Contend Earnestly: Church Programs Suck

Friday, May 14, 2010

Church Programs Suck

Alright, not all church programs suck, but a church that is all about programs ends up usually focusing on the wrong thing, or the wrong people. This post comes off the heals of meeting with one of my pastors and speaking about this. What I found is that our thoughts were right in line with each other as we have both seen programs strangle the spirituality from people within the church. Not only this, but I read an article by Dave Patty called, "Raising Up Disciples." This was some prework for the Missional Community Group Leadership training that happens once a month from my church gathering, Soma/Harambee. I have been thinking a lot about these things since being a youth pastor for close to 6 years and seeing what this kind of program did with the relationships of kids and their parents and also being a part of a church that had more programs than people to lead them. Not only have I seen that part of programming, but since being part of Harambee for almost a year now, I am seeing the benefits of a church that focuses more on organic ministry, instead of forced programming.

Now, this post will focus in on why I have, and am, turning against programming, and have for about 3 years now. With this in mind, I do want to put this disclaimer before you continue to read. I am not saying that all programming is wrong or a sin. I am not saying that all programs are bad for the church. What I am trying to get through is the dangers of programming in the church and how it can become a crutch, instead of a help.

1. Organic Ministry Gets Squashed

Me saying "organic" sounds like I am carrying around a purse and saying that it is a European carry all while drinking an appletini. Let me continue before you beat me up and take my lunch money. When I say organic, I mean that God has given us all personalities that are both similar, yet different than those around us. He has given us desires and traits that are neutral to holiness or sin (different topic than total depravity, which I adhere to), yet definitely show off the Imago Dei. God is very diverse in his traits (i.e. just and gracious), and has created his creation to show off his diversity and glory.

Historically, programming has taken these personalities and tried to force them all together, instead of allowing us to live our lives how God has created us. Meaning. Churches love to have discipleship programs, men's breakfasts, women's bible studies, prayer meetings, etc. All these are usually done in the same way, and leadership has historically asked the membership to show up to these things, on a set day, set time with a set schedule. When members don't show up, or are disenchanted with the program, leadership becomes frustrated. What has happened is that the leadership has told the members how they are to worship God, how they are to study who God is and when to do so. They have taken a diversity of personalities and pushed them into a preconceived setting that leadership has determined as the best one.

This squashes a lot of people who just don't have the personalities to sit in a room for 2 hours in an uncomfortable chair listening to a boring speaker tell them why they suck. This type of programming squashes organic ministry. Why not preach to the heart of your people on Sundays to live out the gospel and allow them to do it in the ways that seem right in their lives and play in the hands of how God has made them? Why not allow them to do this through going to their art class, participating in community efforts, playing sports, taking their kids to sports games, having dinner with neighbors, etc.? This allows the leadership to not get frustrated with having the same four people showing up at every event and complaining about all those other people who aren't mature in the faith. Organic ministry allows for people to do ministry in every part of their lives and not see it as only on Wednesday nights. Organic ministry allows people to get together for Bible study and prayer, or allows them to go out in nature and experience the glory of God. Organic ministry allows leadership to not stress about how much time they have to be in some group, instead of being the pastor to their family first. Organic ministry allows families to give their first fruits to God and their family, instead of the left overs. Organic ministry says, "live your life for the glory of God!" Programming says, "We know how you should live your life for the glory of God: Every Wednesday from 6-8pm."

2. False Worship Can Take Root

Programs, for the most part, usually start to figure out how to worship God and allow others to do so. This can be based on age, sex, marital status, or just similarity in where one lives. What I have seen over and over again is that instead of the worship being focused on Jesus, the program takes over and becomes worshiped. Not only this, but the leadership within this program can be not only worshiped, but can replace the duties of the family. The easiest example is youth groups. I led a youth group for almost 6 years. Honestly, I replaced a lot of dads as the pastor of their family. When the youth had an issue, the kid came to me. When the family was struggling, the whole family came to me. When the kid had an issue, the mom would come to me. I became not only the father figure in homes that had both parents that loved Jesus, but for a lot of people, without them or me noticing, I became their functional saviour. Not only this, but the youth group became my functional saivour. If I failed, or the youth group failed, our joy was stolen and our hope was removed. Now, this wasn't some long lasting thing, but was quite obvious when it did.

Not only can the people themselves become worshiped, but the program itself can become worshiped. In my last church, there was a program in the church that was obviously taking up too many resources, was jacked in the gospel presentation and the people were getting too tied up in it. Plain and simple, the pastor said, "We'll never get rid of (said program) because it has just been here too long and we have nothing to replace it with." That's jacked. The program started to be worshiped. If we were to get rid of it, the pastor mentioned that people would leave and would demand something else. Again, jacked. This isn't this pastor's fault alone, but it is also the congregants as well. The program was seen as so important that if it was to leave, so would many people. The people, and leadership, didn't understand how we could get rid of something that had been in the church for so long. As if Jesus wasn't good enough. And actually, the gospel wasn't even being presented correctly within the functions of this program, yet these issues were put to the side, for the glory of the program.

Church programs become so much a part of the church that they become worshiped and so do the leaders within them. If you change or get rid of these programs, the people don't know what to do. They act as if there is no way to worship God correctly. They believe their children will grow up as drug dealers and prostitutes and that God isn't smart enough when he said that the parents are to be the primary ones that teach about the statutes and glory of God (Deut 6).

3. Programs Take Us Out of the World

This is the most messed up thing of it all. When you add up all the programs in your church that you go to, or expected to go to, when do you have time to serve your family and live life for the glory of God to those around you? If someone has kids, it gets even crazier. You have youth group, community groups, men's group, women's group, discipleship groups, Awanas, and then special church events. When does one have time to just live life? What if this isn't what God wanted? What if he didn't want us to continually live closed off to the world with an "Open" sign on the front door of the church. Basically, if you look at a church bulletin, what it is really saying is, "these are the times we are open for business."

What if instead, we lived our lives in the world with the view of glorifying God in it? What if instead of having our kids go to youth group or Awanas, we had them in swimming classes, art classes, karate, sports, dance, etc. living their lives with a Godward perspective? What if afterwards and beforehand, we talked to our kids about how to live and participate in these activities while worshiping God? What if we had neighbors over for dinner, had BBQ's, fun events in our neighborhood, etc. to show that we aren't closed off to those who aren't like us? What if we just lived normal lives radically for Jesus? What if the teaching of our kids and our families didn't happen in programs, but in every day life? What if our neighbors saw us as just normal people who loved Jesus? What if it wasn't about inviting people to your church event, but instead, invited your neighbor to just live life with you while you show off Jesus?

The clincher is just asking, "How did Jesus do this?" What is funny is that when we look to how Jesus did this, is that he did this with his apostles just by being with them and living life with them and the world. Jesus understood that worship, discipleship and learning didn't happen at a scheduled time on a Wednesday evening, but happened by living life and living life for the glory of God.

Here is an excerpt from Dave Patty's article on discipleship

(Dave's wife is speaking to him about the term discipleship)

“Dave, do you think a lot of people feel pressure when they hear that word?” “What do you mean?”I asked. “It just seems to me that people think Discipleship is some special formula, some program, some kind of neatpackage. If someone takes you through the right steps you can say you have ‘been discipled’ and if you do it to others youcan say you are ‘discipling them’. I just think it has a lot more to do with following Jesus, and pulling some people close to you so they can follow Jesus too.”

In Mark 3:14 Christ appointed twelve—“designating them apostles--that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” We see here Christ’s initiative in challenging men and calling them to who they would become. We see his vision, that they would touch others and preach the good news of the kingdom. But before this vision could be realized, we see him calling them to “be with him”. As we follow the disciples from this point on, their training appears a bit chaotic. Christ’s teaching and preparation is intensive, but it often seems to be haphazard, designed to shape and mold whatever raw materials life had thrown at them in a given day. What remains consistent, however, is the characteristic of Christ’s presence in their lives, and their presence in his. They were “with him”, and he “with them.”

Raising Up Disciples by Dave Patty

Maybe we should just see how God has called us to be as the church, instead of trying to make the church an organization that is open for business and we go there to be taught and trained. Maybe we only go as the gathered church once a week to hear the great news of the gospel of grace and the rest of the week we live that out. Maybe this is exactly how Jesus did this and exactly how the apostles did it. Maybe this is why they had so much time to focus in on making disciples instead of memorizing the correct answer that the group leader will ask from the handout he emailed to us. Maybe this is why the church in America is so stagnant. Maybe this is why people hate the church. Maybe we should stop calling the building the church and understand that we are the church. Maybe we should understand that worship doesn't only happen when at that ugly building, but happens all throughout the week as we live our lives.

Maybe church programs suck, because they suck the life right out of us instead of filling us up with joy.

Maybe Jesus had it right and what he did wasn't cultural, but something that could be repeated until he returns. Maybe. Just maybe.


Arthur Sido said...

Good stuff Seth. I think that a lot of what we do in the church has the exact opposite effect from what was intended: hampering mission instead of facilitating it, hindering fellowship instead of enhancing it, stunting worship instead of cultivating it.

Anonymous said...

Great points. I have a vocation as wife and mother but must work outside the home caring for others as well. There is simply no time for attending prayer meetings, RCIA, and other programs without shortchanging my vocation. Better to be mindful of intregrating the Faith into life/vocation insteading of taking more time from the vocation. PLus, my vision of how to glorify God usually isn't the same as the program, which is usually repetitive, boring, and canned. And thinking about it, my drawing into the Faith was largely the result of friendship with a woman who tries to live her faith in daily life. Not a perfect Christian, just one who tries.

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