People Over Programs. Eternal Over Temporal.

The idea is simple. An overemphasis on programming and its accompanying time for administration tends to make people busier, but doesn’t tend to make them more like Jesus.

It’s not that programs aren’t important. They are. And it’s not that temporal issues should be overlooked. They shouldn’t. But what should demand the majority of our time? What should be most noticeable about a church calendar?

Church revitalization director Mark Clifton recently tweeted, “…churches are often among the busiest places in our lives with much of that activity providing little in discipleship & kingdom growth. Think frequent & lengthy committee mtgs.”

I think that’s right. A Christ-centered, gospel-oriented church is one that preaches the glorious grace of God against the unbiblical burden of works-righteousness. Yet, even the most grace-focused church in relation to salvation can become a works-righteousness church in relation to discipleship. In other words, churches will be tempted to base their discipleship success on the number of events, programs, and services on their church calendar. The question, “what is your church becoming” is supplanted with “what is your church doing?”

The goal of every church program should be two-fold:  to help the participants find greater joy in Jesus and greater love for one another. When leaders are spending more time trying to plan, correct, and keep the program operating than they are investing in the people of the programs, then the program is probably failing. Programs should be designed to properly provide support for discipleship. Programs should point people to Christ and one another, not point people back to the program. In staff meetings, discussions on programming should have the freedom to focus more on the people than on the structure.  About three years ago I jokingly told my staff that I wanted to see a calendar void of programs in 10 years. What I meant is that I want our people to understand discipleship to be a product of investing in the Bible and one another. Fancy videos, study guides, and tied-up evenings during the week isn’t necessary. Although those things can be helpful and fruitful, they don’t magically make disciples, and often, they make disciple-making our families more difficult. Churches can’t preach the necessity of family discipleship while simultaneously keeping families away from home due to programming.

I believe in the power of the word of God to transform people in Jesus. In reverse, I believe nothing else has the power to transform people in Jesus. Thus, programs should be a tool by which the Bible is treasured and given the opportunity to do what it was breathed out to do – “for training in righteousness.”

Preaching remains the single greatest means by which people hear the gospel, respond to the gospel, and grow in the gospel. It is not a coincidence that preaching does not (or at least, should not) feel like a program. It happens every week. It follows a pattern of some kind. But it isn’t programmed. It involves the Bible being studied, being spoken, and being received. God responds by saving the lost and maturing the righteous.

The solution to over-programming is not to kill all programs. I’m thankful for solid programs and I’m doubly thankful for the dedicated leaders and teachers who are involved in keeping the programs running. Instead of killing programs, the more productive (and more difficult) response is to determine how well the programs are serving the people by moving them toward your church’s identity and vision. Discovering how much time is spent working on the programs versus how much time is spent discipling the people is a powerful assessment tool. And of course, determining if the programs are helping produce growing disciples should be an essential and common discussion among the church staff.

So, what does your church calendar look like?