Programs: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Jeremy Ross

Are programs the panacea for church mission? 

It’s not obvious but I’ve been going to the gym. The first day I went on a cross-trainer, thinking this must be working, it’s hard and I’m sweating. Then an instructor told me ‘you’re going backwards mate’. Later the instructor gave me a program of exercise to help me know what to do.

Programs can be good. Experts present us with a method and materials, often adaptable, to do something good like telling others about Jesus. Their aim is helping you and me to tell others Jesus came to save them. I went to the gym because 42 years of not going to the gym was shaping my body, but not in a good way. I started out on my own and went backwards. Someone who knows what they are doing helped me go the right way. Courses are good. Sometimes our churches are like me, the body isn’t the shape you want it to be, years of not connecting with a culture to tell it about Jesus has meant when we try and do it on our own, we don’t know how. The best thing about programs or courses can be that us non-experts can be equipped for the mission.

Programs can be bad, even if they’re not meant to be. Our church used ‘Fruitfulness on the Frontline’. It is excellent and I’d recommend it, but we had to remember this course was written by the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. London and Dunfermline are different. We’ve got to consider if what works for some is the best program for us. At the gym, if I tried to do what some guys there do, you would have to come and lift the weights and myself off the floor. I would feel a complete failure because I couldn’t do what that other guy did. Church programs and activities can be like that too. We might not be ready for it, it might not be right for us.

Programs can be ugly. Some are so intensive, they are either meant to or could take over. An example, if a church became an ‘eco-church’ the best motive would be worship of God for his creation and it would be good for cultural connection. But it could turn ugly, if our focus goes from loving God most to loving the world most. At the gym, it’s obvious some people took years getting into shape, to the extent other things had to be neglected, things like eating pudding and maybe even going to work. Programs if they take over, often mean we’re so busy trying to be something we ignore good things God has given us.

Perhaps you want to say, ‘but our church doesn’t do programs’. Whether you’re the most traditional or newest and trendiest, you do, you do your own program, usually weekly. Don’t be scared to ask if what you’re doing for the kingdom could be helped by experts from the outside.

Programs aren’t all bad, there’s probably something out there that would help you connect with people you’re missing. Maybe you’ve been concentrating on one aspect so much that it’s turning ugly?

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Jeremy Ross   Jeremy Ross

Jeremy studied at Edinburgh Theological Seminary from 2004 to 2007 and he and his wife Fiona moved to Aultbea in September 2007 to take up his first charge in the Free Church. Jeremy became the minister at Dunfermline Free Church on 30 August 2014. They have four children.