At best, a pothole in the road slows you down. At worst it can badly damage your vehicle, cause a breakdown or have you stuck for hours. Either way potholes are a curse. In Africa, we are far too familiar with these road hazards.
On the way to Durban with my family, I decided to take the alternative scenic route. It was a magnificent day and the drive was spectacular. It had snowed across the country the night before. Occasionally we stopped and allowed the children to play in the snow. Then a pothole spoiled the day. On an awkward and dangerous corner, I almost lost control of the vehicle.
We were forced to stop and change the wheel. The rim was badly damaged. It later cost me a small fortune to repair two bent rims. Potholes form because asphalt road surfaces eventually crack under the heat of the day and the constant stresses of traffic. These cracks allow snow and rainwater to seep into the underlying dirt and gravel. During cold winter nights, this water freezes and expands. Some of the dirt and gravel is pushed out as a result, leaving a hole when the water eventually melts. Potholes get worse when we allow our roads to fall into disrepair.
It is vital that those who build the new roadways for simple organic communities to emerge, build carefully and repair potholes quickly. As the traffic on this road increases, the cracks will begin to give way to serious problems. We must identify the weak areas quickly and repair where necessary. Failure to do this will seriously hinder the move of God in our day.
Pothole #1: Cynicism
It is easy to become cynical when we realize we have been duped by a dead religious system. Many Christians are realizing the absolute futility of our modern church practices. This is breeding ground for a reactionary cynicism. Soon these people have gone beyond rejecting unbiblical practices and are rejecting things that should not be rejected. In this unhealthy climate, everything that is critical and negative is accepted. Mocking and constantly questioning the motives of others becomes the norm. Personal attacks on other pastors and servants of the Lord are applauded. This is dangerous, destructive and rooted in arrogance. Nothing good can come of it. Cynicism always destroys. It cannot love, build or heal. Worse, it has a way of turning back on you. After you have finished being cynical about the institutional church, you’ll start being cynical about your brothers and sisters in the Lord, then your family and then yourself. It leads to depression and despair. A movement of healthy Simple Churches will never be built on cynicism.
Pothole #2: Pessimism
A close friend of cynicism, pessimism can quickly discourage. After three years of mobilizing our local community to work with the Police, I have discovered that the world has no shortage of pessimists. Many people have a lot to say, but have no intention of becoming part of the solution. Soon after getting excited about Simple Church, many people discover that others are not quite as excited as they are. They scour the earth searching for kindred souls and struggle to find even one. They begin to encounter others who talk the ideals, but refuse to lift one finger to get involved. First a healthy reality sinks in. Then an unhealthy pessimism settles. At this point, many get stuck spending the rest of their lives bemoaning the sad state of the church. They have lost hope, with faith and love long gone. Pessimists will not build healthy Simple Church movements. Faith is often simply the ability to stand against pessimism.
Pothole #3: Discontent
A strong dissatisfaction with the status quo is what often drives new movements. Radical people often live in a state of discontent. This can lead to a healthy prophetic edge. The church can surely do with more challenging voices. A person who is dissatisfied with the current state of affairs is often a young prophet in the making. We need people who will challenge us out of our false comfort. Discontent mixed with naivety, however, is deadly. Naïve people build false expectations and then blame others when these expectations are shattered. They will move into something new out of a discontent with the old. But soon, they become unhappy with the new as well and seek for more and more new ideas to adopt. Our contentment should come from our relationship with Christ, not a model of doing church. As we move into Simple Church, we soon realize that it too has its struggles and challenges. We need to allow our discontent to awaken a new prophetic edge in our lives. But followers of Christ are led by His voice and not anger with the status quo.
Pothole #4: Perfectionism
In their search for the ideal, some people easily forget that we live in a messy, imperfect world. They want the fullness of heaven now. They forget that we are all yearning for a better time – the age to come. Others want to place demands on their fellow brothers and sisters that only God can meet. I have seen many people disillusioned with their church because they placed false expectations on the people. They think of church as a perfect place with infallible people. They conveniently forget their own fallen state. Perfectionists will not be happy in any church. They will be especially unhappy in an organic church, which tends to be very messy and imperfect.
Pothole #5: Weirdness
Then there are those who – sorry to say this – are simply weird. I have found them in every church and in every movement – some more than others. They scare me. They should scare you. Enough said.
Pothole #6: Intensity
I have met some House Church people who are so intense that they have driven everyone around them crazy. They think their sole mission is to convert others to their point of view (not to Christ). Their intensity exhausts me. I don’t like being around them – and I happen to often agree with much of what they say! Intensity prevents us from being approachable. It ignores the simplicity of Christ. These people spend their lives buried in books, blogs and conversations with themselves. They cannot relate to real life. I sometimes fall into this trap myself. Praise God for two young children and a wife who periodically rebukes me back into normality. Intense people sometimes manage to gather together other intense people into small intense groups. But they will never release powerful multiplying Simple Church movements.
Pothole #7: Slackness
In their striving to make everything organic and spontaneous, some have simply become slack and lazy. Being organic is seen as drifting around in a sea of directionless existence. Self-discipline, order and stability are mocked as being “overly religious.” Any intentionality is seen as working against God. Purpose and vision are rejected in favour of waiting for God to make things happen. Rather than becoming obedient to the words of Christ (John 14:15), an apathetic attitude is encouraged and justified. The unwritten motto becomes, “Those who are truly spiritual do nothing and wait for God to do everything.” We do not find this attitude anywhere in scripture.
Unfortunately, many Christians (especially my historical brand – Charismatics) have bought into this lie. They think that God will magically wave a wand sometime in the future and solve all their problems. TV evangelists love to promote the idea. You can now purchase a “quick fix” prayer cloth or golden statue for just about any problem mankind faces. All in the name of Christ. The truth is that nothing of value is built without a lot of vision, planning and good old-fashioned hard work! Even simple, organic churches need a lot of intentionality. The church at Antioch set apart Paul and Barnabua for the work of building the church (Acts 13:2). God calls the building of the church work. Jesus builds His church with the hands of His followers and the blood of His martyrs. It will be like this until He returns.
I encourage you to pursue your passion for simple church movements and avoid the potholes that can seriously hinder your journey. May the Lord build His church through willing servants who have the boldness to leave the constraints of institutional religion. May these servants also have the wisdom to avoid the new obstacles that the enemy would try to place in our path.