Over the past three decades we have been inundated with books and articles calling for the church to be everything from purpose driven to simple. When I entered ministry most churches, at least in Southern Baptist life, were program driven. Successful churches were considered those who had thriving programs like Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Music, Missions Education, Youth, etc. Each program often operated without any sense of connectedness to the others. In short, each program was it’s own package.
I am thankful that we have now entered a time when churches seem to be more process driven. To be sure, it is a purposeful process. The process exists to enable the church to develop disciples, and developing disciples is the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a ESV).
The most effective processes are purposeful and simple. In our church we started with a mission statement: We are a regional, multigenerational family that is committed to developing disciples who are making Jesus known here, there and everywhere. From that mission statement we developed a process driven discipleship strategy: WELCOMING people into the family so that they can WORSHIP God and experience life TRANSFORMATION as they are SENT to make Jesus known in their sphere of influence and beyond. As a result others are WELCOMED into the family, and the process continues.
Viewing strategy as a process helps to keep people from getting stuck and to keep the church from becoming inwardly focused. To be sure, some will get stuck or become inwardly focused no matter what, but the process helps to move people from being attenders to being missionaries. It helps us to be the church rather than just doing church. It moves us from being the institutional church to being the incarnational church.
Some see the death of the programatic church as a negative. They long for the way things used to be, and they embrace a “way we were” mindset. When they think about future success for the church, they can be heard to say things like, “I remember when we had a hundred teenagers in the youth choir on Sunday nights. Why can’t we do that again?” In their minds, the future glory of the church is directly tied to an idealized version of the past. They are like the Hebrews longing for the comforts of Egypt while traveling towards a land flowing with milk and honey. Even if they are willing to embrace new ideas, they often want to fit those new ideas into old structures – a methodological attempt to put new wine into old wineskins. To keep the package or process metaphor intact, they want to put new ideas in the same old boxes.
We live in a rapidly changing world. I bought my first cell phone in 1994. It was basically a mobile version of my corldless landline phone. I kept that phone for three years, and the only reason I upgraded was because I had to change carriers. The technology was evolving, but it wasn’t drastic. The introduction of the iPhone changed everything. I am presently using an iPhone 5s because I broke my iPhone 7 and can’t afford to replace it. Do you know how challenging it is to communicate in 2018 with a smart phone that was designed for 2014? I know. First world problems, but still… The technology of today is vastly different than the technology of 2014.
Many of our churches are trying to operate in 2018 like they did ten, twenty sometimes thirty years ago (or more). It’s time for us to realize that repacking the boxes doesn’t work. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins (Matthew 9:17). The mission which Jesus gave to the church is to make disciples, and making disciples is a process of WELCOMING people into the family of God in order to WORSHIP Him and experience life TRANSFORMATION so that they can be SENT to share the gospel in their world. I prefer the process to the package.