1. WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
The Four Fields paradigm ends with the Harvest Field which is the formation of simple and reproducible communities of faith, or simple churches.
|Field 1: Ploughing
|Field 2: Sowing
|FIELD 4: HARVEST
|Field 3: Growing
The ultimate goal of ploughing your heart, then sowing Gospel seeds and growing disciples is to eventually form a community of believers who will carry out the Great Commission as a team and who are connected to a larger growing network of similar simple churches. Ideally they will also be fully aware of the presence of the global body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) doing similar things in other places.
The first and most important thing to remember whenever discussing simple church is that the universal body of Christ is all the people that belong to Jesus on planet earth. It is not a building or an institution.
It’s lovingly described in the New Testament as his bride (Matthew 9:15, Matthew 25:1-10, Revelation 21:2). This beautiful earthly picture tells us how absolutely precious the church is to the creator of the universe. The New Testament also describes the church as his body (Colossians 1:8) with him as the head, directing and organising all the other parts of the body.
Jesus has therefore not really left us. He is still here directing his global mass movement through the Holy Spirit in its new global phase of growth (John 16:12-15). His guidance and communication with us through the Holy Spirit will continue until the glory of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
2. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH MODEL
There is nothing new about simple churches. This was the only model of church found in the New Testament (Acts 2:42-47). The book of Acts and Paul’s letters provide us with great insight into the growth, government, problems and personality of the early church. It was a mass movement started by Jesus that was exploding across the Roman Empire and the Middle East. It was a wild ride with humans struggling to keep up with the leading of the Holy Spirit!
They attracted many priests as well as peasants (Acts 6:7).
They had natural and deep leadership structures (2 Timothy 2:2)
They had their problems (1 Corinthians 1:11)
They took seriously Jesus command to go and change the world for ever (Matthew 24:14)
3. TWO EXAMPLES OF MODERN SIMPLE CHURCHES
1. A village simple church leaders meeting in Central India
A foreigner describes a village church leaders meeting in the DMM movement started by church planter, Anaroop Swami. Anaroop used to run a traditional Bible college but eventually found it was not producing the types of leaders he read about in the New Testament. God took him back to his village and asked him to start doing what he read about in the Bible. His DMM now numbers in the hundreds of thousands of people:
For about 2 1/2 hours (the time flew by), with no leader directing the action, person after person shared a testimony, a song, a prayer, a scripture, a teaching or encouragement. One lady even shared a remarkable parable. No one asked for testimonies or anything else. People just spontaneously shared.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that when the church gathers each one has something to contribute.(1 Cor 14:26) This is what I saw. Each of these people (about 45 of them) were constantly winning others to the Lord through taking the time to be building new relationships and in this context of care, introducing them to Jesus.
Many testified of meeting the Lord through the kindness of a stranger who became a brother or sister. I heard many testimonies of remarkable healings and deliverance. Two women shared about raising the dead. One lady raised a man from the dead simply by preaching the Gospel over his body until he opened his eyes and sat up! Another lady shared excitedly about the 22 people she baptized in a day. Another shared that she had asked the Lord for 300 disciples (new believers who make other disciples). She announced that since she had now done that, she was asking for 3,000 more disciples.
All over the room they spoke out how many disciples they were asking the Lord for in the next month. The smallest number I heard was 5, the highest was 40 for one month. The time finished with communion and taking a meal together.
2. West African Ex-Muslim DMM simple church typical attributes:
The numbered points below are taken from the book called Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale and Muti Abdul Masih:
- The average gathering size is typically 30 people, but 15 or less in dangerous areas.
- There are between 2 and four collective leaders, some always in training.
- They do a lot of praying and fasting for the lost around them.
- They often start as a DBS and then there is a dramatic miracle a few months in that initiates rapid growth.
- Any finances collected are spent on meeting community needs and extending the Kingdom.
- Meetings typically use a DBS with lots of prayer.
- Leaders are given extra training between 2-4 times a year by network leaders.
- There are no paid workers.
4. SOME PRACTICAL PRINCIPLES TO FOLLOW
1. Simple churches in villages tend to be larger while city-based simple churches tend to be smaller. The difference is available space to meet. Traditional preaching and teaching is a regular part of village church meetings in South Asia because of larger numbers (Acts 20:9-10), but not necessarily so in Africa where villages are much smaller.
Whatever the format, it should always be interactive and vary in length depending on the circumstance. Let the Holy Spirit be involved in the leading of each service. Many smaller simple churches in cities continue to use Discovery Bible Studies.
2. Simple church can be anywhere, anytime and any size from two people and up (Matthew 18:20). In parts of Myanmar some DMM movements cannot meet in numbers larger than 4 because of government surveillance, so that is the size of each church.
3. Simple church is not about Western traditions or a specific location, or a style or a building, or about professional clergy or programs. It is all about people partnering with Jesus in the number one task He assigned us.
4. Most simple churches meet several times a week, on any day that suits the groups work schedule. There is no longer anything special about Sundays.
5. Healthy simple churches set goals to plant daughter churches. They always keep the vision of growth central when they meet.
6. Simple churches are always training up leaders and sending out workers into the wider harvest: new villages, new colonies, new neighbourhoods, new provinces and new countries.
7. A slight majority of simple churches in Iran and India are run by women, around 55%. The beauty of simple church is that it is not gender exclusive. It allows for the amazing networking gifts of women to be maximised in the harvest.
8. Simple churches always keep the commands of Christ front and centre:
Prayer: Matthew 6:5-15
Love: Matthew 22:37-39
Communion: Luke 22:7-20
Most simple churches are slowly coached into taking ownership of the above attributes of a self-governing simple church by an outside experienced mentor.
They become a fully functioning simple church when…
They are baptising their own new disciples.
They are taking care of finances and using them for the kingdom.
They are responsible for training up new leaders and sending out workers.
They love one another as the New testament says.
They are regularly taking the communion as either a meal or symbolically.
They practice fervent prayer for needs and for the lost.
They are strong under pressure.
They regularly meet together for teaching, encouragement and edification.
No other test is needed!
- Examine your own church to see how it compares to the New Testament model of simple church.
- Pray for the Lord to use you to win disciples and start a simple church