For the Sake of the Program

I’ve been recently reading Community by Brad House, a book about how (the former) Mars Hill Church did small groups. As Wellspring Church works towards our first launch team meetings, I find myself more and more convicted that genuine and attractive community is vital to the health and growth of any church.

In a chapter discussing ownership and how to build it into the culture of your church, House laments about the over-programming of the church:

Seriously, what is left for the disciple of Christ to do…We spend our whole lives creating ministries to serve people and then complain that they want to be served.

If found it a bit ironic that as I prepare to lead a group of folks in shaping how Wellspring seeks to build intentional community, my first thoughts have usually been about building programming to accomplish this goal. I think, “write curriculums, create classes, invite leaders, send disciples…” all of which are good thoughts. But at the end of the day all of these things fall short of what the Gospel calls us to.

The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi, “My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (1:20) Of this passage, Oswald Chambers writes, “It is an absolute and irrevocable surrender of the will at that point. An undue amount of thought and consideration for ourselves is what keeps us from making that decision, although we cover it up with the pretense that it is others we are considering.” (My Utmost for His Highest)

This morning, these two sentiments collided for me. The desire to make and send more disciples is easily built on the desire to produce, or, more fundamentally, to do the right thing for God. While that is not a bad desire, the hope to earning the praise of God through works of my own hands is the exact antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s words smack us in the face with a radical devotion to a person who has very publicly and freely given the greatest gift of all time. Out of sheer gratitude, Paul submits everything he is to God in order for others to experience the very thing he is living in.

For me, my tendency towards over-programming is a tendency towards proving that I can do it to God. If I can design the right system, I can show God how good I am. That stands in stark contrast to Paul’s devotion and gratitude. While it might begin with a work of the Holy Spirit, I often try to finish by the works of my hands.

So this morning, I am repenting of my works and asking that God would guide our groups by His grace alone. I’m also asking God to help me move away from over-programming and to live a life out of gratitude for the Glory of the cross of Christ.