Saturday, February 19, 2011
Programming Is Killing the Church
Of course, most of it ends up in the round file (or, in my case, the recycle bin). Part of me hates to throw those things away -- the weak and vulnerable side of me wonders if I have not thrown away the invitation to the one genuinely good program that will make my life easier, make me more effective as a Pastor, motivate my congregation more, and make my congregation more effective. It is the sinful human nature in me that wants a program to do what God has given me to do, what He has given the parish to do, or what He has promised to do. In my weakness I want a magical cure to all the problems I face as Pastor and my parish faces as a congregation. In the beginning of my ministry, I thought it was all financial -- if only we had enough money to do this or that... Now I know that this is one of Satan's big lies -- both that all our problems can be solved with more money or that we do not have enough in the Church (like God is short of cash and has to borrow it from us). But still it catches me up from time to time.
The biggest danger in all of this is that the most essential things that belong to us as a congregation have ended up being labeled as programs or viewed as programs by Pastors and the people in the pew. Worship has become a program and so we can evaluate it, we can adjust and direct it, we can define who we are trying to reach with it, and we can change the core values that govern it. Baloney. Worship is about the means of grace. What we do in worship is Word and Sacrament. It is not a program -- it is God bidding us into His presence, bestowing upon us His gifts, and sustaining and transforming us with His grace. As soon as we call it a program, we turn it into something that proceeds from us, exists for us, and is defined by us. When that happens, worship, for all intents and purposes, ceases.
Catechesis ends up being a program. The whole educational endeavor becomes a curriculum, a goal, and a means to that goal instead of the kind of ongoing life of catechesis envisioned in the Scriptures. The Word of God becomes merely a tool in this process (as does the Small Catechism) and knowledge or understanding or feelings become the arenas in which we define success. The success of catechesis is faithfulness in worship and the baptismal vocation lived out in daily life -- nothing more and nothing less. What is your program for adult catechesis or youth catechesis or Sunday school, etc.? When the conversation becomes more about these as a program instead of being in the Word, at the Table, and living out the baptismal vocation then catechesis becomes simply methodology.
Evangelism is the one area that has suffered most by becoming a program. We have adopted or adapted methods that have ended up defining evangelism than the Scriptural call to be always ready to give account for the hope that is within you or to be Christ's witnesses. I began my parish life under the constraints of what was called the Abdon Plan and its organization of the congregation around way too many boards and committees. Its greatest weakness was in introducing the idea that some people are evangelists and most people are not and the evangelism program is best directed to finding out who has the gift and working only with them. Strange that it would take until the 1960s before the Church would figure out that witness was not part of the baptismal vocation but the specific gift of a few. And to think that until the twentieth century congregations did not even have evangelism committees!
Even mercy and service are not immune from the programming mentality. Imagine that -- mercy and service are programmed and not simply the reflection of God's mercy and service to us!
I am not suggesting that there are not good programs out there or that we should not use them. I am challenging the idea that the ministry and mission of the Pastor and of the congregation are programs in and of themselves. I think this idea is killing us -- trying to sift through the good from the bad, the ones that work from the ones that don't -- and killing our congregations -- by erasing the distinction between the things that are part of our identity and how we do the things we are given to do....
What do YOU think?