I have this struggle with using the word “programs” in our local churches. It is almost like every time I hear how many programs a church runs, I feel like the dentist is drilling my teeth. I cannot help but be saddened by how much we rely on church programs and very rarely find the initiative within our spirits to be the body of Christ to our neighbors here and around the world. When I think of programs, I think obligation. I will never forget when I went to a church; there was a list of over 20 different programs the church ran each week. I felt almost like they were boasting in their programs. “Look how many programs we have for you to be apart of here in our church” kind of a thing. It was almost like a vending machine of options I could choose from. I still have that list of programs in a file tucked away for a rainy day. I think I read the first five and thought, “Oh my word. What am I getting myself into?” I put it back in the envelope and have yet to open it again.
Through some online conversations and posts, my pastor has been writing on how we do church. We talked about a lot of things, one of them being programs. When I heard that word, I went back to my dentist chair and felt the drill pulsating on my teeth once again. It is a painful word that evokes horror to me for some reason. The whole, “Let’s get plugged in thing” has also been over used in regards to programs. I am not a toaster – I have no plug sticking out of me on my side to turn me on – this analogy simply will not work and should be thrown out the door along with the term programs. Why do I have such problem with programs? I am glad you asked (or didn’t ask and are reading this because you like me).
Programs seem to inflict within the body of Christ an obligation to serve in areas in which they are not passionate. They are usually instituted by the pastoral leadership or ministry leaders of a church in order for people to get off their ass and serve God and others.
There is a girl in our church who went to college and was confronted with a real issue in Philadelphia. There are people who live a whole 20 miles away from us who sleep and live in the streets without love, encouragement, and most of all, without Jesus. She thought to herself how this must make God cry. After praying long and hard about what she should do, she decided to make a few sandwiches and head down to Love Park and use the sandwiches as a way to open up the lines of communication with those in whom she met. The sandwiches worked and soon she was meeting men and women who were longing to share their stories with her. Going home, she knew that a simple act of going to Philadelphia and hanging out with homeless people was significant and important. She felt that perhaps for the first time, some of these people felt like humans. She quickly fell in love with them and was eager to go back the following week after her classes. After a couple of weeks, she shared with a couple of people at church about what she was doing. She knew that if there were more people who were passionate about the homeless, and opened their hearts to go, there could be a greater affect. So, more people went. Soon after, she made an announcement about going to Love Park. Monday nights were decided as the night to go. People who wanted to go were more than welcome but were not required to. People were also encouraged to bring bread, peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches, along with other personal items, bags, and other snacks that we could take down. We would arrange car rides and be back at a certain time later that night. Almost a year later, that ministry is continuing strong.
The homeless ministry is not a program in our church though. It is something we do because we believe Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and love the stranger. It is something we do that makes the homeless ministry so exciting and worth going to – not because it is a program I or anyone else feel obligated to do. There are lots of things we do in our church – the homeless ministry is just one of these things. Each one of our ministry opportunities came not through the pastoral staff of the church but through people in the church who had a passion to serve God and others. If you come to our church or do not come to our church, you are welcome to come and serve the homeless in Love Park. We do not have an application you have to fill out or need to set aside time to pose you with questions as to why you feel you should be apart of this ministry opportunity. If you love God, and have a heart to serve the homeless, that is all you need.
In closing, I will suggest a few questions and thoughts for you to consider:
What ministry opportunities are the members of your congregation passionate about?
In what way can you be Jesus to your community (friends and strangers)?
How is God challenging you to serve Him?
What are the things God requires us to do as believers in Christ? Are we doing it?
What programs do we have in our church that needs to be reevaluated?
Are we doing a good job at displaying Jesus to our neighbors and the world?
How can I use my gifts and talents to serve God in a tangible manner here and now?
If we only could get a glimpse of the message of Jesus and hold that close to our hearts, our local churches would grow in ways it has never grown before. People would feel the freedom to be creative and share their passions and desires for serving God and others within their community and around the world. As the passion for ministry continues to grow, so will the ministry opportunities. People will step up and serve. The final result is a body of local believers, passionate about God’s Word and message that are serving God and others faithfully and constantly.
I would rather be apart of a church that has three ministry opportunities in which the body of Christ is passionately serving God and others rather than being apart of a church that has 20 programs in which three-forth the church sits on their ass while one-fourth does all the work out of obligation rather than genuine love for the world.