By Paul Clark
Simplicity is the virtue of removing the extraneous to reveal the essence. Simplicity is the direct alignment with reality and it is the opposite of false and its various manifestations including pretension, prevarication, bloviating, masquerading, exaggeration, denial, grandiloquence, falsehood, or misunderstanding. Simplicity is the opposite of excess, and its various manifestations including opulence, extravagance, gaudiness, ostentatiousness, and waste. Simplicity is also the opposite of indirect, and its various manifestations including oblique, roundabout, convoluted, devious, and circuitous. Simplicity fully enjoys the magnificent essence it has revealed.
It has been sometime since I read Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity,though I have found myself thumbing through its pages when encountering David Platt’s Radical, and when a friend sent me Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Reflecting on recent group worship encounters where the most descriptive word applicable to me was, “simple,” I have sensed a spiritual summons to once again consider the good truth of this virtue.
Worship ministry leaders, whether musicians or preachers, have golden opportunity to aid gathered worshipers to step away from the complex into the simple and realize afresh the most basic truths of life in the simplest forms possible. We were made in God’s image for His purposes. He provided a way for us to know Him in Jesus, and to be forgiven of our sinful ways. His Spirit lives in us and draws us together with Him and with one another. In relation with Him we can live in His purposes on earth, and live into eternity with Him.
Bigger and better have a hard time straddling up beside this kind of ethos in church. It is sad that we struggle to see the irony that flashes in front of us. Consider that statistics indicate 80% of churches are plateaued or declining, at the same time so many evangelical pastors and worship ministry leaders continue in hot pursuit of more complex environments of service production technology, church organizational process, and venue diversity. Surely adding this or that will help bring more people to us. All the while the culture we say we are trying to reach seems to cry out for more simple means of knowing and living. They do not need our worship band to play them a new cooler song that mimics their favorite group. They do not need a choir, orchestra, and technological display that rivals Vegas. They need Jesus and the beautiful simplicity of the Christian Gospel.
In his closing statements in his seminal work Foster “There are not many decisions we have to make – in fact, only one: to seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.”
A couple of Sundays ago my daughter called to tell me that the electricity had gone out in their church building. We joked that the hymnal in the pew racks could once again become a valuable tool on such a Sunday. The incident reminded me of a Sunday during my early days of fulltime ministry when serving in St. Louis and more than a foot of snow fell on Saturday night. The Sunday service was attended by a faithful few able to brave the weather. There was no pianist, no organist, and no one to run the sound system that was superfluous for those gathered anyway. We huddled close to the front of the sanctuary. I asked if I should go get my guitar, but the pastor had determined we should abbreviate service plans and go to our homes. Rather than preach the message prepared for those who were not in attendance, the pastor read extended passages of scripture, we conversed regarding their meaning and application to our lives, prayed for strength to be faithful in our living, and bowed to close in prayer. During that closing time of prayer I sensed a need to sing as an act of worshiping community. Everyone joined in the singing. Someone else began to pray for those not present (which was the vast majority of the congregation). Someone else began to sing (thankfully in a singable key), and we continued to worship in gathered community, praying and singing and sharing from the Word for another hour or so. It was a memorable Sunday. It was simple expression of faith expressed in community. To this day I have people who recall that Sunday as I obviously do as well. The primary dynamic ingredient in my estimation? Simplicity. Seems there was nothing in the way. The extraneous was removed and the essence revealed.