Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What I'm reading on my sabbatical...

Deliberate Simplicity, by Dave Browning. The subtitle is what captured my interest: "How the Church Does More by Doing Less." It's an engaging, well-written book as well as a fast read that challenges the old "bigger is always better" paradigm.

The author planted Christ the King (CTK) Community Church in Skagit Valley, WA, in 1999. Since that time it's grown exponentially to become a multi-site, multi-national church. The book is basically a description of the methods used by CTK, although principles outlined in the book can certainly help more traditional churches like ours.

As I read the book, my heart kept saying "Yes! Yes! That's right!" Browning's thesis is that people are too busy, churches are too busy, and church leaders are too busy. We have adopted a Western, perfectionistic, consumerist mindset and veered away from the simple, bottom-up approach of the early church. There are tons of books out there saying that. But what's different about Deliberate Simplicity is its glut of illustrations and quotations from the business world, common sense, CTK, and other churches that support the premise in a convincing manner.

Browning's church focuses on three things: worship, small groups, and outreach. That's it. Other ministries, when they happen, are started and maintained by individuals and/or small groups in the church, not by church leaders. When a program is no longer the passion of those who started it, it's laid to rest.

Browning is critical of adding programs and building buildings that take the focus off the "main thing." He says a church has to decide what it's NOT going to do, and then dig in its heels when pressure comes to get bigger and more complicated.

Here are some of my underlinings:
  • "Small is the new big."
  • "We try to prune the activity branches at CTK, so God has our time and attention."
  • "Is church a place you go to, or a place you go from? When you are a part of an outreach church, church is a place you go from."
  • "What is the business of the church? In short, it is to make more disciples of Jesus Christ."
  • "Sometimes an emphasis on excellence is just a product of unhealthy perfectionism."
  • "The evangelistic effectiveness of mini-churches is statistically 1,600 percent greater than that of megachurches."
  • "In a Deliberately Simple church, we think big but act small. We keep asking, 'What is the simplest thing that could possibly work?'" (That's a great question for a leadership team to ask from time to time.)

I do have some questions for Browning. Like where does educating children fit in? Isn't that the responsibility of the church too? And he says his church is "doctrinally minimalist." Isn't part of discipleship giving people the whole counsel of God, taking them deeper theologically rather than keeping them at a superficial level? (As it says in Hebrews 6:1, "Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity...."). I have not found small groups to be adequate for educating believers.

Aside from that, what I get from this book is that a church needs to be strategic with its time, energy, and resources. We are not called to do everything; we are called to be faithful. I want to share this book with my fellow church leaders. It gives me hope that pressure and fatigue do not have to be the norm for those in leadership, and that we can actually do more by doing less.

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