My first Mac was love at first sight. I enjoyed its elegant but slightly clunky look. Here was a computer that didn’t need multiple commands to create a document or make an illustration. All I had to do was point and click. Simplicity ruled the day.
Simplicity was a governing principle for Steve Jobs in creating the Apple brand. The author of his popular biography writes: “He made devices simpler by eliminating buttons, software simpler by eliminating features and interfaces simpler by eliminating options.” When I opened the box of my iPad, there was only a minimum of instructions. Jobs believed that a product should be simple enough to use that one could intuitively figure it out.
Jesus understood the power of simplicity. When teaching about God’s coming kingdom, he compared it to a mustard seed. When asked to define the greatest commandment, he boiled it down to a few words. To explain Himself, he used common words like bread, water, or a vine. He made our aim in life pretty simple, “Seek first His Kingdom . . . and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33). Simplicity ruled the day for Jesus.
Being simple is not the same as being simplistic. When we simplify, we make something easier to understand; we take the complex and reduce it to its essentials. We become simplistic when we treat complex issues and problems as slogans or bumper stickers. Behind Jesus’ simple statements is a lifetime of reflection upon and teaching the Scriptures. Being simple starts with intense thinking and creativity. Being simplistic reflects weak thinking and formulaic actions. Jesus made things simple. He was not simplistic.
Author Thom Ranier argues that a simple revolution in the church has begun: “. . . people want to find simplicity. They long for it, seek it, pay for it, even dream of it. Simple is in. Simple works. People respond to simple.” Alongsiders must learn to make disciples in simple ways. What does this require? Here are some suggestions.
- Question complexity. In a popular disciplemaking book, the author provides a list of thirty-two discipleship topics. Who is spiritual enough to embrace all of this? Complexity is an immediate turnoff and a killer of motivation. Alongsiders must question complexity and seek a simpler way.
- Study hard but teach simply. When was the last time you heard a message so complex you tuned out the speaker after the first few minutes? The teacher had studied hard but gave little consideration to simple communication. Disciplemakers must study hard but teach simply. Instructions should not need a glossary, power point presentations are not mini-novels, and programs should not be a byzantine maze of steps.
- Make it pass-on-able. The greater the complexity the less likely it will be passed on. At the heart of the Great Commission is one disciple making another disciple. If disciplemaking is too complex then only the expert few will be qualified to make disciples. Identify the few best resources, the most motivating passages, and the most practical assignments to pass-on. Always ask the question, “Can my friend pass this on to someone else?”
Alongsiders practice the way of simplicity, discipling people in authentic relationships, one conversation and one person at a time. Simplicity rules the day.