A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Does Your Church Suffer from Program-itis?

Program-itis is a made-up word that I use to describe a condition that diminishes the church and inhibits its mission. It is the dependence upon programs that are produced by denominational publishing houses, para-church organizations, and mega-churches. These programs promise pastors and Christian educators that they will help their congregations to be on the “cutting edge” of cultural relevance, attract new members, and increase participation in church ministries. Over the past 50 years church leaders have been well trained to look for, purchase, and use the latest programs if they want to be effective and grow their churches.

We United Methodists are very good at producing and consuming excellent programs. They all have characteristics in common: they must be purchased, leaders must be recruited and trained, a limited duration (a few days, four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, thirty-four weeks), they are designed, written, and produced outside the context of the local congregation, and they lead users to purchase the next, “sequel”, program.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying there is anything wrong with programs or that congregations should stop using them. I believe they can have an important role in congregational life and mission when they are part of an intentional curriculum of Christian initiation, education and formation. Therein lays the problem.

The problem, as I see it, is that programs have replaced basic practices of Christian formation. Congregations are caught up in what Jacque Ellul calls the “device paradigm” that is always looking for, and counting on, the “quick fix.” If you watch television at all you can see this played out every day. Marketers send the message in advertisements that if we purchase their car, soft drink, drug, laundry detergent, computer, or any other of a multitude of products then our problems will be solved and we will be happy and fulfilled. The culture trains us to believe that we must look outside of ourselves to find the right “device” or technology to meet our needs and to make us whole. We are told over and over and over again that we do not posses within ourselves the means to become fully human. This is the lie of the “device paradigm” that fosters our dependence upon techniques and technology and the quick fix. Congregations are not immune to this. This is why we have succumbed to the device paradigm and now suffer from “programitis.” We need to realize that, while programs have a role to play, we have become far too dependent upon them to do the work of Christian formation.

You can read Steve's entire post, "Program-itis," here.


Mark said...

I've come to hate the word "program" when it comes to the life of the church. It makes it sound like we are in the community center business. I prefer the term "ministries."

Allan R. Bevere said...

Good point, Mark... program sounds so... well... programmed.