Everyone who ever came up with a structured, even bureaucratic way to serve was NOT bad, of course. But “programming” CAN often be the hideout for spiritual cowards. “Programming” CAN be the big temptation for people with big ideas. The main reason I cast such blanket aspersions (apart from needing to remind myself) is that I don’t think anyone can see Jesus (or even the somewhat rationalistic Paul) doing or advocating “programming.” So why does it so often seem like a good idea to Christians?
We are not doomed to exercise our training
I’m not saying that scheduling things, making a plan to serve some felt need, having a curriculum to follow, etc., etc. is always bad. But I do want to protest filling up every spare moment with an event that is supposed to serve the purpose that normal human relationship and organic connections can and should fulfill. Just because we are all trained to create a programs to do what we should just do personally doesn’t mean we should do it. Just because we train to be “experts” in charge of “things” before we love someone doesn’t mean we should exercise the training.
I guess since we broke out into this song the other night at cell, it makes me afraid that people might rewrite it, now that we among the Circle of Hope have buildings and big ideas to fill them. Some people skip the original hymn and essentially sing:
My hope is built on oughts and rules
On principles and schedules.
Like counter-service is my grace —
A drop to each receding face.
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All others rest on sinking sand
I dare not grasp one sinking hand.
When we came up with the idea for Circle of Hope, we installed the simple thought that we wanted life to be simple. So we have two meetings a week: the cell and the public meeting. We think almost everything we need to “program” can fit into those meetings somehow. Extraordinary people may have extraordinary things to do, of course. We wanted to leave a lot of time in the week to do them. What we didn’t want to see is the church filling up everyone’s calendar with obligatory things to do – as if the church were happening in the daily programs that happened in our buildings. Daily things might happen, but it isn’t like you are supposed to be doing them to get with the program.
The church is face to face
I think we are, basically, like this. The leaders have a “daily” kind of obligation to who we are and what we do that requires their time. But most of us are free to live as free-range Christians. The problem is, preserving a habitat for free-range Christians is hard to do. As we get more capable, it is tempting to get us real organized and programmed. We have some nice corrals on Broad St. and Frankford Ave. and it is tempting to herd everyone in all week and ride them, train them to jump over fake fences like show horses and such.
Brave Christians love people face to face. Responsible Christians make teams. Paul says in Romans 13: Owe no one any thing, but to love one another: for one that loves another has fulfilled the law. Programming, at its worst, takes the one another out of the loving. The program does the loving. Love often gets mediated by the program. The “thing” is supposed to communicate – thus, I either don’t communicate or don’t have to. The event touches, the performances move — so I either can or do stay separate.
Not all programming is bad, of course, but you can see the temptation. It seems to me that Jesus is pretty much the anti-program. He is God coming into the moment and upending the control-system that violates his personal rule. I was going off on this subject the other day and someone quoted 1 Cor. 14:33 to me: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” They were telling me how God had ordained hierarchy and propriety and we dare not deviate. Obviously he had a point. But Christianity easily dies when men (in particular) order it according to their understanding and don’t think Jesus can do that himself. We love organizing all those “others” rather than becoming one with them, suffering with them and for them. It is very easy to perversely admire a very tidy “love.”
It is the Lord among the “one another” that is the organizing force, not the program. If the life of Christ is pulsing among us, we’ll need to structure its expression. But if we just structure the idea of a pulse and expect it to fill with life, we may end up quite empty, and exhausted from all that effort, to boot.