It occurred to me to recount a story of an incident that happened at an institutional church I attended when I was in college. There was a point in time in which the church was looking to have a new person teach a 7th & 8th grade boys Sunday School class. It was at that time taught by an elementary school principle who also was an elder at that church, although, in this church, elders attended elders meetings, and I assume made decisions, but were not allowed to actually do anything before others in the church that would show their leadership. Anyway, this class was a problem. It seems that this one class happened to have an unusual collection of youth who didn’t care much about being at church, exacerbated by two young men, sons of one church deacon, who had already been in trouble with the juvenile authorities. I volunteered, tried what I could, and resigned after about six months, in part due to living in a college town about twenty miles away, and realizing that I really wasn’t truly connected to this church except on paper.
Now, I don’t know if I ever heard this deacon’s voice. In various meetings, I remember his wife sharing from her heart, and their daughter, but never the husband. About five years later, it came up in the news that there was a group of men in this town arrested, as they were involved in mutual sexual deviance, and this man was among them. I (and you) could make some assumptions about this family that would probably be true, but for this writing I will not go into that. I will go this far though: in any culture, there are a certain amount of persons who attach themselves to the main religious group in that culture, not because they believe the details of that belief, but to be attached to the main group. Among such persons, they will gravitate to one of two positions. One, the more obvious, but rarer, is the person who works to become a leader, and has control of the direction that group goes in. In western Christian culture, that person will desire to be a pastor, be paid, and guide things in a way that suits the person’s whims. A few will use the position to advocate social change. Many will be satisfied with a salary, control of an organization, and a place where others will listen to him/her. The way churches are set up in this culture, this can be accomplished without many persons outside such church even being aware of the person’s or church’s existence.
The opposite side of the coin is the non-leader. Such a person may well learn to say whatever phrases might be expected of a member when totally called upon, but is quite happy to sit there, listen, make some donations, walk in and out of the building, and not let others get to know them. Only if/when a situation such as the one with the deacon, above, comes up does anyone know anything about the real person. In the situation above, an arrest and public charges were the notification. In other cases that I am familiar with, just one believer learning of how such a person really feels about spiritual things in sufficient to see such a person disappear, which may be little more than going to a similar church a short distance away, although I have known others to move to another city.
One aspect of simple church is that neither type of person above will wish to have anything to do with it, expressly because, if a group is small enough for every person to know each other, it will be too small for the person who wants to be the leader to hide on a pedestal above everyone (and, of course, there is no salary) and the second group is in no position to hide in the crowd, because there isn’t a crowd to hide in. I have noticed that traditional churches that try to get people into small groups rarely are successful enough to even get half the people to actually go to such groups. While almost any person can make up a plausible (at least to oneself) reason for doing or not doing anything, I believe that at a weak level says something about true faith abiding in the hearts of large numbers of so-called believers.
Am I being harsh? John 6:30-71 shows that Jesus wasn’t at all concerned about building up the numbers of persons following him, and even invited his disciples to leave if they wished. Peter, in verse 68, said “…to whom shall we go?” which is an early indication of true faith. I need to encourage my fellow believers in Jesus, and need them to encourage me. I don’t need to play religious games, others don’t need me to do that with them, and I desire to disavow any such actions.