Paraklesis. Minimalist or maximalist?

Two natural tendencies: Are you a minimalist or maximalist?

There are two ways to live, two ways to be married, two ways to be a friend, two ways to be a parent, two ways to belong to a church, two ways to pray, two ways to work, two ways to read the Bible, two ways to do ministry, two ways to love people, two ways to do evangelism, and two ways to relate to God.

Peter Adam | September 2019 | stjudes.org.au/peteradam

Are you naturally a minimalist or a maximalist?

It is very easy to find out. Here is a simple test.

Minimalists ask questions like: 

What is the least I have to do to keep my marriage going, to prepare my sermon or Bible talk, to be a parent or a friend? What can I get away with in my prayer life, in my ministry, in my giving? What is the minimum that I need to do to stay a Christian? What is the minimum people need to know in this sermon? What is the minimum you need to do to become a Christian? What is the minimum you need to have a church? What is the irreducible minimum we have to do when we meet on Sunday as God’s people?  What is the minimum amount of money and still think of yourself as a Christian? What do we really have to do to love our neighbour?

Maximalists ask questions like:

How can help to make my marriage as good as it can be? How can do my best as a parent? How can I continually improve my prayer life? What is the maximum I can afford to give away? How can I keep on enriching my life with God? What is the maximum God has revealed in this Bible passage? How can I love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength? How can I maximise my friendships? How can I help people become Christians and then grow to maturity in Christ? How can I help my church grow to maturity in Christ? How can I become a better neighbour? How can I keep growing in faith, in love, and in hope? How can I grow to maturity in Christ?

Minimalists achieve lots of activities, by conserving energy, time and focussed attention on any one of them. Maximalists have to make hard decisions about what they will and won’t commit to, and appear to be less productive. 

Minimalists have to guard against superficiality and triviality. Maximalists have to guard against perfectionism and obsessive behaviour!

Minimalists would benefit from paying attention to quality as well as quantity. Maximalists have to learn that not every job, not every conversation, not every word or work, has to be of the highest standard! To quote a current Christian leader: ‘My inner perfectionist has to be tempered by my inner realist’.

Minimalists can have a wide range of activities, whereas maximalists tend to focus their energy and attention. Minimalists tend to set the bar too low, and maximalists tend to set it too high.

What is the tendency of our society?

My guess is that is minimalist.

We like short cuts, easy answers, simple interpretations, and quick fixes. 

We are easily influenced by slogans, sound bites, appearances. Our advertisements are high on appearances, and low on information. We think that success is easily imitated and reduplicated. We like instant cures, instant food, instant answers, instant satisfaction, instant service, instant solutions and instant perfection.

We measure by quantity not quality, and quickly move on, change or discard when things fall apart. We are attracted by promises like: ‘Three easy steps to have a happy relationship’; ‘How to become a perfect chef in six easy lessons’; ‘Come to this 3 hour seminar and become a millionaire overnight’; ‘Find happiness when you buy this product’; ‘When you hire this car you will drive on open roads without any traffic and look young, fit, and attractive’. ‘Casual sex is better than being burdened with long-term relationships, let alone a life-time commitment’.

Church life and ministry often reflects its society

I suppose that is why some church members tend to act like consumers, not contributors. ‘If I don’t get what I want I will go elsewhere’. ‘Don’t expect us to be in church every Sunday’. ‘I am happy to help out occasionally, but cannot make a regular commitment’. ‘Happy to do that ministry, but can’t manage any training for it’. ‘Surely you don’t expect self-denial and self-sacrifice of ordinary Christians!’ ‘I find I can prepare a good 10 minute sermon in about an hour.’ ‘I pick up most of my ideas from the web.’ ‘No, we don’t do planned giving, we just give when we are around.’ ‘I don’t really have time to think through that issue.’ ‘No, I don’t actually read the Bible, but I often sing Christian songs.’ ‘We don’t actually pray with the children, but we always say grace on Sundays.’ ‘I don’t pray regularly for all members of the congregation, but I do pray for those who are ill.’ ‘No, I don’t have any time to get any heavy on-going training in ministry, but I always keep my ears open for success stories.’ ‘Becoming a mature Christian? That sounds a bit heavy.’ ‘Marriage preparation! We don’t need that, we are in love’.

Another option for church life is to react against its society.

There was one time in the early church when if you wanted to become a Christian, you had to agree to attend the daily morning sermon for three years. That was a high bar! Similarly some churches today set a high bar for church membership. This can include immediate and total acceptance of the culture of the church, and of a set Christian lifestyle. It can include avoiding the 21st Century as much as possible, and living in the 1950s, the 1800s, or the 1600s.  Churches can set maximalist standards in terms of godliness, perfection, prayerfulness, theological clarity, Biblical knowledge, tithing, denominational rules, or attendance at services and church activities. They are also then likely to set even higher standards for their ministers! A maximalist church is possible, but possibly as unproductive as a minimalist church.

The solution?

The solution is not to be an absolute maximalist or absolute minimalist, but nor is to be a ‘mediocorist’, mid-way between the two! 

We need a wise deployment of both

Here is a way forward.

 1. Decide where you need to tend towards maximalism and where you can afford to tend towards minimalism. I suggest the following.

Maximalism focus and energyMinimalist efficiency
Spouse and children Bible ministry preparation and delivery Prayer and Bible meditation Care and training of leaders Care and training of members Evangelism Relationships with fellow-workers Relationship with the wider gospel team Reflection on contemporary society In-service training for life and ministryPersonal administration Ministry administration Self-care, fitness, sleep, etc Keeping up to date with world and community news  Wider church responsibilities

Here the minimalist tasks need to be done, but they must be servants, not masters. For example, administration should serve our ministries: it must not take too much time or energy! However, my list would change if you had a special gift for wider church responsibilities

 2. Then realise that even maximalist responsibilities don’t need maximal attention all the time! 

Time spent watching TV with your family does not require maximal energy, but is still well worth doing. Not every sermon or Bible talk needs the highest level of preparation: but some do. My rule at present is to make sure that half the talks I give each year are completely new material, so need maximum level of preparation. The other half are talks I have given before. I still rework them, re-prepare them, but they take less time and energy because I am building on my previous intensive study. Casual conversations are worthwhile, but I should be looking for the right time for more intentional and intensive conversations when appropriate. General prayers are worth praying, but I should also set aside time for intensive and energetic prayer as well. 

Another way of tackling this issue is to ask yourself if the list of activities you would include under your ‘Maximalist focus and energy’ are getting enough ‘quality time’. And are you spending too much time and energy on work that really is of less importance?

In a society that values busyness, the danger is ministry that is, in an antiquated phrase, ‘miles wide and an inch deep’.

May God shape our lives and our ministries for his glory. Amen.

With warmest good wishes for your own lives and ministries,

Yours,

Peter