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Tony Payne on Church Programs

Posted by on 12 March, 2012 in Church | 13 Comments

My brother sent me an article from Tony Payne (Publishing Editor for Matthias Media) that went off like a bomb in my mind.  Take five minutes and read it here.

Here’s a quote to wet your appetite: 

“But what if our mental image of the congregation was not a network of departments or structures or ‘ministries’, but a list of people. That’s all. Just a list of people. And next to everyone’s name on the list was two things: to the right of their name, there was a spectrum or set of columns that showed where they were up to in their growth and maturity in Christ (from rank non-Christian outsider to fairly mature Christian), and a couple of ideas about what they needed to do next in order to grow (whether to hear the gospel, or grow in doctrinal understanding, or be trained in how to follow up someone else, or whatever). And to the left of their name was some initials—the person who was going to take responsibility for helping that person take that next step towards maturity in Christ.”

Coming back to Infocus – here are a few questions for discussion:

1) Are we too program-driven in our church ministries?

2) Would this approach be helpful if someone supported you in this way?

3) How do you quantify spiritual maturity?

~ JK

 

About Jeremy Kwok

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Jeremy grew up in Sydney before moving to the United States for tertiary studies. Jeremy completed the BA, MA (History), and M.Div degrees before returning to Australia with his wife Debbie. He currently works for Christian Education Ministries, a company that owns and operates private schools.

Comments (13)

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  • avatar

    davin

    a church program should not be an avenue to brag one’s versatility.

  • avatar

    Jeremy Crooks

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a church program. The inherit danger however is that they become our mode of measuring success.

  • avatar

    Jeremy K

    Yes and Yes.

  • avatar

    Jane Gibb

    Question 3 is the tricky one. Do any of us even know ourselves where we fit on that continuum? But I do love the idea that we are all in need of a push in the direction of Christ. Another helpful idea from the quote is the one about what next step do we need to take? What next step does my friend need to take? Every member in need of growth being cared for by another member who is simply at a different stage in the growth process–it’s a positive picture of a healthy church.

  • avatar

    Jeremy K

    Does anyone ever equate physical attendance at church functions with spiritual vitality? Meaning – just because you’re here – you must be doing well… This model encourages everyone to be growing.. even the ones who have made a significant time commitment to church life.

  • avatar

    Steve

    Yes I think sometimes ministries can take all the focus, when it should be about the people involved, kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees.
    This may be more of a problem in the really big churches, where ministry involves lots of people, too many to know and keep track of. But having said that, those of us in smaller churches need constantly be reminded of the principles in the model of ministry that is described above.
    The trickiest bit with the above model is determining the spiritual maturity of a Christian. I think this is probably unnecessary, but yes we do have to keep in mind that there are different levels of spiritual maturity in the congregation.
    Preaching is a good example of this, you would aim to preach a sermon that everyone there can benefit from, from a seven year old child to the older folk who have been there for years.

  • avatar

    Elizabeth

    “Coming back to Infocus – here are a few questions for discussion:
    1) Are we too program-driven in our church ministries?
    2) Would this approach be helpful if someone supported you in this way?
    3) How do you quantify spiritual maturity?”

    Hmm… Programs are useful, but I feel upset when there is an expectation to join this, that and the other program in order to qualify as being a ‘faithful’ church member.

    2. Yes, what a great idea… however it might be something to keep between elders and not go publishing a document stating that old Mrs Jones needs the gospel because she prob isn’t saved haha.

    3. Spiritual maturity…

    apples, peaches and pears. :-)

    • avatar

      Jeremy Crooks

      On point 2. I don’t think a spiritual ranking list should be documented – even among elders. A list could become a program in itself and subjective spiritual rankings are problematic. Where this idea becomes useful is that it transforms our thinking about members from being about what programs they are involved in to where their heart is.

  • avatar

    Jeremy Kwok

    “Where this idea becomes useful is that it transforms our thinking about members from being about what programs they are involved in to where their heart is.”

    That’s exactly how I feel.

    This is off topic – but this is a great interview between John Piper & Rick Warren – http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/john-piper-interviews-rick-warren-on-doctrine

  • avatar

    Naomi

    I do think church is too program-driven. It becomes all about numbers in programs (sunday service, women’s breakfast, men’s dinner, evangelistic event) and it is assumed that the programs meet everyone’s needs. If you go to enough programs, you must be growing as a christian or getting converted, so we can tick that box. It ignores the actual needs of the people and doesn’t require you to actually get to know them. It doesn’t matter who is actually there, as long as people are there.

    I think it is good to get back to people, real people, not numbers. We need to get back to knowing the needs of people. What family issues are people facing? What work issues are people facing. How can we help Bill become a better electrician, and what does Mary need to hear to deal with her difficult customers?

    Certainly if you are in a larger church, the above description is a good step in the right direction. It is certainly a step that needs to be taken. My one concern is that it is still too “structured”. In practice I imagine the initials next to people’s names would belong to the ministry team (rather than allowing the whole body to do its thing), and they would block off their 30 minutes a week to talk to the person about how they are going. Then they would slot them into a program that meets their needs (from Christianity explained to leadership training).

    As I said, it is a good step for big churches to take, but once you have experienced church without the institution, church where people come together and talk about God together, learn about God together, get to know each other personally, love and encourage each other, and meet each others physical and spiritual needs all without programs, rolls, paid ministry teams and church buildings with pews, everything else is the poor cousin.

  • avatar

    Jeremy K

    “As I said, it is a good step for big churches to take, but once you have experienced church without the institution, church where people come together and talk about God together, learn about God together, get to know each other personally, love and encourage each other, and meet each others physical and spiritual needs all without programs, rolls, paid ministry teams and church buildings with pews, everything else is the poor cousin.”

    Would you consider it being both/and? For example, there are plenty of small churchs that are glorified cliques. I was a part of a large (1400+) church which felt like a family. That being said – well written paragraph :)

  • avatar

    Naomi

    It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. There is nothing wrong with 1400 people getting together on a Sunday to sing and listen to someone speak from the bible, but Church is not a Sunday service. Church is a group of people in relationship with God and each other. And that is where the emphasis should be. That is where a church’s time, money and energy should be directed.

    If all of a church’s money goes to building and maintaining a building to host the Sunday service, and if all of the time and energy is poured into preparing programs/events where people are a silent audience (rather than interacting with each other and sharing lives), then I would say that church is on a wrong path, where they are a church of 14 or 1400.

    If a church pours most of its resources into small groups meetings (bible studies, converstations at cafes etc), if people are told to put their time and energy into hospitality – getting to know others in the church (and outside of the church) – rather than helping with the next “event”, if people are genuinely allowed and encouraged to share their lives and teach and encourage each other, then that church is heading down the right path, no matter its number.

  • avatar

    Pastor Ryan

    The Navigators – a group of Christians who were sold out to make disciples of Jesus in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s – and continuing today, had the same concept of charting people’s growth spiritually. This is not a new idea – just rebadged. But there are some flaws in it.

    1. Only God knows exactly where man’s heart is at, and what he needs from the Lord – therefore, your best laid plans over others are likely to be small in vision and sight and limit a person to grow according to YOUR image rather than Christ’s.

    2. Programs, whether they are called programs, or “renamed” as columns of people with particular growth needs as produce the same thing – unless the “program” is deep Gospel tuition: what is the Gospel, how does it impact my life in these areas, am I depending on Christ actually or is it really my own efforts that I am more interested in?

    3. I don’t see either the “program” mentality, or the “list of people” mentality expressed anywhere in the New Testament church. What Paul and Barnabas did for the church through evangelism was to preach and make disciples of Jesus – then they would teach them at depth the same truth again the next visit – though now how it affected their lives with regards to the suffering the believers must endure, how they were to hold fast to the trustworthy word of Christ and so forth (you can find this concept woven through the account in Acts when Paul and Barnabas return to the places they have already visited.) Subsequent to this, the believers were then organised into church groups with Elders stationed over them to ensure their growth – but this was through the continual preaching and teaching of Christ and His Good News.

    I think the principal is flawed personally… not the choice of “how we go about getting development in people”. The principal that is flawed is this: that there is a number of special “levels” of knowledge or understanding that we must “go through” in order to be mature believers. In actual fact all this traditionally develops are people with theological training, but not a deeper spirituality. The problem is our expectation and marker of spiritual maturity is wrong.

    I am discipling ‘single’ mothers (with my wife present at all times of course) to continue to trust Christ when their spouses are not present in the Lord, or in the marriage. The aim is not that they will “learn how to lead others to Christ” or “develop special ministry outcomes” but that they will trust Christ in every high and stormy gale, and that they will be unwavering in their devotion to Him. This is what the Christian life is all about – the other stuff, like should a Christian learn how to preach etc, I think has been over thought and under achieved, because largely the Lord Himself is not raising the workers – it is someone else who is setting the markers and making sure the person jumps through the hoops. No one taught me how to counsel others to depend upon Christ – that comes through a gift of the Spirit, and a willingness to submit fully to Him in the call on my life. No one sat Paul down and sorted his Gospel out – except for Jesus Himself… and amazingly it is the same Gospel the other Apostles were teaching. I think we underestimate God continually in the “discipleship and development” arenas, and we make church into a “betterment of self” program instead of the simple “take up your cross and follow me” community we were meant to be.

    Thanks for the thoughts on this topic everyone – it is worthwhile thinking through – but I am afraid that we are overcomplicating the church to our own detriment and exhaustion. The reason the church in the west is worn out, is because it has forgotten what a simple message we have been called to, and a simple life we have been given in Christ. Come. See. Hear. Believe. Follow. Obey. Tell others. Keep following. Simple.

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