The second practical reason to embrace Simple Churches is that they are relationally founded and based. Everything transpires in the context of relationship. Referencing the importance of relationship, Leonard Sweet states:
Relationships and interrelatedness are as primary in the spiritual realm as they are in the physical world. In theology, what is important are not things themselves, but relationships between things. In fact, nothing is ever one thing or another, but rather a relationship between things. These involve the relational connections both within the organic communities and those without.
The importance of this truth is realized when observing the current postmodern culture, which at its core welcomes relational connectivity, a dynamic necessary for Simple Church plants to germinate and grow. In both the Church and the secular world, humanity cries for authentic relationship. Often, a fractured family life has deprived people of the real relationships that would have given them security. There is a growing trend in today’s culture to reclaim the spiritual roots of family.
Simple Churches are in a unique place because of their mobility and size to play a unique role in restoring a sense of family to many who are searching for authenticity. The words of Malachi suggest that God’s intention is to establish spiritual parents who are willing to nurture spiritual children and help them grow in their spirituality. This is a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to, in the last days, “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”(Mal. 46) In this relationally starved culture, the opportunity is there for Simple Churches to rise to the occasion and fill this need for spiritual parenting. I suggest that God’s heart is for us to take a generation that has been cursed by the breakdown of family relationships and rebuild trust, using the Church as his instrument of reconnection with them.
A recent report, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities, was prepared by the Commission on Children at Risk, a group comprised of 33 prominent children’s doctors, research scientists, and mental health and youth service professionals. The commission was convened because of a growing sense that children and teens today are facing a widespread and deepening crisis. “In the midst of unprecedented material affluence, large and growing numbers of U.S. children and adolescents are failing to flourish,” the commission said. Mental and emotional difficulties have afflicted our youth at staggering rates, including depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, conduct disorders, and thoughts of suicide. Beyond that, a wide variety of physical ailments have their roots in emotional troubles, such as heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers. The report goes on to say:
Despite increased ability to treat depression, the current generation of young people is more likely to be depressed and anxious than was its parent’s generation. According to one study, by the 1980s, U.S. children as a group were reporting more anxiety than did children who were psychiatric patients in the 1950s.
From the commission’s perspective, the cause of this crisis is that children and teens are experiencing “a lack of connectedness… to other people, and the lack of deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.” This report stated that the human brain appears to have a built-in capacity for religious experience. For example, using brain imaging, scientists have discovered that spiritual activities such as prayer or meditation actually increase the activity in specific areas of the brain. “A search for spiritual relationship with the Creator may be an inherent developmental process of adolescence.”
The key solution to the problems facing our children and youth, according to the commission, is what is called authoritative communities. “Authoritative communities are groups that live out the types of connectedness that our children increasingly lack,” the report said. “They are groups of people who are committed to one another over time and who model and pass on at least part of what it means to be a good person and live a good life.”
Among the characteristics that define an authoritative community are:
- A social institution that is warm and nurturing;
- Establishes clear limits and expectations;
- Is multigenerational;
- Has long-term focus; reflects and transmits a shared understanding of what it means to be a good person;
- Encourages spiritual and religious development; and is philosophically oriented to the equal dignity of all persons and to the principle of love of neighbor.
The commission stated, “We believe that building and strengthening authoritative communities is likely to be our society’s best strategy for ameliorating [changing for the better] the current crisis of childhood and improving the life of U.S. children and adolescents.” This model of authoritative communities presented by the commission members should look at least vaguely familiar to Christians—its sounds much like the New Testament model of church life. The Simple Church paradigm is ideal for addressing this situation, by providing the relational connections which so many are searching for.
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