Thursday, July 22, 2010

Deliberate Simplicity

I am way behind on book reviews, so it's time to get caught up. The first book I read recently is Deliberate Simplicity. This book is written by Dave Browning, who is a friend of our senior pastor's.

We read this book as a staff, and I expected a lot from it. Perhaps my expectations are part of why i was disappointed (a theme you will find repeats itself in this round of reviews). The book begins by demonstrating the power of simplicity. In-n-Out vs. McDonalds, Costco vs. Wal-Mart, Trader Joe's vs. The Mega-Supermarket idea etc. In-n-Out, Costco and Trader Joe's all use simplicity to their advantage, offering fewer, higher quality items to great profit and business success. The question Dave then poses is "Have we made church too complex?"

On the whole, this concept appeals to me. Our culture has given up speciality and expertise (when was the last time you went to a butcher shop? never been?) for convenience and price. Perhaps the church has gotten too caught up in trying to be the hub of your social life and needs instead to focus on teaching the gospel. In essence, Deliberate Simplicity is about what a church should not do, and that's a concept I am totally behind. "Deliberate Simplicity advocates restricting the activities of the church instead of expanding them. It calls for less programming instead of more...working smarter instead of harder." and later "It calls us to move the fulcrum so the same (or less) energy is leveraged for greater results. Minimality is how less turns out to be more."

At the same time, I'm not sure I agree with Dave's take on scripture. He makes some pretty inflammatory statements, like "While all scripture is God-breathed and profitable, it is not equally profitable." I know what Dave is getting at, but I think you have to be very careful with approaches like this, as it can often lead to de-emphasizing important but unpopular scripture and allowing your views to shape your theology rather than vice-versa. That said, every church is guilty of this to some degree. When was the last time your church taught out of Obadiah or 3 John?

While this book starts strong, it seems to devolve a bit as we dig through the chapters. It begins to take a pattern of "Most churches do it this way, and this is bad! We do it THIS way, and that is good!" Dave also emphasizes outreach as the primary focus and purpose of the church, but the book tends to minimize the importance of discipleship and spiritual formation of the believer as well. Unfortunately, churches all too often are unbalanced and are all about evangelism or all about growing the believer. I believe the church is called to both, and should be both a group that is outwardly focused while working to continually focus the hearts and mind of its members on God.

In the chapter entitled Multility Dave argues for decentralized leadership in the church, in which the individual congregations are more or less autonomous. While I like what he has to say, I couldn't help but cross out the word "Multility" in my mind and write "Denomination" across the top. What Dave describes and advocates is, essentially, a baptist denominational structure. It's funny how the same ideas come around again with different names attached to them. As I reflect on the history of denominations, I see a lot of the same motives and reasons for creating denominations that are now being used to create multi-site churches and "networks" which are somehow different than denominations in a way nobody can really articulate beyond the name...

Overall I liked the general idea behind this book (less is more) but found it a bit of a tiring read. There was too much "this is how we do it and why it's better" for me. To be fair, you could say this book provides practical real world examples rather than theory and that would be accurate. It didn't hit a homerun with me, but it does provide food for thought.


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