Jared Wilson on “10 Reasons to Under-Program Your Church”

April 26, 2010 at 8:28 pm 4 comments

Jared Wilson, pastor and author of Your Jesus Is Too Safe, recently posted a thoughtful and challenging blog titled “10 Reasons to Under-Program Your Church.” I have re-posted them (with permission from Jared) below:

1. You can do a lot of things in a mediocre (or poor) way, or you can do a few things extremely well. Craig Groeschel has some great things to say about this subject. Also check out Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church.

2. Over-programming creates an illusion of fruitfulness that may just be busy-ness. A bustling crowd may not be spiritually changed or engaged in mission at all. And as our flesh cries out for works, many times filling our programs with eager, even servant-minded people is a way to appeal to self-righteousness.

3. Over-programming is a detriment to single-mindedness in a community. If we’re all busy engaging our interests in and pursuits of different things, we will have a harder time enjoying the “one accord” prescribed by the New Testament.

4. Over-programming runs the risk of turning a church into a host of extracurricular activities, mirroring the “Type-A family” mode of suburban achievers. The church can become a grocery store or more spiritual YMCA, then, perfect for people who want religious activities on their calendar.

5. Over-programming dilutes actual ministry effectiveness. Because it can overextend leaders, increase administration, tax the time of church members, and sap financial and material resources from churches.

6. Over-programming leads to segmentation among ages, life stages, and affinities, which can create divisions in a church body.
Certainly there are legitimate reasons for gathering according to “likenesses,” but many times increasing the number of programs means increasing the ways and frequencies of these separations. Pervasive segmentation is not good for church unity or spiritual growth.

7. Over-programming creates satisfaction in an illusion of success; meanwhile mission suffers. If a church looks like it’s doing lots of things, we tend to think it’s doing great things for God. When really it may just be providing lots of religious goods and services. This is an unacceptable substitute for a community on mission, but it’s one we accept all the time. And the more we are engaged within the four walls of the church, whether those walls are literal or metaphorical, the less we are engaged in being salt and light. Over-programming reduces the access to and opportunities with my neighbors.

8. Over-programming reduces margin in the lives of church members. It’s a fast track to burnout for both volunteers and attendees, and it implicitly stifles sabbath.

9. Over-programming gets a church further away from the New Testament vision of the local church. Here’s a good test, I think: take a look at a typical over-programmed church’s calendar and see how many of the activities resemble things seen in the New Testament.

10. Over-programming is usually the result of un-self-reflective reflex reactions to perceived needs and and an inability to kill sacred cows that are actually already dead. Always ask “Should we?” before you ask “Can we?” Always ask “Will this please God?” before you ask “Will this please our people?” Always ask “Will this meet a need?” before you ask “Will this meet a demand?”

These are some tough observations that need some thought as the ‘local church’ seeks to minister the unchanging gospel in a changing culture. Pastors and ministry leaders – think about all the things you are doing in the context of your ministry and ask yourself a few questions when planning activities:

  1. Are these things absolutely necessary for the people?
  2. Are these things distracting the people from the most important things?
  3. In the end, will these programs deepen the people’s understanding of the gospel and cultivate true discipleship?

We need to use wisdom when planning and promoting things within the church. Think about the message ‘underneath’ the program you lead or support.

Entry filed under: Christian Theology, Christianity, Culture, Faith, Religion, The Great Commission Resurgence, The Southern Baptist Convention, Theology.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ron  |  April 26, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    I like the post. How would you define a program?

    Reply
    • 2. mattcapps  |  April 26, 2010 at 10:13 pm

      There are many ways to define a ‘ministry program.’ One way to say it is any activity that is not essential to the vision of the church, or does not align itself with the core values. Or, it is something that is not essential to the health of the church- namely, that which does not deepen the people’s understanding of the gospel, or that which does not aim towards lasting results for mature discipleship. Or….any niche program or hokey activity that is an ‘add on activity’ to the essential life of the church. Good question: How would you define it?

      Reply
      • 3. Ron  |  May 2, 2010 at 10:27 pm

        I am not sure what definition of ‘program’ Jared is using but it sounds like he may think programs are a good thing. However, it is clear that he thinks over-programming is a bad thing. The word program sounds very sterile and boxy. Who likes sterile and boxy? However, if a program is simply something that has a goal in mind and an organized way to get there then I would say that is not such a bad thing. The benefit of a program can be derived from what you stated in your response. Is this program essential to the fulfillment of the vision of the church? Is this program accomplishing what it was initially put in motion to accomplish? I am sure there are a thousand other questions you could ask but the point is that I agree with Jared that over-programming can suffocate the church.

  • 4. Chad Craver  |  April 29, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Good post, Matt. Thanks for sharing this. These three (bottom) immediately jumped out at me as visible in my church.
    The difference is always about one’s personal relationship with Our Lord. If you are walking with The Lord and growing in Holiness, being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit through spending time in prayer and God’s Word, then programs are as wonderful as they are rightly intended to be.
    #4- I think the concern is that we know there are many who come to enjoy the fellowship with the good people of God but they may gravitate to the events that are socially-oriented or “kid-friendly” events. They also will shy away from events that might appear to threaten their state by a confrontation with a powerful Word that will bring about conviction and repentance. This is a reflection of our age and it is present with some church goers also. I’ve heard statements such as; “I go to this church because they have good programs for my kids.” The social gatherer could be reached as long as there is always significant preparation for the presentation of a Spirit led message even at the social events. I see efforts to do this at my local church. So, they are aware of #4 and are using the lure of programs to reach people who might think of themselves as otherwise “ok”. We all must know that we are NOT “ok” without putting Jesus Christ first in our life. I think there are a lot of goats among the sheep and we need to always have the work of God’s Word as the top priority in programs for this reason. I’m saved by Grace but I love to hear the Gospel preached… I LOVE to hear the Gospel. Am I alone in this love? I think not. I would reason that everyone who is being tranformed by the Gospel, loves to hear it and could never hear it too much. Therefore, I can’t think of a reason why it shouldn’t be presented strategically and powerfully at every opportunity in order to confront the social gatherers with the true reason that we enjoy fellowship.
    #6 – There seems to be a division between young and old. Over the years God has used whited haired brothers and sisters to teach me and bless me. I don’t think musical taste mitigates the mutual need we have of each other to bless and be blessed.
    #9 – Another thought on this… take a look at the social calendar of the local church and look to see if the Breaking of Bread – The Lord’s Table is a point of emphasis. How does that stack up with the New Testament Church in Acts 2:42?
    “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”. I think a lot of churches focus on the first two but under-emphasize the later two. This might also be a symptom of too many programs. I’ve seen the difference in who shows up for prayer centered events vs. social events and there’s no problem parking at a prayer meeting.

    4. Over-programming runs the risk of turning a church into a host of extracurricular activities, mirroring the “Type-A family” mode of suburban achievers. The church can become a grocery store or more spiritual YMCA, then, perfect for people who want religious activities on their calendar.

    6. Over-programming leads to segmentation among ages, life stages, and affinities, which can create divisions in a church body. Certainly there are legitimate reasons for gathering according to “likenesses,” but many times increasing the number of programs means increasing the ways and frequencies of these separations. Pervasive segmentation is not good for church unity or spiritual growth.

    9. Over-programming gets a church further away from the New Testament vision of the local church. Here’s a good test, I think: take a look at a typical over-programmed church’s calendar and see how many of the activities resemble things seen in the New Testament.

    Reply

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