Thursday, August 17, 2006


Simple does not mean easy. It is simple to run a marathon. You put one foot in front of the other in a running stride for 26.2 miles. There, you did it. But by no means is it easy. You have to train and focus to a great degree to be able to do it.

Simple does not mean unsophisticated either. Years ago a company named 3-M developed a break-through adhesive whose practical application remained stubbornly elusive. One new product development researcher had a “Eureka” moment while reflecting on how frustrated he used to get when his scrap paper bookmarks continually fell out of his church choir hymnal. And so came the Post-It note. Sophisticated technology, simple product.

I thought of the beauty and power of simplicity recently while reading an editorial in the latest Christian Chronicle (“Refocusing on Kingdom Business,” August 2006). The author notes what an anxious age we live in, with so much turmoil in the world and also within church circles as Christians blog and bray about the latest “controversial” issues (I use quotation marks, which denote “so-called,” because in the larger context of the church’s mission and the world’s condition they are remarkably trivial). Here is what the editorial suggests: that churches and church leaders refocus on kingdom business, which it summarizes as the following: loving our neighbors, telling the story of Jesus, building biblical literacy in our families and communities, caring for the poor and needy, and building congregations of spiritual depth and integrity. Friends, that is a Post-It note of a mandate: sophisticated theology, simple mission.

Every week I receive multiple items in the mail extolling the newest product, program or strategy to revive my church and transform my community (yes, the Christian ministry marketing industry is quite robust). Almost all of them look great, and most of them are quite thoughtful and well-conceived. Listen, I’m all for innovation and outside-the-box thinking. Yet… something in me wonders if much of this isn’t an attempt to avoid the simple expressions of ministry and missional living that are very, very difficult to sustain in our consumer driven, I’m always being marketed to so what’s in it for me world. There’s nothing complex about prayer and scripture reading. There’s nothing complex about giving food and clothing to the poor. There’s nothing complex about sitting in the hospital waiting room with someone during an operation. There’s nothing complex about giving a widow a helping hand. These are just simple, basic, genuine expressions of gospel living.

Eugene Peterson, retired pastor and prolific author of, among other books, The Message Bible paraphrase, noted once in an interview how exasperated he gets when Christians come up to him at a book-signing or something and breathlessly ask “Tell me how to be more spiritual.” He tells them to go home and love and serve their family and neighbor in the name of Jesus. Everything else is details!

Here’s an idea: Let’s all get a Post-It note and put it on our refrigerator or computer (depending on where you spend more time!) with a note that says “Simply Jesus.” I think that will keep us quite challenged.


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