TCC’s values, #3: Simple church

11 June 2014

Over the next few weeks, we’re recapping our core values as a church. The past couple of blog posts have covered what it means to be a gospel-centred church and what it means to be a disciple-making church. This post is about what it means to be a simple church.

Being a simple church is our strategic distinctive value. Here’s what it means:

1) Being a simple church means that we focus first on people, not programs.

We have a short ‘to-do’ list and a long ‘to-don’t’ list. Being simple flows straight out of our mission to ‘make disciples’. We believe that being a simple church is the best way for Tyneside Church Central to make disciples.

2) We can’t control how living things grow, but we can help.

The church is God’s Spirit-filled community; Christians have the life of God in their souls. This means that the Christian community is, at a profound level, a living community. Since this is the case, it will – like a plant – grow; maybe very slowly, maybe very fast. Growth comes with life. It is vital to realise that we don’t make the church grow; God does. In the same way, a farmer can’t make crops grow – God gives growth. But, like the farmer, we can help or hinder that growth.

Living things – like plants or children – need enough structure to give direction, support, and protection. But too much will stifle and exhaust them. There needs to be the right ‘space’ for life to happen and do its thing. In the same way, churches need structures to give direction, support, guidance and so on. But too many programs and structures can leave a church exhausted and stifled. There needs to be ‘space’ in the way a church is structured for real life to happen. Because God works in the midst of our messy lives. Hence our motto of ‘disciples sharing life together on mission’.

3) Our church is simple but not simplistic

Since the church is made up of people, relationships, and real life, it is complex. But something can be simple at the same time as complex. For example, Google is simple yet complex: one simple search box taps into all the complexities of the world wide web. Ironically, it is when churches allow themselves to become complicated that they can also become simplistic; when time pressure from different demands and programs start to escalate, space for thought, reflection, and relationships diminish, leading people to give simplistic responses and even simplistic teaching.

4) Simple is much harder than complicated

It takes far more energy to make (and keep) something simple than it does to allow it to become increasingly complicated. This is because remaining simple requires saying ‘no’ to lots of things. The way we avoid making things complicated is to avoid adding things to our basic three structures of Sunday gatherings, community groups, and leadership training. Does this mean that we never develop? Not at all. Rather, if something is so important that we should do it, we find a way to integrate it into what we already do – rather than merely adding it on top. For instance, rather than add a new ‘student ministry’ we would integrate students into how we train leaders, run community groups, and gather on Sundays. This means we are always developing yet always staying simple. Satisfyingly, simple things energise whereas complicated things exhaust (imagine the difference between the google homepage, and leafing through the telephone directory).

5) Three things: Sundays, community groups, leadership training

Our three core structure at Tyneside Church Central are our Sunday gatherings, when we gather for preaching, sung worship, and more; community groups, where we share life together on mission during the week; and leadership training, where we invest heavily in people to help them grow as servants. Leadership training is like the scaffolding on a building; it must go up beforehand. If we want to see Jesus’ kingdom extend in Tyneside, we need to keep training leaders.

The circulation system in the body gives a helpful picture of our simple church: The heart is like our Sunday gathering, the central pump that gives energy and direction to everything else. The arteries are like community groups, scattered around different parts of Tyneside, giving life to a particular community. The capillaries are like your or my individual life. Each capillary supplies oxygen to individual cells in the body; they are the ‘front line’; the heart on its own would be useless. In the same way, there are people in my network, family, street, work and so on, whom I am uniquely able to share life with and share the gospel with. I am supported by my community group and on mission with my whole church. Thus, in a simple church our mission is also my mission.

Sunday gatherings are like a front door into church; an easy place to invite people to. Community groups give numerous ‘side doors’ into church’; someone might come along to a barbeque, some sports, a pub quiz, or a Bible study. We want to encourage everyone who comes through the front door to also go through the side door and experience Christian community, and to encourage everyone who comes through the side door to also go through the front door and experience gathered Christian worship. You can think of Sundays and community groups as ‘big and small church’; ‘Sunday church and everyday church’; or, for those who like jargon, ‘attractional and missional’. Generally speaking, an invitation to a Sunday gathering is great for ‘low-lying fruit’; people with some existing interest in Christianity, who will happily come along to church. But involving people in community group life is great for ‘high-lying fruit’; people who may be totally unchurched, sceptical or suspicious of church.

6) Simple is scalable, robust, and flexible.

One great quality of simple things is that they are scalable; you can build big things with them. For instance, it is easier to build a house out of bricks – even lego bricks – than it is to build out of something with more ‘moving parts’ like tin openers – even though a tin opener is excellent at its function. In the same way, our simple church DNA will enable us to grow and plant more churches – we trust and pray – over time, than if we focused on building specialist ministries. Because community is central to our simple church, we are innately flexible to different people and communities; a community group with lots of young families in it will look different to a community group with lots of single young professionals in it. In this way, a simple church can accommodate people without commoditising them. One trap for more program-centred churches is that people are ‘commoditised’ so as to suit a particular event or program. This may work well in areas where people are largely the same. However, in a diverse area (such as central Gateshead), we believe that a simple church enables everyone to enjoy Christian community and discipleship as  a unique person.

Our simple church value builds on the doctrine of adoption: in the gospel God ‘adopts’ us into his family, thus creating a new community.

Our simple church value answers the question, ‘How? How shall we do it?’ Answer: make disciples by sharing life together on mission, as a simple church built around Sundays, community groups, and leadership training.

Our simple church value emphasises the ‘God through us’ aspect of Christian spirituality: God is working through us to empower our lives in community and in the world.

Our simple church value is built upon the doctrine of the Resurrection, when Jesus was raised to life from dead, proof that God’s new creation is breaking into this broken on. Consequently, it has a ‘forward/back’ paradox: we are able to live as God’s new community, already now.

Key behaviour and question: Am I living in community?

This blog post was written by Dan Martin.