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How to Maintain Unity | Simple Church Tools pt. 2

How can we forge a healthy interdependency of connectionalism amongst simple churches?


Introduction

One of the unfortunate stereotypes of simple churches is their independence. Too often simple churches are characterized by the “anti-institutional church” people that can’t get along with anyone. This is a shallow identity to begin with, as they define themselves more by what they are not rather than what they are for. Contrary to the stereotype, almost every simple church I know of has relationships and connections with the greater Kingdom of God at various levels of participation. So what is a healthy interdependence with the greater body of Christ for simple churches? Is your simple church connected to others for support? How can there be a both/and approach to the big and small, the elephant churches (with resources) and the rabbit churches (which multiply more quickly)? This blog will help reveal where you are on the spectrum of independence and dependency, allowing you to forge a healthy interdependent connectionalism going forward. Remember, any plan for unity is dependent upon your love for one another. People need to feel wooed rather than driven into the community, so that they are held there by relational rather than organizational bonds and cooperating together rather than coerced together. If you can achieve this, simple churches will genuinely feel a high level of ownership to the greater network. Relational tethering with thick community life prevents your plans from unraveling strand by strand as you forge unity.


In a liminal moment defined by both challenges and opportunities for churches, we stand at a critical juncture, where the fabric of faith communities must be rewoven with intentionality and adaptation. Two of the greatest metaskills of our time are innovation and collaboration. Picture a tapestry intricately crafted, each thread representing a connection, a relationship, a life transformed. The holy possibility of a networked church is not merely a structure but a dynamic rebirth, pulsating with the potential to mobilize individuals from all walks of life into a profound relationship with Jesus. One simple church family cannot get the job done alone. We need each other. My own church experienced a great collaboration recently as simple churches gathered together from Corvallis, Salem, Bend, and Eugene Oregon to fellowship, pray, equip, and evangelize, giving each one a greater vision of the Kingdom of God and the opportunities of working together rather than separately. In fact, non of these simple churches would exist if it were not for the sacrifice, evangelism, and comradery of one another planting each simple church. If our goal is to make disciples throughout our state of Oregon, then that means devoted to unity and the conviction that we are better together.


As you navigate the complexities ahead in your own simple church context, you must heed the scriptural call to unity, recognizing that your collective strength far surpasses the sum of your individual efforts. Like a body with interconnected parts, you must lean on each other for support, guidance, and accountability. This journey demands courageous leadership, innovative thinking, and a willingness to embrace change. Together, you can chart a new course, birthing a vibrant, unified community rooted in your shared mission and values. Do not fear the unknown, but rather embrace it as an opportunity for learning, for it is through your willingness to adapt and grow that you will truly mature as disciples of Christ.


The following sections are titled “Word, Works, Wineskins, and Waiting”. The Word section shows that the step comes from the Word of God. The Works section shows what has worked previously for ourselves and others. The Wineskins section gives you concrete ideas, questions, and space to brainstorm how you can apply this step in your context going forward. The Waiting section involves being receptive to the Spirit’s prompting in prayer.


*See the pdf worksheet at the end of this blog, so you can work through these questions with your church. 


Word


“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28)

God described the big C Church as a universal family and as a body. You must therefore see your greater spiritual network as a family and body and not just your individual group as a body that is growing and maturing to bring glory to God. What does this greater body of Christ look like in function? At a minimum it should be true to the scriptural metaphors of Family and Body. In this way, the command and principle of maturing and equipping disciples within a local church expression are just as true and essential between simple or house church families. We need each other, both within and between our churches, to become more like Jesus (Hebrews 3:12-13, 1 Corinthians 12, 13; Hebrews 3:12-13, Colossians 1:28, Galatians 4:19, Ephesians 4:11-16).


“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”” (1 Corinthians 12:21)

As in a healthy family, each church should be born, raised and matured to become responsible for its own decisions. However, just as in a healthy family, no church should proudly say, “I don’t need you!” No matter how old, or strong. Rather, the combined gifts of the Body should go beyond local walls, especially for simple church families that may already share a 501C3 umbrella, a denominational rooting, a common doctrinal understanding, or a historical ligament-connection. In the spirit of both Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12, each church and disciple should ultimately be self-responsible for their own maturity and decisions, yet never, ever self-sufficient. This means humbly and regularly reaching out to other churches within your network to practice Biblical discipleship; to encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13); to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17) and to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). It means inviting other leaders and mature disciples into your simple church for counsel and input.


“For we are co-workers in God’s service” (1 Corinthians 3:9)

Paul refers to those who serve God together as fellow workers. The Greek word Paul uses for fellow workers, also translated as coworkers, is συνεργοί (synergoi), the root from which we get our contemporary word “synergy”. Mark Twain described synergy as the bonus that is achieved when things work together harmoniously. When your simple church is serving with others together in harmony, something more can be achieved than if you were working apart. Do you feel that you are merely attending church with your brothers and sisters in Christ, or do you identify as a coworker doing your unique part, serving God and experiencing the synergy of others?


“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)

God has given you various gifts, strengths, and leaders to help the church reach unity in the faith and maturity. These are meant to be connecting ligaments that bind the church together. Either those gifts are being used for unity, or by their same influence they are being used to keep people apart. Either leaders are actively working at connecting churches, or they are in effect working at keeping churches at a distance. Networks live and die on good mentoring and coaching. Around the world disciple making movements are held together by catalyst coaches and training relationships, rather than hierarchies or authority. As Richard Foster says when it comes to spiritual transformation, it is about training together rather than trying alone. You don’t try harder to become a disciple maker, you train in the ways of Jesus within community to experience transformation. It is about following the way and training together, putting his teachings into practice (Matthew 5:19, Matthew 7:24-29, Philippians 4:9). You cannot grow by trying harder, only by training together with those outside your local simple church expression.


“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

A cord of three strands combines the strength of each strand so that they have a better return for their co-labor. In the same way, your various church strands can retain their individual identity while combining in one accord, aligned and going the same direction. Each strand will bring in their own DNA, that combined and rebirthed can become a new single DNA of shared values, mission, vision, and goals. This values-based approach to teamwork invites you to put
the sum of the whole above your individual parts, engaging you to do something much bigger together than you could ever do alone.


“Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust… And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 14:21-23, 15:41)
“Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” (1 Thessalonians 3:10)

As a traveling evangelist, Apostle Paul always pressed to the next missional horizon, but he simultaneously prioritized preparing servant leaders or Elders in each location before moving on. When those churches struggled, he wrote letters to encourage and resource them and even sent along his own coworkers, like Timothy and Titus, to strengthen them. Do your simple church families face a similar need to have a traveling evangelist role to strengthen and catalyze mission and connection throughout your network?


Works


The following section is seven examples from my own family of churches striving for united cooperation. We’ve tried, failed, and learned many principles in connectionalism along with the pitfalls to avoid. The journey from institutional spectator disciples to healthy networked simple churches can be bumpy as you avoid the ditches of cloning disciples on one side of the road and scattering disciples to the wind on the other side of the road. Consider how these seven best practice principles may benefit your simple church context in developing a healthy connection with others.


Forging interdependency

Some congregations swing from the end of the pendulum in interrelationships (of dependency on “Big Brother”) to the other end (of independence and isolation). If you used to attend a more structured or hierarchical church environment, you may need to examine more closely what you once took for granted. Stepping out into simple church is moving from a forced type of unity to a forged unity, and the forging is not always easy. Why are their more church divisions than church mergers? You are likely not going to have another church dictate what you are going to do, but you very much should want their input and help, and should ask for it.


Older and younger

Relationships among simple churches need to be viewed with common sense. New simple church plantings need to be submissive to the church that planted them until they reach a reasonable level of maturity. Then they and the more mature church should have a relationship much like older folks have with their grown children. They want to have a close relationship, and because of that relationship and the parents added maturity, they still want to give input − but the decisions grown children reach are their own decisions. Period. Surely that should describe relationships between more mature simple churches and less mature simple churches. Where the maturity level is similar, brotherhood should mean that you provide mutual help to one another. Just as disciples need other disciples in their lives, simple churches need other simple churches in their lives. Independence and isolation is a curse. Interdependency and cooperation is a blessing for disciples and for churches. This is best done in a low control and high trust / accountability environment.


  • Do your house church families experience the forged blessing of interdependency and cooperation or have you allowed independence and isolation to silo you from learning, collaborating, and growing with each other?


Traveling to connect

In the new testament, Missionary journeys would require great amounts of money to go from city to city. Travel was not less expensive in the 1st Century, but more. Now we are all a day’s travel from one another and available instantly to interact. What would have taken traveling evangelists in the 1st century weeks and months, for us is only hours and days. Is it reasonable that some commended brothers can have some regional network responsibilities and even financial support to help encourage and connect your churches? … “Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.” II Cor. 10:15. Though the Apostle Paul supported himself on occasion, there is no doubt that he was generally supported from the outside… Although there is perhaps one example of a localized evangelist, Philip, that seemed to be the exemption not the norm. In our day that practice seems reversed where exception has become the rule. Traveling evangelists were the normative example in in the Bible.


  • Do you need some who can travel to connect your churches?

  • In the new testament, we see the priesthood of all believers, bivocational tentmakers, and full time traveling evangelists. Fast forward to today, do you maximize all of these modes of ministry to bind your churches together?


"You do you" attitude

Some groups have taken the idea of autonomy to mean much more than mature responsibility. They have taken it to a level of "hyper-autonomy" — an isolated lack of relationship with other churches. Unity is largely about humility and relationships, not just a set of beliefs. The pendulum can swing from legacy churches where many are not allowed to grow up and start their own families to assuming that "maturity" means churches should be left completely on their own. This “you do you” is more a description of lack of relationship with other churches than it is an expression of maturity of a local church. It is often rooted in self-sufficiency and pride. Furthermore, many disciples have felt equally hurt by the kind of decisions or indecisions made in the isolation of a simple church.


Ministering to each other

In the first century, apostles or missionaries functioned as catalysts to simple church starts. Do the same needs exist today? Are leaders functioning as controlling CEOs or catalysts building trust? Qualified Christians can be helpful to each other through their experience, expertise, inspiration, moral authority and spiritual depth. Through personal relationships, preaching, teaching, mentoring of church leaders, workshops, spiritual books and other written materials, brothers and sisters can be quite helpful in strengthening many simple churches. The Jerusalem congregation (made up primarily of Jews and including believers who were Pharisees) and the Antioch congregation (made up primarily of Gentile believers) could have easily divorced on many subjects. Fortunately, the Jerusalem and Antioch churches already had strong relationship ties through a brother like Barnabas who ministered significantly to both groups. Nowhere does the New Testament affirm or infer a regional spirit of hands off self-sufficiency. The Bible does not indicate that churches were on their own. There was clearly an emotional, spiritual and physical link (connectionalism) within the early church that did not sacrifice local respect and an individual simple church’s need to manage their local affairs.


  • Do you need a Barnabus-like function in your simple church families, who can minister to multiple areas to connect, without inhibiting the respect and responsibility of the local disciples?

  • Could your house church families help each other through connectionalism, sharing your gifts?


Avoiding groupthink and isolation

The term autonomy is only partly correct in referring to a church’s distinct affairs but otherwise is incomplete because it overlooks inter-church relations. It is inadequate to simply speak of self-government because the church is more about being a body and being a family than about being a government. A commitment to enthusiastic connectionalism and interdependence can correct isolationism. It can lead away from groupthink, where a group is so familiar with itself its members can’t appreciate ideas beyond themselves. Disciples from outside your own simple churches can help where appropriate to mature and advance missionally, but not because of titles or authority. Instead their influence functions best by reputation.


  • Are they commended for their example, for the values to which they want to lead or hold you accountable? This requires trust and relationship.

  • Are you close enough relationally to recognize and trust the commended authority of example and function rather than title?


Cooperating to advance the gospel

Simple churches should be expected to engage in humble and meaningful relationships with each other. Wether connected by geography, mission, or affinity, a commitment to mutual discipling, exchanges of workers, cooperation on new plantings, and agreed accountability can benefit both the individual and the whole. Imagine the potential of networks or families of simple churches cooperating in every way needed to advance the gospel and maintain doctrinal and relational unity, where disciples meet regularly to pray, coordinate, and strengthen one another.


  • Are you committed to mutual learning, discipling, accountability, or missions with the other disciples in your simple churches?

  • Do you meet with regular cadence to pray, plan, and coordinate in order to advance the gospel?


Wineskins

  • Could you accomplish more together than separately?

  • Would your local community be better served?

  • Would the kingdom of God be further extended as a result of merging your efforts?

  • What do you think that God is doing in your life that requires you to take on your present challenge? (Philippians 1:6, 2:13)

  • How is God calling you to contribute to connectionalism?


Waiting

Be receptive to the Spirit’s prompting in prayer together.


  1. Pray for a deeper understanding and embodiment of the scriptural principles of unity and interconnectedness within the body of Christ, as outlined in passages like 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 and Ephesians 4:11-16.

  2. Pray for a shift from hyper-autonomy to a healthier interdependency among simple church families, fostering mutual support, collaboration, and shared resources for the advancement of the Kingdom.

  3. Pray for discernment and wisdom in recognizing opportunities for connectionalism and interdependence within the local church context, seeking ways to strengthen weaker disciples, support one another in discipleship, and advance the gospel collectively.

  4. Pray for God's guidance and empowerment for individuals to actively contribute to fostering connectionalism, whether through intentional relationship-building, providing support and resources, praying together, or participating in efforts to strengthen the broader church community.


After you’ve prayed receptively, what is the Spirit prompting?


Further Reading:

Video "Eldership and simple Church within disciple making movements"


Simple Church Contextualization (coming soon)

Simple Church Clarity (coming soon)

Simple Church Rhythm Examples (coming soon)


Connectionalism worksheet (2)
.pdf
Download PDF • 65KB


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Thanks for developing and sharing this Joey. Keeping it simple and clear is very helpful. Keep up the good work on these and looking forward to the next blog posting.


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