It’s not easy to keep things simple.
If you can’t explain a concept to an 8 year old, you might not really understand it. And we see this all the time in the church.
Unnecessary complexity in ministry systems keeps them clogged and ineffective. Unnecessary complexity in faith conversations keeps us from meaningful, substantive ways with people outside our tribe. Complexity is the enemy of clarity, effectiveness, and even humanity.
It’s easy to hide behind language (think specialized jargon, ie, Christianese) that operates as a validation code to those who are already on the “inside.” We use a few special words as if to say, “See? I get it. I’m in the club. I know what we’re talking about.” Seminarians are really skilled at this. But ask a few probing questions, and it becomes clear we don’t really know what we’re saying.
We also hide behind context. We tend to (only?) talk about these things in the places and among the people who already agree with us. We see this online all the time. We don’t engage with those who challenge what we say, and this spares us the hard thinking about what we actually mean.
Take Jesus’ iconic statement in John 14: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is one of those classic Jesus lines that, in church circles, is seen as completely self-evident. No explanation needed. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that Jesus is divine, and the only way of salvation. Right?
I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe he’s the only way of salvation. But I don’t believe that verse is completely self-evident, a sort of magic bullet. First of all, it wasn’t self-evident when Jesus first said it! The disciples were still confused. Philip and Thomas kept asking questions. Second of all, I’ve talked to too many people outside the Christian huddle who have widely diverging interpretations of what that verse means. It does not automatically end all conversations. Clearly, if Jesus needed to keep explaining what he meant, so do we.
I’m not arguing that we become simplistic. Lord knows, there’s too much of that already.
But I am arguing for simplicity. Albert Einstein said:
“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
and my personal favorite:
“I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity” — Attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes
Your best children’s ministry teachers have probably figured out how to be simple without being simplistic. Listen to them. And let’s strive to speak, write, teach, preach, and evangelize in the same way.