(This is the introduction to the book "Simple/House Church Revolution." See www.simplechurchrevolution.com for more information.
Introduction: My Story
“Roger, you can’t go on. You must unplug from ministry and church for an extended period of time. You have no choice!”
I had never been so shocked or devastated as when I heard these words from Dale, a trusted friend who counsels pastors in the throes of clinical burnout. I was completely unprepared to accept his professional opinion even though, deep in my heart, I knew I was experiencing an emotional emptiness unlike anything I had previously known.
“How long do you mean?” I asked.
“At the minimum, six months,” he told me matter-of-factly. “But most probably, you need twelve to eighteen months to get back on your feet.”
I can’t begin to express the level of unbelief and anguish I experienced as he said this.
I was the founding pastor of a ten-year-old church that had been blessed with traditional success markers: consistent growth in numbers, new buildings, a well-developed and funded staff, and a vision for an even bigger future. We were on our way! Except for one thing: Something had happened to the lead pastor. I was literally unable to continue doing what I had been doing for years—leading and guiding our church forward toward that traditional definition of “success.”
As I walked through the agony of telling my Board what was happening to me, they were as surprised as I was. They already knew that I was undone in some way, but they were unfamiliar with the level of depression and burnout I was experiencing. After all, I had always been the epitome of strength, even during difficult times, vulnerable yet durable. They offered me a generous, long-term sabbatical. They cried for me and with me. They were as supportive as any group of people could be. Yet I could barely rally myself to get up in the morning, let alone continue to guide this church family.
Perhaps even more difficult was the deep sense I felt that I would never return to ministry the way I had known it. Perhaps I would never even return to this church that I loved so dearly. As it turned out, I was correct on both counts. But rather than cast me aside, God was about to use this dark time in my life as an awakening of sorts, a paradigm shift that would completely re-define my understanding of both “church” and “ministry.”
What Went Wrong?
I began to reflect on how ministry had turned out so differently from my expectations of years ago. I remembered reading the accounts of Jesus’ followers in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts when I was a new Christian at the age of 19. It was exciting to see Jesus calling His disciples to walk with Him while He ministered, healed, delivered, and poured love into the lives of countless people. It stirred me to read of the Holy Spirit poured out on new believers and how they were mobilized throughout the world, with God’s power, to bless and touch the lives of others.
Yet, after ten years as a senior pastor, my life and ministry seemed so distant from those New Testament stories:
• I was managing a growing business organization in order to manage the buildings, programs, and staff for what we call a “church” today.
• My weekly pulpit “performance” had become a key to the success of the church, thus the responsibility seemed enormous.
• I was carrying a large amount of responsibility, along with other leaders, for a very large number of relatively passive believers.
• I was tired and burned out on religious activities.
I remembered thinking about all of the sermons I preached over the years encouraging church-goers that they are all members of Christ’s Body with spiritual gifts that God intends to use. Yet, while they sat and listened to my sermon on Sunday morning, there were only two people’s gifts highlighted during that hour and a half: mine and that of the worship leader!
I Was Not Alone
As I began recovering, I soon learned that many others were struggling with or questioning church as we know it today. I discovered that:
• pastors are burning out and leaving the ministry in large numbers.
• church leaders are becoming hurt or frustrated by their church roles.
• church-goers are becoming disenchanted with church-as-usual.
• our communities, even those which contain mega-churches, are not being transformed for Christ.
Reggie McNeal, church consultant and author, says this about people who are no longer attending church: “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.”
This book is about what I have learned on the journey out of traditional church forms into the freedom of organic, simple, house churches.
In Chapter One, we will look at the case for simple/house churches and the vision many are seeing of God’s glory filling the earth through reproducible gatherings of excited Christians.
In Chapter Two, the definition of “church” will be examined, and we will envision what can happen when the limitations of programmed, institutional Christianity are removed.
In Chapter Three, we will look at how the church can be unleashed by focusing on a going-loving-24/7 way of life rather than on the attendance of meetings or events.
In Chapters Four through Nine, we will look at the actual principles and practices that lead us into impactful Christ-centered living and simple, powerful gatherings.
In Chapter Ten, we discuss the heart of following Jesus: intimacy with God.
Finally, in Chapter Eleven, we will consider several common questions including: “What about money?” and, “What about children?”
Don’t Just Read About It
One final comment. This book outlines a way to do life that may be fundamentally different than the way we have learned to walk out our Christian life in the past. This is not something that can be read and then “thought through.” The only way to grasp what God is doing today is to jump in, at whatever level He is leading you to, and swim with today’s currents of the Spirit. My encouragement, above all, is to simply DO whatever He is leading you to do. Go for it! Walking on water only comes to those who get out of the boat.