Saturday, August 07, 2010

"Its all about people" - Dangers of the Cliche of the Year

This year in ministry, I have seen a big push in this idea of "Programs vs People" and the idea of structure/events against people ministry. It has been the generator of many books by solid evangelical organisations, themes of camps and conventions, and in general, the hot topic amongst christian ministry circles.

The big idea of this push is based on the assumption that all churches of today are being focused too much on program and the more relationship people ministry is being neglected. All of the publications about this topic is pushing towards people ministry and follow up. This is well and good - people ministry is where the rubber hits the road, people ministry is where lives are won and lost for Christ, and people ministry is what we are called to in the great commission. However, I think there are some things I think we need to keep in mind as we think about this issue.

1. The push towards people ministry does not mean that structures and programs should be neglected and ignored

In a good model, structures and programs are meant to supplement people ministry, and allow people ministry to happen and happen in a more effective way. For example, an organised youth ministry is much more effective than a spontaneous and clueless youth ministry. A church plant is much more effective when demographic and background analysis is done. In the illustration of the trellis and the vine, the trellis holds the vine up. The trellis still plays a part, but the trellis doesn't dominate or take over from the vine. A good balance of how we view the trellis and the vine is necessary for an optimum ministry. The danger of having a big focus on program is that it overtakes the importance of people ministry. The danger on the flip-side of only focusing on people ministry without thinking about structure and organisation is a ineffective and inefficient ministry.

2. The push towards people ministry is a general statement of churches looking from one extreme (solely program ministry) perspective

When reading to articles and books on this issue, and also listening to people talking about it, we must be discerning and think through the matter objectively rather than blindly take in everything people are saying. These publications about the issue of program vs people are often looking at it from the extreme and general perspective that 'all churches are focusing too much on programs and neglecting people ministry'. Also the publications polarise the issue by painting a picture of the other extreme (of an idealised and fully focused people/follow up ministry) in an attempt to provoke the reader to change his/her perspective. I found this when I was reading "Trellis and the Vine". I found that the authors sometimes spent so much time talking about people ministry and follow up that they were almost putting forward the proposition that structure and programs were not needed. The authors were not saying this, but they were just focusing on the issue of 'how can a church be more people focused'. We only understand this by understanding the perspective and position of the authors. Maybe your church is not like the stereotype that these books and publications are painting. I must say majority of churches I know do have this issue to deal with, but there may be a couple who do have a good balance of people/programs, or even be too focused on people and neglecting programs. We must think through this issue objectively and with discernment.

3. The push towards people ministry in a church should be a church-wide initiative

To be able to have a successful change towards focusing on people ministry, there needs to be a shift in mindsets of the church body as a whole. Follow up, discipleship and training are hopefully things that are on the forefront of the minds of church leaders, elders and pastors. These people are the visionaries for this change. If the leaders believe in it, model it and inspire their team members about people ministry and follow up, the church as a whole will be geared up to make this change. Funnily enough, the process of follow up and discipleship is a structure and program - which demonstrates in itself that programs and structure are still necessary for follow up and people ministry.

Just to clarify, I am all for people ministry. This is what Jesus has commissioned us to do - to love God, love others and to make disciples. In turn, disciples will become disciple makers, and a lovely cycle of training and follow up begins. However, I think that rather than shifting from one extreme of 'mainly program ministry' to the other extreme of 'mainly people ministry' is not the solution to this problem within churches of today. We need to find the balance where programs and structures allow effective follow up and discipleship; where programs are created in order to support a vibrant and growing people ministry. Lets not swing from one problem to another - but rather think and make changes rationally, objectively and using God's wisdom.

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