The problems I have with “programs”

Ever since “The Passion of the Christ,” I have been wondering why am I so “anti-program?” I know I tend to be a bit of a rebel, but I still wonder why things “programmed” drive me crazy. When I say “crazy” I mean, they drive me crazy and I just can’t seem to get a grip on why. It seems that modern churches and modern church “leaders” gravitate to the “latest and greatest” in the church program area – flashy books, great titles, cool pics and all the eye candy one can muster. I can remember sitting at a meeting of the local Pastors and hearing them talk about how “The Passion” (the newest “latest and greatest” program) was going to flood our churches with non-believers seeking to know more about Christ. What they could not grasp in reality was when I tried to explain that most non-believers do not see the church as “the place” where those questions are asked, and honestly answered. Most non-believers are going to have that conversation in the local bar, their living room or their kitchen and many be on Thursday night at the bowling ally; places where most “good christians” would never get caught walking out of (notice I did not say they would not go in, just that they would never get caught coming out).

Let’s be honest. Christian books stores are filled with “programs” and each one is touted as the “latest and greatest” – The Passion, Purpose Driven “You Name it”, Pray of “Whoever,” Video Bible, you name it, it over flows the shelves – for youth, for children, for teens, for “tweens,” for couples, for singles, for divorced, for separated, for adults, for older adults, for younger adults, for older single adults, for older widowed adults, for an endless supply of what ever box you want to place a person in there is a program designed just for them. It is not my desire to pick on one program over another, because they are all equally silly in my eyes, let me select one that I believe is one of the “founding fathers” of church programs – the “purpose driven” programs. I know, for many I am about to become more of a heretic then I already am; for some I am stepping on the “holy of holies” the “foundation of the modern church” – but I have to do, what I have to do.

The Main Problem:
Here is the main problem I think I am having with this whole “purpose driven” thing (and in reality you can put any of the many programs in those quotes) - when I read statements that claim, “this program changed my life” or “if not for this program our church would have closed” or “I love this program because it made me see my life clearer” I get freaked, because many modern “leaders” hear those types of statements and think, "the purpose driven program will change the lives of my people and the culture of my church. We will start to grow and become a bigger church, I need that program." The problem is the program does nothing – nothing – it changes nothing as I see it. I believe the gospel message changed the people, but we give credit to the program and the author of the program, but it is the message of Christ that changes lives and church cultures. We see the program as the “change agent” and therefore we need the program to “package the gospel message. Because for some reason, we think the “program” will clean the message up and make it easier to believe. I have a feeling that the original intent of the book, “The Purpose Driven Church” was not to be a program, but was to open the hearts and minds of church “leaders” and get them stirred into action; to call their attention back to the word of God and into the lives of the church – but publishers, marketers and business minds got involved and realized they could “can a program” and sell it to church “leaders” looking for a quick fix for their churches ills. The “program” became the perfume that hid the smell of a rotting corpse, because in reality, nothing truly changed.

Over time the modern church place such a heavy load on programs, the author, and a great value on when the program was started - in this case, the purpose driven, Rick and modern times. The problem becomes, the "program" has no value at all, the author is just a man and times change – but because many of the modern church “leaders” place such energy on the program, the author and times change is virtually impossible.

Consumer Driven is more like it
The "PD" is driven by "quality" and in terms of church “quality” is a very modern, very consumer centered idea. When we think in terms of “quality” we think in terms of “getting the most for our buck” – “the biggest bang for our dollar” – but that is so not what church should be about. In a postmodern/emerging church that is not an issue. The central drive of the "PD” church is to be bigger, better, more building, more land, more money, more “shine” then the church down the road. This is not, or should not be, the heart of a postmodern/emerging church, so to try to fit a “PD” program into a postmodern/emerging church is like trying to fit a square peg into a sunspot – it will get fried.

What still fits?
I think that "the five" – fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry, and evangelism (I would add "relational" - which I believe is far deeper then "fellowship" and “missional” which is so much deeper then “evangelism”) are still important; just not as linier as "PD" makes them out to be - they are so very connected, so very non-linier in nature and scripture. Let me take just one as an example - evangelism

Evangelism should be a natural component in all the other areas - it should be "inter-twined" because every single person who is a follower of Christ should evangelize. This is not an option, but in the “PD” modern church we have created “groups” that do this, or we write a check to fund others to do it – but we are all called to share our faith - fellowship should have an "evangelism" connection (not the purpose, and totally not the reason - but an element) - discipleship should also, jesus called his disciples - they were not "believers" when he called them, they became believers. The modern church tends to see discipleship as something that happens after you become a believer, but just as Jesus modeled, discipleship starts before one believes. Evangelism in worship, very cool and missing in many modern churches; they see worship as a “show” and not as a tool to show how believers worship the living God. Evangelism as a component in ministry, showing that what we do we do for Christ - while this may seem natural, many modern "PD" churches I have talked with, interviewed with and visited compartmentalize all the five into separate "programs" - heck, some have gone as far as hiring staff based on the five.

The connective nature of “the five” (and i still believe there are more) is important. While a “modern mind” may not be able to grasp the idea of “multi-tasking” and seeing the connections of all, the postmodern/emerging mind sees it as clear as day. Multi-tasking is a norm for us, and as such we see the connections – the networking of “the five.” I think a healthy postmodern/emerging church does not "box" the five as modern “PD” churches do. A postmodern/emerging outreach allows the five to flow and develop as the spirit leads – allowing the center to be the needs of the people and not the needs of the program. This can be and often is too “messy" for many in the modern church, and even seen as "chaos" to many - but I think it works.

I think the problem I have with modern programs is that they place importance on the wrong things - sure, a church "leader" will say "the bible is important" but then he (or she) will turn to a canned program and say, "this will help our church grow" - never once coming to the realization that what is needed is a deeper walk with Christ, in his word and in his way. Programs make church life easier. It places less responsibility of the Pastor, and more on the program. If the church does not grow after “40 days of purpose” it’s the programs fault. The purpose driven may be calling for us to have a deeper walk; the call is not loud enough, long enough and with enough conviction to let an emerging conversation believe it. What happens is that most modern church do the program and then wait for the next program to make their next move. I think the modern church likes programs because they have something to blame, or someone to blame, for the failures of the church.

Soon after The Passion hit the theaters and the group of ministers spent a ton of cash on helping Mel advertise his movie, we sat around and the funny thing is, no one spoke of how they were dealing with the massive growth in their church. No one spoke of all the non-believers who were filling their buildings asking questions that would change their lives. Funny, but wait – a new and better program is just around the corner.


Shok said...

good stuff, being a golfer and a bowler and a bar hanger outer i have had a lot of great conversations in these places that i not only frequent but have become a member of these local clubs and leagues for the very reason of being in places where most religious people are not ... having left the ministry after over 20 years, i find myself loving people more now than ever ... i left the church and found god all over the place ... programs are good for comforting the feeble minded ... loving life among people is good for everyone ... btw . u care if i repost your thoughts on the ooze and link people to your blog?

Anonymous said...

Course, any church who calls PDC a 'program' is completely missing the point. Any church that tries to copy saddleback or willowcreek is completely missing the point.

PDC is actually quite pomo. The heart of the book says the way to do church is to first get to know the people in your community and second learn how to best communicate with them. Programs are always secondary.

Too bad so many churches are too busy trying to create instant growth instead of sharing christ's love with their neighbors.


david said...

punk monkey- amen, brutha! i couldn't agree more.
kevin- i'm not so sure pdc is "pomo" aside from some intentionally packaged boomer-laden "pomo" ideas. the distinction about getting to know the community is in its emphasis on "felt needs," which abandons the "pomo" recognition that people actually don't know what's really good for them. catering to felt needs will always divert attention from transcendence to self. btw, i hate the abbr "pomo."