The Busy Critic and the Simple Church

by Mike Leake May 10, 2018

How busy is the most spiritual person you know?

Honestly, when I think of people I look up to spiritually, they don’t seem frazzled. They are active, they accomplish things within the kingdom of God, but they aren’t overcommitted and in a frenzy of activity. In fact, they seem to know how to properly say “yes” and “no.”

But still, we seem to wear busyness as a badge of honor. I’m reminded of the overly busy mayor in the VeggieTales classic “Who’s My Neighbor?” Archibald cannot help poor Larry because he is:

Busy, busy, dreadfully busy 
You’ve no idea what I have to do. 
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you!

That little VeggieTales video is so effective because it shows how our busyness can cause us to miss God’s work, which is right in front of our face. I’m glad that church leaders are beginning to see this more and more. Many churches are pursuing a bit more "simple church." We aren’t trying to keep the doors open eight days a week and have our schedules filled with church activities. We’ve gotten the memo that activity does not equal godliness.

One thing which many pastors have likely been surprised by is the kickback they get when they try to scale back. For some, it’s likely just the death of a beloved program which causes the kickback. For others, it might be fear that real and vital ministry will be neglected. But there is one possibility which might not seem obvious. In their book, The Compelling Community, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop get to one of the underlying reasons why people fight against simple church:

In fact, church activity may especially attract the least spiritual. If there are any in your congregation who, like the Galatians, began “with the Spirit” but now seek to be “perfected by the flesh” (Gal. 3:3), they will likely be consumed with activity. What better shows that we are worthy of God’s affection than throwing ourselves into activity at church? The infrastructure and inner workings of your church offer more than sufficient cover for the works-focused person to take shelter from the gospel. In fact, some of the most active members of your church may in fact be the least spiritual. (Dever, 118)

This makes perfect sense. Busyness is often a mask to hide the fact that we are Christ-less. Simple church is messy church, because it’s an attempt to focus on organic relationships and authentic hospitality. It’s an effort to make things simple and to center everything on the church’s foundational gospel purposes. Taking away activity and propelling people towards biblical community will likely expose an emptiness. So it’s not surprising that when a church strips down programs and ministries and attempts to focus on organic relationships that they’ll receive significant kickback.

Now it’s possible that critics are correct and a vital ministry is being cut. As leaders, we should hear the concerns and make sure we aren’t missing something vital. It’s also possible that simple nostalgia is taking place. In such a case, we should give our people time to mourn and love them as we adjust to something different God might be doing in our midst. But it would also be wise to consider whether some of the heat is toppling a functional savior (busyness) and opening up the door for an opportunity to share the gospel.