Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity

A few months ago I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book being written by a number of authors about their passion for Jesus’ church. Unfortunately it was at a time when I was too busy to meet the deadlines.  As it came to publication, though, I was approached about writing the Foreword and was happy to do so.  The book just released this week. It is called Simple Church:  Unity Within Diversity. I’m not crazy about the title, but titles are never easy. I hope people don’t confuse it with a technique for “doing church” that some call “simple church” and see it instead as those who embrace a simpler way of seeing Jesus’ church in the world, becasue that’s what the book is about. This book was published by a friend of mine and brings together twenty-four different writers who are living, loving, and serving outside the institutional model. I enjoyed reading it and having some of these same passions rekindled in my own heart.  

I also love what it represents—people from diverse backgrounds coming together to share their piece of God’s gift in their lives. We need far more of this as Jesus brings the pieces of his church together to share life, not to create another overarching institution or movement. I wrote about this crowing connection and unity in Finding Church and I love it when people find more identity in Jesus than they do a particular theological point of view or way of “doing church.” We need more of this, and not just by writers, but by every member of his body learning to love people around them knowing they are only a piece of a greater revelation God is giving to the world. We don’t have to agree on all the details, when we hold Jesus in common.  I’m grateful this book is broadening the conversation in the world. 

I don’t know what more to say about it than I already wrote in the Foreword, so I’ll let you have a look at it here:  

You hold in your hands a unique compilation of the insights of twenty-four different individuals chosen from across the world sharing what makes them passionate about the church of Jesus in the world. While each of these articles is unique and fascinating in its own way they harmonize in a glorious symphony of the ways Jesus wants to make his multifaceted-wisdom known in the world. 

I love to read what makes someone’s heart beat faster when they contemplate the reality of the Father’s family taking shape in the world.  By focusing on the positive side of church life, instead of where its broken, many common themes emerge such as the supremacy of Christ, laying down our lives for others, handling Truth lightly so others can access him even in their brokenness, and each of us learning to follow him as we support and encourage each other. 

Each of these contributors was chosen because they practice something called simple church.  While definitions of that term may vary as does the way each of them lives it out, at its core simple church refers to people who are no longer engaged in institutional congregations that gather weekly.  Though many of them did so for multiple decades, each of them came to discover greater reality and freedom away from those structures and embrace the church as a family sharing his life together in homes, coffee shops, and anywhere else people naturally get together. 
But even if you see the church differently than they do, you will find their heartbeat transcends simple church itself and strikes to the core of what it means to be God’s children in the earth.   You will find many people in more institutional settings that long for these same priorities and seek a church that reflects God as an endearing presence in the universe, inviting people everywhere into the reality of his life and truth.
I hope these themes become the fodder for conversations among his church, however they happen to gather.  We need more conversation about these things, not less.   And we need it not just with those who are like-minded, but even those who see things differently than we do but have the same heart for God and his kingdom. 
This book is like a very long and very full buffet table as the contributors wrestle with the implications of doctrine, holiness, unity, giving and sharing.  You’ll want to devour it all, but you’ll soon realize that there isn’t enough time in the day or enough energy in the mind to live out all that’s here.  Just keep in mind that they are not talking about the church as an institution having to do all these things, or even as one individual doing them all. 
They consider the church as a communion of persons, each part responding joyfully to the Head. It is enough to embrace the part he’s given us as we encourage others around us to do the same.  How he uniquely he takes shape in each of us will make the glory of the whole far greater than the sum of its parts. We may not be able to do them all, but these don’t dwell in the world of obligation.  This is not how we have to live for him, but how we get to live in his unfolding glory.
So take care not to reduce the table of contents into a list of objectives we have to achieve by our own effort. We couldn’t even on our best day. What is described here is how Jesus takes shape in his church as each of us learns to live at his pleasure in this broken world.  There will be strength enough, grace enough, courage enough and wisdom enough for these priorities to shape the way we live.  It is in learning to live in his love that we will be free enough to revel in his priorities and demonstrate his glory in the world.
This is his church to build and he does it well, often in mostly unseen ways.    But she is taking shape in the world as he draws people together that share many of the passions outlined in these pages.  May this book encourage your own journey and stimulate your passion to experience his life and share it freely with others.