Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Four Ways to KISS


Finding a radio station in my new car shouldn’t be hard. The car is great but the salesperson didn’t tell me how to tune to a radio station. I discovered that listening to the radio required an owner’s manual.

In my 2014 car, you push a button for AM or FM and find the channel by turning a dial. In my new one, you first go to the home screen, pull down the menu, select AM or FM, and scroll down all the available channels to select the desired station. All of this happens while you’re driving. Somebody needs to learn how to KISS (keep it simple stupid!).

Like the baseball payer and manager Yogi Berra said, “It’s deja vu all over again!” Several years ago I wrote a blog piece on simplicity. Since life continues to get unnecessarily complex, I’ve decided to write on the topic again. Here are four new lessons on how to KISS.

Lesson One. Find the core. Simplicity is defined as getting to the essence or core of things. In my book Walk with Me, I described how Jesus synthesized the 613 commands of the Old Testament into two: “Love the Lord your God. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37). Jesus cut to the core of the Law, making its application pretty simple.

There’s a reason why we jokingly talk about sermons being “three points and a poem.” We usually can’t remember more than three things (I’m violating this principle by giving four things). Simplicity forces us to get to the core of things. I’ve discovered that when things are simple, I’m more focused and committed.

It’s  hard work to get to the core of a subject and to describe it in simple ways. We must do this hard work in our teaching, disciplemaking, or small group leadership to practice simplicity.

Lesson 2. Reduce complexity. I have two corollary principles that illustrate the importance of reducing complexity. First, the greater the complexity the less likely it will be done. Did you know that almost half of all cell phones are returned because they’re too complex for most people? The greater the complexity the less likely something will be used.

Second, the greater the complexity the less likely it will be passed-on to others. If a subject is too complex it tends to remain in the hands of the expert; only a person with expertise can explain and transfer to others. This brings a quick stop to any type of movement, particularly a disciplemaking movement.

Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, understood this principle. After discipling a sailor, the sailor asked Dawson to disciple one of his friends. Trotman wisely refused, telling the man, “You do it.” If it’s not simple then it can’t be passed-on to someone else. When we reduce complexity, we remove a subject from the hands of the expert to the everyday person.

Lesson #3. Edit Regularly. I have a simple way to edit life. When I buy a new shirt, I take a current shirt and give to Goodwill. When I buy a new book, I take a current book and sell it to Half-Price Books. When I buy a new vinyl album, I add it to my collection and keep them all. I can only edit so many things!

Editing is one of the hardest things I do as a writer. I’m not talking about editing for grammar; I’m talking about using fewer words. Most of my time in writing is not in the origination of ideas but in editing down the number of words I use to express ideas. I quickly  submit to the assumption that if a few words are good then more are better! When I edit regularly, I force myself to get to the essence of things. When I get to the essence, I eliminate complexity and I make things simple. 

When was the last time your ministry or church team edited programs or content? When did you stop doing something or give something away to make life more simple? We must regularly edit.

Lesson 4. Trust people not paperwork. Unnecessary paperwork has a tendency to complicate life. When I was a regional leader for The Navigators, I tried to follow a simple rule: I did not ask people for any reports that I was not willing to read and then interact with them personally. If I couldn’t do either of these actions then maybe the report wasn’t necessary.

I’ve observed that as organizations grow the amount of paperwork and reporting grows. Size reduces our span of trust so trust is secured by reporting and policies (the policy manual keeps getting bigger!).

It’s easy to allow policies and paperwork to become a substitute for not training people well; if people aren’t trained well then I can’t trust them. It takes time to build relationships of trust and to train people. However, the trust that comes from time and training keeps things simple by freeing people to do what they’re trained to do — which is not filling out paperwork or following the manual. 

Simplicity is a discipline. Simplicity is different from being simplistic. Living simply is more than reducing a subject to a t-shirt slogan; it’s a reasoned and simply stated conclusion drawn from study or analysis. Simplicity is the hard work of getting to the core of a subject, choosing to edit, removing complexity, and building trust. Which of these four principles will help you KISS well? Keep it simple and focus on only one.

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