Programs are a leadership challenge for the missional church.
“What?” you ask.
“Programs are central to our church’s ministry.”
So let’s ask different questions:
“Why so many programs?”
“How do the programs help the church focus on our mission?”
The church is a master at offering programs and filling calendars. As we move deeper into fall, Trunk-or-Treat and fall retreats are on the calendar. We may serve a meal at Thanksgiving. It’s likely we’ve already started to plan Bible Studies and special music for Advent and Christmas. We’ll leave it to you to decide which program has a direct missional impact. Yes, every program has the potential to connect people to Christ, one another, and the local church.
We have come to recognize, however, potential can function with deceptive power.
What to do?
Without intentionality, programs will fail to connect to the mission of making disciples and transforming the world.
Many churches have created busyness with programs. As a result, we have exhausted people who are not growing as disciples of Jesus. If we need proof, take last week’s schedule of one ministry leader. The program calendar had the staff at the church building five out of seven nights. Reflecting on the week, this leader recognized no one was offering their best to God and each other. They are tired and lacked focus. They had a vague understanding of why the meetings were needed. Intentionality is needed.
At their best, programs are developed to address a missional need.
At their worst, programs are developed out of competition with other churches and/or a desperate need to keep traditions going.
Know why the programs exist and lead others to focus on how the programs help you fulfill our mission. If it is not helping you fulfill our mission, it’s time to evaluate. As a place to begin, explore the following: Does this program need leadership’s time and attention? Why? Can the program be adapted to focus on the mission? Or is the program is a remnant of nostalgia from the past? Does it need to be ended with grace?
Focus on relationships.
An important missional ingredient is relationships. This includes relationships with Jesus, one another, and the community. Program activity can easily lack a relational focus. How do we know? The number of times we hear,
“We had ___ number of people” attend.
“How is one of the persons in attendance growing in relationship with Jesus, one another, and/or the community as a result of their attendance?”
Yes, we will continue to count attendance. But it is not a marker of relational ministry.
When designing programs, be intentional about asking if the program is a place for new people to build relationships. If not, it may not need communication to the entire congregation. Second, if all of the church programs are about meeting the needs of current constituents, it is likely time to adjust priorities. Then, identify ways to focus on relationships.
Here are a few points of reflection for developing relational ministry:
- How can you learn the names and stories of a person who participates in a ministry for the first time?
- What would happen if you follow up with a first-time guest to nurture their connection with another person and Jesus?
- How does church leadership learn about the needs and gifts a person brings to the congregation and community? How does a person know they can share this information?
- What difference might a phone call make to a person you haven’t seen in a couple weeks?
In each of the example questions above, the focus is on people. A relational ministry has a focus on developing people.
Be in constant prayer.
To move beyond a program-mindset we will need to shift our focus.
Prayer is an essential ingredient in the missional church. This includes the individual and corporate practices of prayer. As Reggie McNeal reminds us, “The approach to the future involves prayer and preparation, not prediction and planning.”¹ In order to focus on people, to move deeper into a kingdom-based leadership, we need to move to our knees. Prayer is essential to discernment. Prayer assists leaders of local congregations in discerning the movement of God, an essential aspect of missional leadership.
Focus on kingdom impact.
One final note: “The needs of the church and unchurched are not the primary agenda of leadership. The reign of God in Christ, the social reality of the redeemed community, determine the church’s direction.”² When we are seeking to live kingdom reality, we begin to act in ways that reflect Christ’s love. Lead by asking questions about kingdom impact, not by making decisions that pacify personal preferences.
Yes, addressing this challenge requires healthy relationships. It will also require grace and clarity.
The leadership challenge for the missional church continues. With prayer, intentionality, and relational investments, you’ll be better able to lead others in joining God to fulfill his mission.
May it be so!
- Reggie McNeal, The Present Future, 93.
- Darrell Guder and Lois Barret, eds., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, 104.