Simple Church Theory: An Illustration from Myanmar

I have returned from Myanmar safe and sound, through the gracious blessing and will of God. It was a very interesting and encouraging trip, and I will have more to say about it in future posts.

One of the unexpected things I encountered was a visit to a small children’s home (what they were calling an “orphanage”) outside the city of Pyin Oo Lwin. It is run by a couple of the professors at Myanmar Bible Institute. They take care of 24 children. Most are not true orphans, but have been abandoned by their families due to dire economic conditions in the northern part of the country. They live in a small compound in the upstairs of a two story building, about 18 x 30 feet for a footprint (my guess). As you can see, the upstairs is walled using bamboo lattice panels, all that separates the children from the outside. And it was down in the 40s at night while I was there. They were in a big open room, and pulled a curtain each night between the boys and the girls, all of them sleeping in blankets on the floor. But while my heart went out to them, I was also encouraged because they were clean, clothed, fed, and happy. Most of all, you could tell they were loved. Children need to be loved.

I am traveling to do a weekend leadership seminar with the Tonganoxie Christian Church in Kansas today. I will be using some of the principles from the book Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. My version of their Simple Church theory is that a church must decide what its single, focused mission/purpose is, develop a process that continually moves the church to fulfilling that mission, then do it. This means that the programs and activities of the church must be constantly evaluated to see if they are contributing to this mission-process. If they are not, these programs must be modified or eliminated. I will share more on this in a later blog. (Some of you know that I have been pushing this idea at Nebraska Christian College. Our simple purpose: to produce graduates.)

Tomorrow, when I share with the leaders in Tonganoxie, I will use the example of the Myanmar children’s home, and how I helped the leaders make a strategic decision while I was there. Not long ago, they had received a grant of $6,000 from an agency in the USA to help make the home self-sustaining. They used this money to set up two food-producing operations: chickens and cows. The chickens produce eggs daily, and an occasional bird killed to make a meal with meat for the kids. This is going well, and may even get to the point of producing a little income for the home. The cow project? Not so good. Raising livestock is difficult. They have had trouble getting their cows to produce milk. The cows are thin. It has drained most of the $6,000 fund with little to show for it. Worse, it has become a burden to these kind professors and their families. Yet they are afraid to end the cow operation for fear of disappointing or even angering the American agency that provided the $6,000.

Lest we judge them too harshly, consider that $6,000 is an enormous amount of money for them. A typical worker in Myanmar may have a yearly income of about $600, so this is the equivalent of the annual salary for ten men. But for me, the decision was easy. Their intentions were good, but they were in the business of taking care of children, not cows. The simple church principle was applied to a children’s home. When the cow operation does not contribute to the mission-process of the institution, it must go. I think this is what they will do. They were at the point of investing their own meager funds to continue the cows, because they had a bill coming for feed. But they thought they might be able to sell the cows and break pretty close to even. For me, breaking even would be good, but getting them out from under the unproductive burden of the cow operation is more important. Then they can focus more time pouring their lives into those 24 wonderful children. Simple, isn’t it?

Mark Krause

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