Thoughts on Programming

Everyone who ever came up with a structured, even bureaucratic way to serve was NOT bad, of course. But “programming” CAN often be the hideout for spiritual cowards. “Programming” CAN be the big temptation for people with big ideas. The main reason I cast such blanket aspersions (apart from needing to remind myself) is that I don’t think anyone can see Jesus (or even the somewhat rationalistic Paul) doing or advocating “programming.” So why does it so often seem like a good idea to Christians?

I’m not saying that scheduling things, making a plan to serve some felt need, having a curriculum to follow, etc, etc is always bad. But I do want to protest filling up every spare moment with an event that is supposed to serve the purpose that normal human relationship and organic connections can and should fulfill. Just because we are all trained to create a programs to do what we should just do personally doesn’t mean we should do it. Just because we train to be “experts” in charge of “things” before we love someone doesn’t mean we should exercise the training..

I guess since we broke out into this song the other night at cell, it makes me afraid that people might rewrite it, now that we among the Circle of Hope have buildings and big ideas to fill them. Some people sing:

My hope is built on oughts and rules
On principles and schedules.
Like counter-service is my grace —
A drop to each receding face.
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All others rest on sinking sand
I dare not grasp one sinking hand.

When we came up with the idea for Circle of Hope, we installed the simple thought that we wanted life to be simple. So we have two meetings a week: the cell and the public meeting. We think almost everything we need to “program” can fit into those meetings somehow. Extraordinary people may have extraordinary things to do, of course. We wanted to leave a lot of time in the week to do them. What we didn’t want to see is the church filling up everyone’s calendar with obligatory things to do – as if the church were happening in the daily programs that happened in our buildings. Daily things might happen, but it isn’t like you are supposed to be doing them to get with the program.

I think we are, basically, like this. The leaders have a “daily” kind of obligation to who we are and what we do that requires their time. But most of us are free to live as free-range Christians. The problem is, preserving a habitat for free-range Christians is hard to do. As we get more capable, it is tempting to get us real organized and programmed. We have some nice corrals on Broad St. and Frankford Ave. and it is tempting to herd everyone in all week and ride them, train them to jump over fake fences like show horses and such.

Brave Christians love people face to face. Responsible Christians make teams. Paul says in Romans 13: Owe no one any thing, but to love one another: for one that loves another has fulfilled the law. Programming, at its worst, takes the one another out of the loving. The program does the loving. Love often gets mediated by the program. The “thing” is supposed to communicate – thus, I either don’t communicate or don’t have to. The event touches, the performances move — so I either can or do stay separate.

Not all programming is bad, of course, but you can see the temptation. It seems to me that Jesus is pretty much the anti-program. He is God coming into the moment and upending the control-system that violates his personal rule. I was going off on this subject the other day and someone quoted 1 Cor. 14:33 to me: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”  They were telling me how God had ordained hierarchy and propriety and we dare not deviate. Obviously he had a point. But Christianity easily dies when men (in particular) order it according to their understanding and don’t think Jesus can do that himself. We love organizing all those others rather than becoming one with them, suffering with them and for them. It is very easy to perversely admire a very tidy “love.”

It is the Lord among the “one another” that is the organizing force, not the program. If the life of Christ is pulsing among us, we’ll need to structure its expression. But if we just structure the idea of a pulse and expect it to fill with life, we may end up quite empty, and exhausted from all that effort, to boot.

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope. Graduate of Fuller Seminary, PhD in MFT from Eastern University.
This entry was posted in 2 Life as the Church and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Thoughts on Programming

  1. Joshua Nolt says:

    I think it’s a both and. The Christian life is filled with tensions. Programs have their place, but they also have their warnings such as Rod has shared. To be completely program driven is to forget about people and relationship. To be all free-range perhaps lends itself to the temptation of not doing anything. There is a place for program and structure, but it is a place of service – it is not a god.

    One last thought. We’ve discussed the “program” from an angle where people come to ‘benefit’ from what’s being offered. However, what we haven’t discussed is the heart of the people serving in the program. Looking at our own faith community I know very few who give up precious hours to be a part of a program. They do it for people.

  2. Nathan Swanson says:

    In my experience, people tend to look to programs to meet their needs. The question usually is not, “how can we love each other enough to meet the shared need.” But rather, “what are you, the program leadership, going to do to meet my need?” This mind set is severely damaging to the church. One of the reasons I value being a part of Circle is that we are so relationship focused and not program centered. As the Kid’s cell leader I fight the temptation of creating a program. I fight the temptation of taking all the responsibility of meeting our youth’s needs. I fight it because I have experienced the damage of the program system first hand and was left hurt. I am glad that instead of a youth group we have a dynamic organic relationship filled cell, where every member is responsible for the group. I am excited to see what Christ is going to do next.
    I think Rod’s line expresses what brings us together best:
    “It is the Lord among the “one another” that is the organizing force, not the program.” is at the heat of the cell.”
    That is an organizing force I am excited to be around.

  3. Art says:

    Doesn’t make sense to just develop a program based on how Jesus lived: “the cross program- how to get crucified for loving others in 3 years or less”. That sounds really counter-productive. Thanks for the spur to go face to face / heart to heart / wallet to need route and trust that Jesus is with us relating by his Holy Spirit – loving people and saving us from just well-programmed lifestyles.

  4. Bryce says:

    Simplicity and freedom to relate as Jesus related is certainly our calling. May we be jealous over our “open hours” to play dodge ball in the street, have dinners with friends, and organize pick-up baseball games in our neighborhoods.

  5. Jonathan Ziegler says:

    Being mostly unemployed, I have more umprogrammed time these days. I pray that God uses that time for me to build relationships that otherwise can get overlooked. Also, I hope that I (and we) preserve space for unprogrammed relationships even when we do have lots of commitments and plans.

  6. Eric Smelser says:

    I was thinking about this in the CoHop Core meeting last night. How do we build capacity without programming? I am well trained in developing systems, I spent 3 hours yesterday in a meeting writing a policy for contract management (we didn’t finish). It is tempting to fall into that training; develop a system, remove the need for teams and relationships, get everyone trained, and then move to the next problem. We need teams, team members, partners, leaders, relationships. We show up and let Jesus work thru US instead of our clever systems.

  7. Joseph Lucius says:

    Question: If Jesus indwells me and is always working in me, can I expect “the program” to have come from Him? To my mind, the “program” may be the difference between contributing a stone compared to a polished gem. However, I agree that I should not fall in love with the gem I have made.

  8. Howard Pinder says:

    Face-to-face loving is brave. I forget that sometimes.

  9. Rod – Thanks for your message! We Quakers have an interesting take on leaving things un-programmed, and we’d love to have you visit some time. We can learn a lot by trying different things, in terms of programmed or un-programmed time.

  10. Jonny Rashid says:

    In a time where we are having more and more events, I appreciate your distinction, and I appreciate your advocacy of free-range living. Always inspiring, Rod.

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