The “P” word

Recently, our local paper published a guest column by a local pastor.  This pastor was talking about the religious realities of the county in which we live.  It was a well written article that spoke about how 60% of people in our county have no meaningful connection to a church or place of worship.  Thus, they are disconnected to the spiritual resources and support that come from participation in a healthy church.  Good stuff.

However (and there is always a however with me), at one point in the article it talks about a local children’s pastor.  This is what the article said;

Pastor (name withheld) has launched a re-tooled and recharged ministry for children.  He has started a dynamic children’s worship experience that includes high energy music, puppets, special lighting, and small groups…

At this early stage of his ministry Pastor (name withheld) is much more focused on relationship building than creating new programs.

Did anyone else see that?  

The first paragraph describes a new program designed to engage children in worship and spiritual growth.  It sounds like something that took a lot of hard work, organization, vision and resources to get accomplished.

The second paragraph, tells about how early in the ministry the pastor is much more focused on building relationships than programs. (But didn’t the first paragraph just talk about the new program?)

My question

Lets face it, “programs” are out and “relationships” are in.  But does the desire to couch ministry in relational terms cause us to disavow the reality that ministry has structure and form (what some people call programs)?

How I see program vs. relationship

  • Programs are necessary.  They are intentional and structured approaches to accomplishing a particular end.  If you want to teach kids the bible, for example, you will need a structure and context within which the bible can be taught to kids.
  • Programs provide a context for relationship. It is within this structure that relationships often start.  It is one of the primary places where students and adult volunteers meet.

At the same time,

  • Discipling relationships extend beyond structures.  Just because someone participates in a program you lead doesn’t mean you have a relationship with them.  Of course there is a superficial level of relationship present, but discipling relationship are deeper and built on trust over time.
  • You can have programs without relationships.  Just because an adult shows up at a church at 7 pm each Wednesday and teaches a bible lesson doesn’t mean they are building relationships with those present.  It’s the time spent between meetings that will tell you if you have a programatic vs. relational approach to ministry.  If you don’t see kids between programs, if you have no time to give to kids between meeting, if you have no interest in kids between meetings, it’s a program.   If you ever hear me speak or write against programatic approaches to ministry, this is what I’m talking about. The idea that running the program is the ministry.  It’s not, it’s the context for the ministry.

The most successful ministries I have witnessed are those that have a solid structural foundation that provides the context for teaching and relationship building.  These ministries are populated with adults who are willing and able to give their time to students outside of the structures.  When those two things happen together, you have holistic ministry.

My hunch is that is what is happening in the children’s ministry spoken of in the article.  A dynamic and engaging atmosphere populated by caring adults with a heart for kids that goes beyond running the program.


One thought on “The “P” word

  1. Quoting my mom again… “It’s not about the programs, it’s about the relationships.” 🙂

    This is not to say that programs don’t help build structures within which relationships can be fostered… but the focus should always be on the relationships and not on maintaining programs.

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