanks for your article and encouragement.  I would love to have you send me anything you have that could help a group of guys who share your thoughts in this article and who are getting ready to start a network of simple churches. God is doing something awesome in the Body right now, and I am thrilled that I am getting to witness the turn in the way we think and act as a Church! We are beginning to “get it” and start being the church instead of doing church.

Here’s my response:

I’m not sure what further information you would be talking about. I assume you have read through my website — If not, I’d start with the relational church articles there under the BodyLife–>past articles. If you’ve done that I don’t know what else you might be looking for.  Most of my thoughts on this are not yet in print because I believe they are best discovered in person.  People in our day put too much dependence on writings and resources and miss the only way these truths can be discovered, out of a living journey with the Head of the church himself.In response to your letter, I would not only say that form is not what is important, but point out that the forms we choose often distract from what God does among his people.  And I’ve got to be honest with you, I think these simple-church networks will become part of the problem in time.  For people who are transitioning out of huge machines, they look like the ultimate in freedom.  But they are not even close, at least as I’ve seen them done.  I would encourage you to really re-think the need to start a network of simple churches.  What would it be like just to be the body and encourage others to do the same without putting a name on it that already draws people’s attention away from following Jesus to replicating some kind of model?  We can see what the early church looked like, but it doesn’t follow logically that if by replicating what they became we’ll experience the same life. They didn’t end up in homes as a model but as an expression of something that was going on internally.  Their life in Jesus produced expressions of church that were simple, powerful and real.  By copying their model we will not discover their life. We must copy what gave them life, then we’ll experience various expressions of church that will exceed anything we humans could build on our best day.  I am convinced that Jesus’ life in his people doesn’t flow out of church life.  Jesus’ life in his people flows into church life.

And don’t worry about being a blessing to help encourage and equip others in that life.  There is more need for that than laborers willing to go.  But once we contain it in a ‘network’ man creates, instead of relationships God gives, we’ll find ourselves once again climbing the ladder that is leaning on the wrong wall.  I’m not telling you it is wrong to build a network. Do whatever God has put in your heart.  But be open to the fact that our desire to put together a network may be an extrapolation of what God is saying to you, not his desire.  He doesn’t need organized networks in my view, when he is so good at connecting people relationally. While they can in the short term give people an impetus to embrace something different, they will not in the long run help people live the life that really is life.  That’s not a hypothetical in that statement, it is the result of past experiences that always proved less that what God wanted.

Real church life begins when we recognize that no human effort can build his church. That’s his job. He asked us to go and proclaim the gospel and make disciples—which is helping people get the journey of living in him—and the church of Jesus Christ will spring up all around us. I’m sure this is more than you bargained for, and unfortunately I know that most people need to go this ‘network’ direction as a way of seeing through all man’s systems to try to replicate church.  But if I can save you that detour, I think you’ll be grateful.

Surprisingly enough a few days later I got a call from this brother. His response was fabulous. He said that as they were forming this ‘network’ he kept feeling unsettled about how they were going about it. We talked for almost an hour about recognizing how God works rather than pushing him into our boxes. I loved his openness and honesty with me and willingness to take a fresh look at the direction they were headed to see if God might have something even more free and more fruitful.

One of the first crises people face who live institutional gatherings, is to replicate something that fulfills the same obligation. We think we need it to survive spiritually and it certainly makes us more acceptable to friends in institutions that think we’re backsliding if we’re not involved in something we can call a church. But when we grab for a model to give us security, we risk missing out once again on the reality of the Body of Christ as she exists in the world. When we impose human models on God’s working, we lose out on the unique expressions of body life that would arise from people who just learn to love believers around them and to look for ways to encourage them to live more deeply in Jesus. Once you’ve tasted of that you know it defies every model we would seek to impose on her, and only results in dividing up Christ’s body once again.

Interestingly enough, the next day I got an email from someone who lives in my city and who just returned from a Simple Church conference. He was looking for a home church in Oxnard. I told him that I hang out with a group of believers in the area who are learning to share life together and that he was welcome to join us. I warned him that he wouldn’t find us to be banner-waving ‘house’ church folks, though, but simply people learning to love Jesus and finding ways to love each other in the process. If something more formal than that emerged in the future, we were OK with that, but hadn’t felt led that way at the moment. But we are studying Galatians right now on Tuesday evenings and he was sure welcome to join us.

He didn’t. He was looking for a specific package we didn’t offer, and in doing so he missed the opportunity right in front of him.

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A Young Reader’s Journey

I got this from a young visitor to my website last week. Don’t you just love how God draws people to himself and shows them the empty facades of religion?

Thank you for building such an uplifting and helpful website! I’m 21 years old, and have thus far left two religious communities, both of which were steeped in religious tradition and falsehood. I was raised in a movement that taught that this group consisted of the only heaven-bound people on the planet.  After the youth group discovered that I had visited places of other denominations at my own leisure, I suffered backbiting from the youth and the leaders. Then, I left there and became a member of a religion program founded by a denomination. Once again, I was the odd one out because I would not accept Hinduism, Islam, Shamanism, Buddhism, etc. as valid ways to God.  I left there, and when I tried to contact some people who were still in the program, I received no response. In spite of all I’ve observed and experienced, I’m thrilled to know that there are people who desire authentic Christian fellowship. I’m glad to know that people are willing to look through the facade of religion, do away with the false concept of church, and begin to actually be the family of God! Thanks for acting in godly discernment.

My response: What a joy to hear from you, and please forgive how long it has taken me to get back to you.  Sometimes my schedule is not my own.  Actually, my schedule is never my own.  But I do enjoy hearing from people on the journey especially young ones who refuse to settle for status quo religious life and are willing to move on in the journey seeking for the authentic Christian fellowship God has placed in their heart. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to find, but Father knows where you are and who he wants to link you to so that you can live more freely in him and share that with others who have a similar hunger.  

I’ll pray God make those connections for you, in his time and in his way. But don’t ever lose your hunger for the purity and simplicity of being devoted to Christ.

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Catching up

The last two weeks have really been a joy. It was great to get home and reconnect with family and finding out I’m going to be grandpa around Thanksgiving time next year. Sara and I also got to take a two-day trip up the California coast to visit some old friends. Aren’t old friends the best? Even though we’d not seen this couple for a long time, we had walked together through some pretty painful places and held on to God together. Relationships centered in Jesus never fade with time. You can get back together even after months or years and pick up the conversation as if no time had ever passed. That’s not true of all relationships, however. Those that remain unreconciled through past hurts or manipulation stay damaged just as long. I’ve still got some like that I pray God heals in time.

Then it was back to Oxnard where we had guests from Colorado, people I’ve only recently met. But what a joy to share new-found relationships as well. We were only together 24 hours but talked almost nonstop through that time. We talked a lot about what is coming to be known as ‘simple church’ and how easy it is for us to be captured by names and models, and miss out on living dependent upon Jesus.

Then over the weekend I was with a group of believers that live in the Las Vegas area. This was the third time I’d crossed paths with them in the last year. They are on a marvelous journey moving from institutional mindsets of the body of Christ, to learning to live freely as God’s people together. That transition is never easy. We’ve been schooled to think so religiously about ‘gatherings’ of the body, that they often seem forced and artificial. Learning how to let them be organic again and still be filled with the life of Jesus can be disorienting.

One of the things Jesus shared with us when we were together is never to think that the middle of a chapter is the end of the story. We tend to do that. So many people lose their bearings in times of transition and run back to the false security of what is familiar, instead of following on past their insecurities into a new spacious place of the Lord’s working. Times of transition can be painful and we often don’t see the fruit of it right away. If we can remember that we’re in a process and that God’s fruit will take time to mature, we will be able to relax more easily and see God’s work through to its end.

That’s probably a good lesson for all of us.

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Follow up to “Living in Two Worlds”

[Originally posed on Lifestream site on April 9, 2004]

A few interesting circumstances fell together during my last day in Ireland that made God’s life a bit more real to me. I woke up on the on my 12th morning since I had left Sara and immediately found myself focused on my return home the following day and the joy of seeing her again and catching up. With eager anticipation I thought of her picking me up at the airport, driving home and spending an evening together after my long absence.

Later that day a brother pulled me aside to tell me how much he had appreciated the latest article in BodyLife, Living in Two Worlds, which concerns how we can live more freely in this present age by keeping our eyes on the reality of eternity.

As I got some time alone later, the juxtaposition of those two events really struck me. I thought about my anticipation of being with Sara the next day and how much more real that seemed to me than someday being face to face with the Father of all and the Son who redeemed us. It was a bit of a reality check. If we only knew what was waiting for us when we finally shed this mortal, corruptible natures and came into the full glory of our inheritance as God’s children, we would have no uncertainty about our mortality.

I know I don’t fully get that yet. If I did I would anticipate his appearing with even greater eagerness than I did my return to Sara. That doesn’t mean I have to be excited about the trip. I don’t relish eleven-hour airplane flights, nor, one would expect, the actual mechanism of dying. But for the joy set before me I endured the one to get home, and will one day endure the other so that I can be with him forever in the freedom and joy of his redemption.

And having such a hope does not make us worthless in the days we have here. In fact, it works just the opposite. My excitement at getting home to Sara made my last day all that much more fun. It allowed me to give myself fully to those we engaged that day knowing this was the last chance on this trip to participate in God’s life together. Isn’t that a great way to live each day—making the most of every opportunity, treasuring every joy while we wait in eager anticipation for the one our souls love most of all!

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Home Again

If you want to read the Ireland journal in order,
scroll down to March 24, 2004 and read up the blog to this page.

Last night I arrived home from my 12 day stay in Ireland, exhausted but overjoyed at the people God allowed us to meet and the things we got to experience. Those who hosted us in their homes, or helped with our transportation in the area were a real blessing to Patrick and me.

Our last four days were spent with people around Dublin and down in County Wicklow. They are a network of believers that grew out of a Bible study in Dublin in the 70’s and 80’s during the days of the Charismatic Renewal. God dealt with their hearts many years ago about laying the structures down and walking in the freedom of being children who live dependent on Father and not on tradition or program. Their hunger for the living God was evident at every turn and we enjoyed so much combining our pieces of the journey and seeing God encourage each of us by his work in the others . As an added benefit we were also joined by some people from South African and from England who wanted to join in the fun. The International flavor was an added joy.

One thing that kept coming up over and over again is that some of them felt a bit stuck in the journey. Without structures to maintain an illusion of spiritual life, they have found it easy to get lost in the necessities of survivall (work, raising children, household responsibilities) and lose sight of the greater purpose God has invited them to share in his kingdom. It is something we all wrestle with. Hopefully God encouraged us all to continue walking freely and intentionally with him as he continues to shape us to be demonstrations of his life and character in the world.

It was four days of nearly non-stop talking and gatherings every night with different groups of believers. We talked through so many aspects of the journey and each night went in different directions as we shared together. We also got to enjoy a bit of sight-seeing and shopping in the area and time enjoying the families we stayed with. One evening we met just with those in their teens and early 20’s who had questions as to how they had survived the de-structuring of their parent’s body life and hungers they had which were unmet. Patrick and I shared with them their opportunity to have their own journey. To follow Jesus as he leads them, and while they can enjoy the heritage they have of being people far more focused on relationship with God rather than institutional mechanics and far more focused on family than peer-relationships; they, too, could listen to God together to see how he might provide some of the equipping they desire and more fellowship opportunities with each other. I loved how these young men and women were hungering for more reality in their walk with Christ. not some kind of plastic program to satisfy their temporal needs. And I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more talented group of kids in arts, sports and academics.

There are many lessons from this trip that I will continue to share over the next few days on this blog, but that is enough for now. The closer I got to home yesterday, the sicker I got with some kind of virus. I am pretty wiped out as I write this at 5:00 in the morning because I just coldn’t sleep any longer. I’m not sure what time zone my body is in a the moment, but it will settle down soon. Due to my computer malfunction I also have over 400 emails in my inbox that need to be answered, so please be patient if you’re one of those waiting for a response or an order to be filled. The jury is still out on the computer. I haven’t had time to try some things with it or have it looked at. I should later today.

Thanks for all your love, prayers and support during this journey. I now have about two weeks at home with a bit of holiday time scheduled in as Sara goes on spring break.

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From Dublin

We have come to the last stage of our journey, and I doubt I will have time to add more before I return. I do appreciate those who have prayed for us during this journey.

We ended our time with some wonderful people in Drogheda. We felt like God was opening some fresh doors among them, even with new sight and victories over past, long-term situations. There was a freshness of God’s glory shining into hearts who have faithfully clung to him over some difficult seasons.

On our last day there we tried to play golf, but the winds were howling and we just didn’t have the equipment to take it on. But the course was a seaside links course of exquisite beauty and we regretted not being able to let it make fools of our golf games. But that allowed us some opportunities to see a bit of the area and spend some more time with the people there. We also went to New Grange to see a burial mound built 500 years before the pyramids, and perfectly aligned with the winter solstice so that the first rays of the morning sun on December 21 penetrates to the heart of the chamber and illuminates it as if the rocks were glowing. It was an amazing structure and it makes one wonder what would have driven people 5,000 years ago to build such a huge, ornate, and astronomically aligned site… Was it the shame of falleness, or the need for a ruler to prove his superiority or something else? No one knows.

Now we have arrived in Dublin with an extensive group of people who live relatedly in Christ’s life, but are not centered on meetings. We gathered with a few last night and will do so with a number of the youth this evening to talk through a bit of the journey. It should be great fun. Then tomorrow we’ll head for Wicklow, south of here for most of Saturday and Sunday, though we are coming back for a Saturday night meeting in Dublin.

It’s amazing to embrace the variety of God’s family here in the Emerald Islands. Each pocket of folks are doing things a bit differently, but have similar hearts for the reality of God’s presence among his people and demonstrated in the world.

On the downside, my iBook travel computer is officially dead for reasons I do not understand. The screen is black, even with a new battery. It may be that something dreadful has happened inside. It is only fourteen months, too, so that is a bit frustrating, but God will use this to further his glory somehow, because he is amazing at such things.

But that bit of writing I was going to do on the way home will not happen now. I cannot access email or the website from it now, so if you have email waiting for me, I’ll have to see it when I get home. I am sorry for any inconvenience this delay might cause. Today Sara will be checking for book and CD orders and look to get those out as quickly as possible.

All told this has been one incredible trip to taste a bit of God’s working across the length and breadth of Ireland. This country has been so shattered by religious conflicts and war and yet there are hungry hearts growing in God’s life and passionate about seeing his glory thrive here. Please hold them up in your prayers as God might lead you to do…

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From Drogheda

Patrick (that’s him and me at left on the bluffs outside Kinsale) got in on Saturday night in Tralee and we spent the evening continuing our discussion on the cross and met in the morning with some of the saints in Tralee for a wonderful time of fellowship and then some goodbyes as we headed off toward Cork.

When we first sat down to table in Cork on Sunday afternoon three continents were represented. Along with these two Americans we were joined by an Irish woman and her Australian husband. When we got to the meeting later that night we were also joined by people from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Philippines. Isn’t Father’s family the most amazing thing? From every tribe, tongue and people and nation he is calling us together to live as his children in the earth. We had an awesome sense that we were getting a taste of that reality in Cork.

We gathered in a wonderful home ovelooking Cork City and shared about Father’s invitation into an intimate friendship with him and how we live that out, not by our human effort, but by learning how to rely on him. The people were incredibly gracious with us and opened their hearts wide to us.

I’m sorry it has taken so long to get this posted, but I’ve had a host of computer problems here which has limited my access. Then yesterday on the train to Drogheda while I was typing the next blog my computer screen suddenly went on the frtiz. The screen suddenly had some nasty lines shoot through it and now it will not boot up at all. Can you believe it? The computer is just 2 months out of warranty, so we hope the problem is not major. We’re going to have someone look at it tomorrow in Dublin, but in the meantime we’ve had to live off of other people’s computers.

After an incredible train ride we have arrived in Drogheda north of Dublin where a group of brothers and sisters have been meeting in homes together for some time. We had some time last night to focus on how we will not be able to love others freely until we allow ourselves to be loved deeply the way Father loves us. We cannot give what we have not received.

The real stories of the last few days, however, is the opportunities we’ve had with individuals who were at moments of breakthrough in various aspects of their spiritual lives. I can’t give you the details of those, but it is an awesome thing to see how Jesus touches people with an individuality that bears great testimony to his incredible nature.

In contrast to that we are in an area now where the Protestant/British conflict with the Catholic/Irish have resulted in thousands of deaths over hundreds of years. We’ve read stories of those who prepared for battle through prayer and worship only to go out and slaughter the opposition, seize their lands and torture any survivors. It is a sobering reminder that the greatest atrocities of humanity have come from religious people who thought their cause was sanctioned by God and they thought that killing their opponents was a great cause to celebrate before God. It has bred deep-seated and long-enduring resentment between people and it is no wonder people reject the gospel when it has been used to such horrible ends.

May God reveal his power, love and glory and deomonstrate to the world that he is the awesome God and loving Father that invites his children into love and live and freedom.

I’ll try to post again in a couple of days if computers and connections allow…. Tomorrow (Thursday) Patrick and `i head into Dublin for the weekend and the last leg of our incredible adventure in Ireland.

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Greetings from Tralee

Thanks to all those who have responded about my trip with words of blessing and prayers for my journey and the work God wants to do through my being here.  I think I could enjoy this blogging…

After 22 hours of driving and flying from my home in Oxnard, I arrived at Stuart and Marie’s home in Tralee in Ireland.  There were half a dozen or so folks waiting to greet me and we had a brief time of fellowship together before I found my way to a bed and 10 hours of much needed sleep.  I only slept about 3 hours on the plane coming here and was hardly able to string coherent thoughts together.

Awaking the next morning, Stuart and I headed for a cross-country tour to Killarney and a national park near there.  What a beautiful trip through the mountains and coastal villages of southeast Ireland. We passed lots of golf courses too, but I didn’t bring my clubs, nor have time to play.  The trip gave us lots of time to talk and I love how God has brought this group of people into the simple joy of living as his people together.  You can read a bit about them at a web site they are just starting to put together at:

Last night we gathered in Tralee to talk through the power of the cross and how it frees us from sin and shame to live deeply in the friendship God wants with each of us.  We’re going to continue that discussion this evening (Saturday night) as well.  But first we’re going on a bit of a road trip. Stuart will be dropping me off in Ballybunion to meet with some new brothers and sisters there while he drives on to Shannon to pick up Patrick who is flying in today from the States. 

Tommorow (Sunday) we will gather with the saints here in Tralee and then make our way down to Cork in southern Ireland to meet with some other believers there.  Your prayers for us are most welcome.

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Leaving for Ireland

In less than an hour I will be leaving for the airport on a two-week trip to Ireland. I met the folks there over a year ago during an all-to-brief swing through the region. I’m going back to spend some time in five different places. Accompanying me on the trip is Patrick Mcbane from Youngstown, Ohio.

We are just starting a blog here, so I’m not too sure how this is going to work. But while I’m in Ireland I’m going to try to give some regular updates of what we’ll experience there. If all goes well, you’ll see some updates appear here from time to time. If not, you’ll know I couldn’t figure it out and we’ll start fresh when I get home.

Hopefully you’ll be able to respond to these posts as well. Please be patient with my learning curve here as we try this more direct way of communicating.

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Arranging our Schedules

Isn’t God amazing?

I am constantly in awe at the things God arranges. I can’t believe I spent so much of my life frustrated that God wouldn’t do things my way or trying to manage a schedule that did more to keep him out than let him in. I don’t know how much I must have missed that he wanted to spill into my life because I was so focused on getting him to do things my way. In the last few years he has won me over. His ability to connect things at exactly the right moment far exceed my ability to do so. And it is so cool.

On my recent flight to Hawaii to teach at the YWAM base in Kona, God put me next to a woman who was on her way to Hawaii to make some medical decisions for her hospitalized father who had suffered a stroke. She was a new Christian and struggling with the choices she would have to make alone for her father’s care. It was such a blessing to be able to sort through some of those things for her both at a personal and theological level. We talked for over half of the journey about her situation and the choices ahead before she settled into a nap and I into some reading.

At the end she couldn’t have been more grateful. I stayed in touch with her through the week and her father passed away Tuesday night. Isn’t it amazing how God can arrange just the conversations we need when we need them most? But we both could have missed it so easily. If we’d just sat quietly ignoring each other as most do on airplanes, we would never have known.

If I hadn’t shown an interest in why she was going to Hawaii, and if she hadn’t taken the risk to tell me the real reason none of this would have happened. It’s a great reminder to take a bit of an interest in what’s going on around you. You’ll never know how God will use it to encourage another brother or sister, or to let the world get a glimpse of him in you.

I’m also going to Ireland next week with a brother from Youngstown, Ohio who I only met a few weeks ago. Patrick Mcbane, is an Irishman who has never been to Ireland. He contacted me a few weeks ago about visiting their group. I was already set to be nearby in Western Pennsylvania, but didn’t have a hole in my schedule to arrange anything with them. But God knew better. He shuffled some things around so I had a piece of the weekend unexpectedly free. Not only did I get to meet some delightful brothers and sisters in Youngstown, but God also connected me with a brother to share this journey to Ireland. I’m not sure what all he has in mind with that, but I’m freshly reminded that Jesus has his body well in hand and connects us with others at just the right time.

So be ready! Who knows what God might want to do with the next person who crosses your path!

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