The church that Jesus builds is a simple church. One person has explained it this way: “The work of God is incredibly simple and unusually inexpensive. So if what you are doing starts getting terribly complex and amazingly expensive, you might question whether it is God’s work at all.”
Church, as Jesus defined it, is personal and community relationships centered on intimacy with Jesus. In fact, Jesus put it this way: “Where to or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Simple church: Small groups of two or more people gathered in the name of Jesus for personal intimacy and relationship with Jesus. Simple churches make up the city-wide church. All the churches in the New Testament were simple, city-wide churches.
What do these groups do when they get together? There is much variety. They first of all recognize that they are together because of Jesus. Sometimes they share together for a meal at someone’s home—or a picnic at a park. They may share with each other about their experiences and life with Jesus. They may study the Bible. They may sing. They may pray. They may do all of those or even various combinations of them. Their meeting together does not have to be the same every time. The important thing is that they simply respond as the Spirit of Jesus leads them. They might even paint someone’s home, clean up an elderly person’s yard—all in a spirit of fun, fellowship, accomplishment and compassion.
Age is Not an issue. Sometimes ages range from infant to senior citizens. Sometimes it is a group of 20 (or 30 or 40) somethings. It is the spirit in which they gather that counts.
Time Whenever the Spirit and consensus lead. Wednesday night, Sunday morning, Friday morning or any afternoon. The important thing is that Jesus be present. No day or hour is more holy than another.
Place Homes are where the church met, and experienced its fastest growth, for almost 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection. Homes are where warmth, intimacy and relationship are most easily achieved. Simple churches can also meet in offices, garages, restaurants, sidewalks, open fields, river banks, lake shores, what have you.
How many simple churches can a city have? First there is only one church—the church of Jesus Christ. A city of 40,000 people, for example, has one church. According to scripture if you are a member of one church you are a member of every church—even if some of them have labels attached and buildings with a name above the door. Jesus did not recognize labels when he walked the earth, and when you get to heaven he will immediately scratch from your memory whatever label you have been attached to or used to while on earth.
Your city may have as many simple churches as your situation allows. A simple church or two on every block in every city would be a great testimony to the Spirit and work of Jesus, but certainly one within walking distance of every home is a worthy goal.
Do simple churches ever get together? Joyfully, yes. Two or three or many may get together for a picnic, a bike ride, an art festival, or go camping together. Several of them may rent a stadium and sponsor a gospel concert. It is important to note that just as you are a member of every church in town, you are also connected to every church in the state, country, and world—through the blood of Jesus Christ and the price he paid for the church. We are all one church. There is no such thing as an isolated church. A church that exists in isolation is not church; it is a cult and the spirit of Jesus is not in it.
Robert Fitts, founder of Outreach Fellowship International, has written a declaration of unity about the church’s oneness:
A DECLARATION OF UNITY
I belong to everything that belongs to Jesus
And everything that belongs to Jesus belongs to me.
It's not "Us and them."
It's just US!
For there is only one Body of Christ.
And the problems of the Church, the whole Church, are OUR problems!
For WE are the Church!
And we can do more together than we can do alone.
"One shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight."
Do city-wide churches take on projects? Let’s say that there are times when the Holy Spirit leads them to identify a need and then they respond to that need. One church painted an elementary school, another handed out bottles of cold water at a busy intersection on a hot day in July. One church took responsibility for maintaining a pocket park in a down town area; still another helps care for a single mother and her children. Some simple churches support missionaries in foreign countries, or sponsor mission trips. The possibilities are unlimited and when carried out in the spirit of love they are extremely meaningful and significant.
At a more visible level, one or more simple churches may organize a community prayer coalition, send representatives to silently pray at city council and/or school board meetings, help with voter registration drives, and help a community determine its stance on social issues.
If there are no salaries to pay or buildings to maintain, what about offerings? And what about tax deductible giving?
First, the money we have is not ours; it’s the Lord’s. He owns it all. Secondly, he teaches that we are to give sacrificially and cheerfully. Part of the joy of simple church giving is the freedom we enjoy in our giving. For instance, helping a college student who is short of funds, assisting a single mother to buy diapers, or an unemployed father to pay utility bills, supporting mission funds and charitable organizations, assisting in hurricane relief efforts—all are a part of the cheerful giving that Jesus calls us to. Scripture says that the farmer is the first to enjoy the produce from his labors, and certainly our hearts do dance when we see the joyful differences our giving makes.
Tax deductible giving? First, you have to give away a lot of money to make a significant impact on your taxes. Secondly, tax deductible giving is not a biblical concept. The government allows it, and if it works out that you can take advantage of it, that’s fine. But it should not be the determining factor of our giving because if we are giving for the deduction, then we are giving with the wrong spirit. The important thing is that we give in a way and spirit that honors Jesus, and the blessings he bestows in return are simply immeasurable.
Unity and decision-making
One of the beauties of a church centered on personal intimacy with Jesus is that it is much more able to achieve the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17. Consensus is reached when a group prays together to seek the will of the Lord and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The key is to exercise the patience to search the scriptures and to pray through the decision until the Spirit brings the church to consensus.
Solid relationships and strength for the journey are key benefits of a city of simple churches with Jesus in the midst of them. John Eldridge, author of Waking the Dead and other fine books on the Christian walk, points out that if we are going to live in intimacy with Jesus and if we are going to live the Christian life as it's meant to be lived, then we need the support and commitment of a small band of others who are so closely committed to each other that they would die for each other if needed. We simply do not build that kind of commitment, relationship and intimacy with Jesus and each other in larger gatherings.
It is also in simple church that solid unity is established, and that is important because when Satan wants to destroy your life and your work the first place he will target is your relationships. If he can destroy your relationships, then he has a running start on destroying not only your work but destroying you as well. Again, in simple church you build the kind of trusting relationships and unity not possible in the larger bodies.
Impact of Simple Church on Intimacy with Christ and upon others
Simple church, because its energies are not drained by committees, campaigns and other assorted activities that detract from our relationship with Jesus, greatly impact people’s lives in a positive way. When folks gather in simple church they are able to focus on their life and relationship with Jesus, thus resulting in a more Christ-like walk for everyone. Growing in Christ-likeness in the group spills over into Christ-likeness in the home, job, community and world. Since Jesus is heaven’s answer to earth’s dilemmas, every one benefits.
Simple churches making up the city-wide church are extremely accountable. First, they are accountable to Christ. Secondly, the people within the churches are accountable to each other. Issues such as family relationships and lifestyle that are so often glossed over in the large bodies are often identified and dealt with much more quickly and effectively in smaller groups. The effect of personal and group responsibility, along with increased trust, results in a much more accountable Christian lifestyle.
Simple church, because of its trust and openness, also deals very effectively with the potential of heresy. As long as group members hold each other accountable, heresy is very unlikely to happen. Not many of us know pastors who have fallen into heresy; most of us know several who have fallen morally.
The simple churches that make up the city-wide church are not leaderless. In all of Paul’s letters to the churches of the New Testament, there was both leadership and accountability. However, the role of pastor, as we know it today, did not exist in the New Testament Church. The role of pastor was a relationship role, not an office, given for the purpose of nurturing, encouraging and strengthening each other in the Lord.
Also, at the crucifixion, resurrection and Pentecost Jesus did away with the division of laity and clergy. The Holy Spirit is now the leader of the New Testament church and the most important person in the world. In the book of Revelation Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for the churches that had returned to the spirit of the Nicolatians—they had re-instated the clergy-laity division.
The scripture tells us in Acts that the people gathered, sometimes daily, for community, meals, and fellowship. There was no clergy and no abundance of church “leaders”. They gathered in community and the Holy Spirit led from there. The same thing happens today when we meet in simple community, seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and submit ourselves to going where He leads.
In every group, including simple church, there are those individuals who because of their walk with the Lord, are ultimately recognized as leaders among the people. Folks listen to them, honor and respect them. But, their rise to leadership is natural rather than contrived.
The shed blood of Jesus Christ and the splitting of the veil in the temple paid the price for the forgiveness of our sins; it also took away control over access to the Father and the Son. Now, in the spirit of intimacy with Jesus, a father may commune his family, a married couple may commune each other. A gathering of friends may do the same. Re: baptism, a close reading of scripture reveals that people were baptized by those who led them to the Lord. Jesus has not changed that. Fathers and mothers may baptize their children, friends may baptize friends. Remember, Jesus said to baptize into his kingdom, not into a system. Believers may baptize believers, and that is as it should be.