Simple Church

My church is starting a new series this coming Sunday on ‘The Simple Church’ that has me more than a little nervous. I believe (but has not been verified yet) that it is based on the book, ‘Simple Church‘ by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger. Pastor will preach 4 messages each Sunday morning over the month of July. Evening services will not be held. In its place, we will divide into small groups and discuss the morning message.

So what has me on edge?

The fact that this book appears to be yet another in a long line of titles focused on stimulating healthy church growth. The most famous book in this genre is Rick Warren’s ‘The Purpose Driven Church.’ I have seen firsthand the carnage this type of man-manufactured methodology creates in churches that have implemented it. My concerns are well documented elsewhere on this blog.

I’m not casting any judgments just yet, because I have found little information about it in the blogosphere or elsewhere on the web. I do know one Christian book site has it listed as the current #1 bestseller.

From Amazon’s site I am able to glean the basic premise. Churches have become cluttered and clogged with an overabundance of programs. These programs serve to distract the church from its primary purpose – to make disciples. The authors idea is to simplify the church by eliminating all unnecessary programs and establishing only those programs that helps the church reach its goal of discipling people.

Ok, it sounds fairly solid on the surface, but my concerns begin with their choice of role models for building a sound church. They use secular corporate organizations like Google and Papa John’s as the template for establishing simplicity. Once again the church is likened to a corporate business. The book is essentially establishing a process for moving believers into spiritual maturity in the same way I suppose as a business person works his way up the corporate ladder.

Warning: Rant Ahead!

I must get this out:

THE CHURCH IS NOT A BUSINESS!!

A PASTOR IS NOT A CEO!

THE STAFF ARE NOT EMPLOYEES!

THE MEMBERS\ATTENDERS ARE NOT CUSTOMERS!

NO SINGLE PROCESS CAN MOVE BELIEVERS INTO SPIRITUAL MATURITY – only the Grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit through sound biblical preaching and teaching can accomplish this.

Sorry for yelling… but I’m sick to the point of vomiting with all the literature out there trying to seduce the church into embracing the world’s ways to conduct its own business (pun intended).

Perhaps I’ve become too cynical -so much so that I cannot be even-handed with this book. But I did find a review of it on Sharper Iron that I must admit had a positive outlook on the book as a whole, but let me post some of the concerns the reviewer had with it:

The book also seems to downplay the importance of Bible preaching and right doctrine. I recognize that early in the book the authors touch on this topic by saying, “Thom has written several books on the primacy of sound, biblical, and orthodox doctrine in growing churches” (pp. 14-15). As one reads through the book, he discovers that the focus is process-oriented and could conceivably work regardless of what a church preaches or teaches.

I found another feature to be disconcerting. As demonstrated through the churches highlighted throughout the book, there seems to be a general assumption that the main service(s) of the church are to be viewed as the way to attract visitors rather than to prepare saints. I realize that even fundamental churches disagree as to the nature of the Sunday morning service; but in every case, the process moved from the main service as a gateway to small groups or to ministry/service groups without asking whether the worship service should be the gateway for visitors to begin the process of spiritual maturity.’ – From a review of ‘Simple Church’ from ‘Sharper Iron.’

This all sounds very ‘seeker sensitive’ to me and that is frightening. Seeker churches downplay doctrine and biblical preaching by gearing Sunday morning services to accommodate their felt needs.

Is this where our church is heading? I pray to God not.

I need information. If anybody out there has read the book, please give me your impressions. If your church or one you know has implemented its methodologies, please give me your insights. If you stumble across some more info on the net, please send me a link.

What I’ve read so far has not encouraged me much, but maybe I’m just paranoid. I can use all the information I can find to get a firm grip on the situation. I am going to talk with the pastor and hopefully he will let me borrow a copy to read.

Thank you in advance for your help!

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43 thoughts on “Simple Church

  1. I also get disgusted at this “church is a business” mindset that is ever so common these days. The pastor is the CEO and we have payed employees. Tell me this…. Where does the Bible equate the church as a business? We are supposed to be in the world NOT OF IT!!! I also get angry when I hear pastors speak of the auditorium. IT IS NOT AN AUDITORIUM! It is a SANCTUARY!!! It has been called sanctuary since the Bible was created… since Genesis. Why do we have to change it now? Who are we to change it? Same goes with your concerns in this post. Why do we have to change it? Who are we to say that what God has established is not good enough to get people to accept Christ? Can we do better than God? HA! Foolish man.

  2. Very well said Czechknight.
    First came Purpose Driven Church that destroyed my old congregation.
    Then came the Five Star Church – which my old church just went through.
    and now comes The Simple Church. Is it just the same old error repackaged?
    This is what I aim to discover.

  3. I’ve not read it, but I perused the Amazon site including the comments and taking a “peek” inside the book. I also went to ericgeiger.com and saw that Thom Rainer is CEO of LifeWay Books. On the surface, I think you are right in your concerns. On Eric’s site, if after you have read the book and are ready to take the next step, you can take their survey (for $10) and see how their ministry might be able to coach you….okay.

    Whatever happened to the bible as our blueprint? Why do people need to capitolize on the free gospel?

  4. I hate to post again, but upon some further research, it would appear this is a flavor of the emerging church – as in organic Christianity. Again, I’ve only scratched a bit of the surface, but those who bought /read this book have strong affinities to well-known names you would recognize in the E.C. movement.

  5. Brandon – When I do research, I do it in several ways. For instance, I read the comments on Amazon and also the books people tend to buy that bought “Simple Church”. There was a common theme with some emerging authors.

    Also, when I went to Eric’s site and specifically the blog, I saw what he wrote about and checked into some of those things.

    I also typed in his name with emerging church and emerging church leaders and the blogs that came up were clearly emergent. Those people who had read this book also recommend people like Erwin McManus, Andy Stanley, and Brian McLaren to name a few.

    While this may not be foolproof, I have generally found it is a good indicator as to the tone being set and what someone is drawn to or has an affinity towards.

    I looked at a variety of things and got a general sense about the book. Like I said, it may not be foolproof, but it is a starting point. Something to at least be aware of.

    P.S. Eric’s blog lists his favorite restaurants – how is this ministry related? Seems to be a little emergent to me but then maybe I’m cyncial, too 🙂

  6. Brandon – Sorry….I really wanted to pass this along. Eric Geiger is affiliated with Ministry Advantage. Bill Hybels of WillowCreek will only recommend this coaching service. Well, that was enough for me to hear at the end of message 3. I’ve seen the damage WillowCreek has brought at a family member’s church – so much so that he cannot discern truth or even want to hear it.

    I hope you don’t mind me trying to help you out.

    http://www.ministryadvantage.org/

  7. Brandon,
    I appreciate you and your like-minded commentators fearing for my (and my congregation) safety as it concerns PDL. I, too, feel the need to protect the flock God has temporarily given me. But Rick Warren’s not the danger. But I think we’ve proven that you and yours and I will not agree on that.

    However, with due respect, here you go again. Interestingly enough, you and yours are back at it, criticizing somebody’s writing that apparently none of you have read – at least none admit to it. The basis of all the above criticism? Guilt by association! Bill Hybels has a 2-generation removed link to Simple Church; ergo, it must be awful. Need more proof? One guy who read it also read Erwin McManus and Brian McLaren. Therefore, double evil. Let me give you one more conclusive proof: I’ve read Rick Warren, Thom Ranier, and…I go to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Triple evil!

    Why don’t you read the book, THEN make a judgment? Come to think of it, I know why. If you read the book, and it is evil like PDL, then you will be associated with the book, and you then will be blacklisted! Come on guys, instead of spending hours reading what others said about Simple Church, read the thing yourself. I found it to be excellent (although, Brandon, I admit my endorsement will mean that you will likely find the book heretical).

    However, in all this, it is good to know where I can traverse in the blogosphere to find those with perfect theology.

  8. We find out what people think so we don’t waste our time and money on watered-down “ministries” … or lack thereof. We can get that for free by visiting the latest-and-greatest-change-your-life church. That’s becoming a local neighborhood drive… or walk these days. Sorry to sound cynical.

  9. Mr. Edwards,
    I don’t much care for your acerbic tone. I have made no judgments on the book, but am researching it as thoroughly as possible before this coming Sunday. This is including several audio presentations by the authors. Do you have a problem with me exercising my God-given duty to judge all things? Especially things that are infiltrating my church and the leadership?
    However, as you can clearly read in my post, I am disturbed by church-growth experts who take corporate business strategies (which is of the world, no matter how you slice it) to the church which is established upon the rock of Jesus Christ. This book’s whole premise is built upon Apple and Google’s business process of simplicity. This is noted in the book’s overview on Amazon as well as from Eric Geiger’s own mouth on the audio message i am currently listening to. 9 of the 16 sources ‘Simple Church’ cited are from corporate management and leadership books. This is grounds for grave concerns, which is why I’m delving deeper. I will try and get my hands on the book this weekend when I attend Pastor’s small group study Sunday night.
    And your accusation of guilt-by-association is completely unfounded. Where did I make such a claim?
    As for me having perfect theology, all I want to say is that my theology is far from perfect, but at least I am in pursuit of it, rather than chasing down the latest vain human philosophy released in print.
    The theology of the bible is a beautiful thing. Preach it, teach it with conviction and watch the sheep God has given you grow in grace through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. That to me is ‘Simple Church.’

  10. Dear Pastor Edwards,

    With all due respect, I don’t think anyone has criticized the writing of the book, but I believe there are some definite red flags associated with it. Just who is it that tends to gravitate toward it? Also, since when do we need pastoral “coaches” that we pay in order to know how church should be? That is a huge problem I have with all of this. Eric Geiger is affiliated with Ministry Advantage – a company of “coaches” to help your church. Give me a break! If a pastor is unable to seek the living God to determine the direction the church he shepherds should take rather than paying someone else or reading the latest fad book, then something is terribly amiss. The last I checked, Scripture is sufficient for everything we need for godly living and to equip us for every good work. You can’t even take their survey without paying $10 to do so. Somehow, this seems like a frivolous waste of our tithes and offerings.

  11. Brandon,
    You didn’t descend to guilt by association, so I apologize for mentioning that in my comment I addressed to you. MG, however, did exactly that, and it was to him I was referring.

    MG, I read books by people I disagree with. I feel it sharpens my dull mind, it reaffirms what I believe (almost always), and it lets me in on what some folks in the world are thinking. I’m still tryint to process why that is a bad thing.

    Brandon: you assume that instead of chasing down my theology from Scripture, that I am using every Thom, Dick, and Rick for my beliefs. Since we’ve communicated only 2-3 times, that’s gotta be a stretch. I study the Scripture for me, my family, my church, and my world. But I gotta confess, I’m not the brightest bulb in the package, so I use commentaries (not infallible, I’m pretty sure) and I read books (also not infallible, especially those of Thom and Rick, Dick may be OK). Of both, I take to the Holy Spirit for discernment. I also check them against people I’ve learned to trust. I’m kinda guessing you do the same.

    I agree with both of you, MG and Brandon, about the bulk of church growth ideas and the church “salesmen.” As has been already spoken, most is a waste of time, money, and breath. However – and this is no knock on you two, for I know nothing of either of you personally or ministerially – if we’re doing so good at this church thing, how come we’re getting our brains beaten out at every turn?

    The number of churches that are seeing people saved and discipled is miniscule – and I include my own in that number that ain’t gettin’ the job done. I’m ready to listen to somebody – and I said LISTEN, not “buy-in” – to somebody who is. If that makes me a humanistic disciple, we better shut down all conferences, Christian book sellers, et al.

    I’m not saying the “bottom line” is the bottom line. But I am saying that the church in America is so stinking weak and ineffective and preoccupied and narcisstic that we would do well to listen to somebody who appears to be doing something right…and then we can take it to the Holy Spirit for discernment. What’s wrong with that?

  12. Pastor Edwards,

    Thank you for apologizing to Brandon for something was contributed by me. I agree with you in that our churches are in a sad state, but when I look at the Scriptures, I can see how things are going to go from bad to worse. I also see that from Matt 7 that “few” are those that find the narrow path. Just because a church is not seeing the large numbers other churches are, please don’t assume you are doing something wrong. God’s ways are never our ways. Look how many of Jesus’ supposed disciples left Him when He started preaching/teaching the harder things. When I see the word “few”, I really think it means few – not the masses. I pray for you in that you would just be faithful to God’s word and listen to that and spend much time in prayer before your Father in heaven. If any many lacks wisdom, God will give it generously. I hope you ask your flock to hold you up in prayer so that you are not tempted to look to man and THEN to the Holy Spirit – that is backwards. I agree that it is very difficult for pastors to hold to the truth and stand their ground when everyone else seems to have a piece of something they don’t have. Remain faithful to God’s word and see what HE will do with it in the lives of your congregants. And yes, maybe some will leave but if they have gone out, they were never truly a part of the Shepherd’s flock. God can ask nothing more from you than for you to be faithful no matter how few or how many you seem to be impacting. In the end, the Lord will look at the heart, not numbers.

  13. One more thing, I ran across this and thought you might be interested, Pastor Edwards. I do believe that without purity in the church, it will be powerless. I am finally in a church that practices church discipline. It only took 40 yrs. for me to see this in a church….wow. Maybe if more pastors were willing to purify their flocks, they would begin to see the power of the living God.

    http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/1717.htm

  14. Guys, you really need to do better research. Simple Church is not only a book. It is a house church network. There was a house church network before the book came out, and the two are not related at all. You are confusing the two.

    As someone who is enjoying the emergent conversation, I would say Geiger and Rainer are not in the conversation. They are your typical modern thinkers who do not speak or write to the postmodern culture we desperately need to raech. Geiger went to Southern Seminary which means he is probably reformed. I listened to one of his messages on his church website. He is definately of the modern thinking with a proposistion and points.

    Just dont lump everyone you dont like into the emerging conversation I am enjoying. The purity of our conversation is harmed.

    What is ironic to you is that Rainer and Geiger are most likely in the camp that speaks against us, saying we compromise truth. We dont. We just value experience as well. Yet you are here bashing them. Bash away. Just dont put them in my camp, please.

  15. Emerging Thinker – I don’t think they have been “bashed” as you put it. I have simply pointed out some things in my research that “may” be things to look into further. Nothing wrong with checking things out. I never commented on the content, although I may not agree with their methods. I have given links that are not just one-sided. No one has made any definitive conclusions. And yes, I am aware that it is a house church network as well – unrelated. More than having more books to distract us, I think we need the bible .

  16. No, please continue to bash.

    I enjoy seeing reformed and modern thinkers torn down by their own kind. It brings more people into our emegent conversation. I only wanted you to know that myslef and others in the emergent conversation do not claim Rainer or Geiger as our own.

  17. Quote:” I enjoy seeing reformed and modern thinkers torn down by their own kind.”

    I hate to bring you down, but you are the same ‘kind’ as we – fallen humans in need of divine redemption. I pray the purity of your conversation speaks of this great fundamental truth.

  18. Brothers,

    I know you only mean to spur one another on to love and good deeds, but I believe you may be doing more harm than good. It grieves me to think that someone who is in this new emergent church movement would appreciate your critique of Dr. Rainer and Dr. Geiger.

    Both Dr. Rainer and Dr. Geiger are known as conservative evangelicals who affirm a high view of Scripture. I would not expect to see someone of your theological leaning crticize the book. One of the comments indicates you have not yet read the book. To comment on it, shows a lack of wisdom on your part.

    I am confident that Christ who began a good work in you will carry it to completion. Please allow Him to do so. Please, before you go public with such a rebuke, be sure that God is leading you to make such comments against those who preach the same gospel.

  19. Theolog,
    I must admit that I am struggling mightily with this whole concept. On the one hand I see some positives -such as:
    Many churches do try to juggle too many ministries and a simple focus on discipleship is noble.
    Eric Geiger appears to be reformed – which yes, means a high view of scripture
    From the audio presentations I’ve listened to I’ve learned he preaches expositionally.
    He said rightly that only God transforms people.

    Here are the negatives I’ve found:
    The heavy leaning on corporate management and leadership concepts is very disturbing. It is my judgment that the philosophies of the world have absolutely no place in the church. That’s as far as my judgment has gone. It’s difficult for me to reconcile his high view of scripture with his obvious high view of organizational theory.
    He is partnered with a ministry that provides pastoral coaching for ministers struggling to bring change to their congregations. Again, the coaching is centered around business concepts.
    I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the book to weigh it all carefully.
    Have you read the book? If so, what are your thoughts?

  20. Ofcourse, I have read the book. I would never consider commenting otherwise.

    While the book is not my all time favorite, I think it is one of the best and most practical on church leadership. Simple Church has made a great impact on pastors and church leaders by helping them think through how their church makes disciples. I think it has been a breath of fresh air for the church that has become over-programmed.

    The book is based on solid research, typical Rainer. The corporate concepts are presented as illustrations, not as models.

  21. Yeah, I don’t think I could recommend it to anybody simply for its association with the corporate world. My pastor is a discerning fellow with his eyes glued upon the cross so it appears this whole episode is no big deal. In the hands of younger, more impressionable ministers, I’m not so sure it would be harmless.

  22. “The fact that this book appears to be yet another in a long line of titles focused on stimulating healthy church growth.”

    I agree. The latest church fad. My church Pastors are reading the book and discussing ways to simplify the church. First we did PDL. I voiced my concerns after I discoverd the truth about the PDL. I wasn’t agreed with, but a second reading of the book was cancelled out of respect for me. Now Simple Church is the next fad.

    Why is the church always looking for the next book and philosophy of man to grow a church. What we need is fasting, praying , repentance and the breaking of God’s Word before people and God will add as many as should be saved! We already have the Book of books to tell us how a church grows.

    Enough with all this nonsense of the next book and fad. May God help his church and it’s leaders who are always grasping at straws and quick fixes!

    Now mention holiness and appropriate dress in church and you’re a legalist. We are free in Christ to show our breast and wear skin tight pants, and so distract others from focousing our eyes on God.
    This is all that these book fads produce. They produce “Christians” that twist scripture to say we are free in Christ to do whatever we want.dress like street walkers, drink beer, curse and whatever else suits their fancy. Come Lord Jesus! Take us away from this mess!

  23. “I’m not saying the “bottom line” is the bottom line. But I am saying that the church in America is so stinking weak and ineffective and preoccupied and narcisstic that we would do well to listen to somebody who appears to be doing something right…and then we can take it to the Holy Spirit for discernment. What’s wrong with that?”

    If a man upholds prayer (and is a man of prayer himself) as the means for growing a church (which by the way Rick Warren says does not grow a church) and the preaching of the Whole counsel of God,I will listen to what he has to say! Other than that he has nothing to offer.

  24. Look, i live in miami, I’ve been a christian for 7 years… i use to attend Eric Geiger’s church so forget what the heck the book says, i’ve been there. It is all the things that beaconlight writes about. OH and they don’t pay most of their people, and the people they do pay they pay only half time, so ministers must work another job to sustain themselves yet they’d rather spend THOUSANDS of dollars on all that consumeristic garbage (Lights, plasma tv’s, sound systems) I was pretty deep in their system. It’s a very vertical system by the way, i’m your boss you do as i say. Oh, and the pastors are not relational at all. E. Geiger is their model, and he would argue that a pastors roll has changed from shepherd to manager.

    Dude, simple church doesn’t work in every context, and churches like that will die.

    Wanna know why?

    Pick up a good book like The forgotten ways by allen herch. (No i don’t know him, no i don’t work for him.)

  25. Look i use to go to that church too- i know. But don’t bash it those people love Jesus. I use to go there too, and be really involved. A lot of my friends are still involved and they’re connecting. Now i do disagree with it. A whole lot, but still. Don’t bash it.

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