This is the second in a five-part series of articles on the future of Church. To read part one, click here.
In this series we’re thinking together about the future of church and examining two questions in particular:
"What will the church look like after Covid-19?"
"How do we attract the 30-something crowd?"
I believe the answer to both questions might be remarkably similar. By embracing five truths about church, we can take advantage of the current challenges to rethink, redesign, and redeploy our congregations to bear more fruit. The first truth is that church is not an event. The second is this.
2. Programs are not ministries.
The vast majority of churches, especially in North America, assume that programs are ministries. The sad result is that pastors are reduced to program directors, members are reduced to volunteers, ministry is reduced to religious activity, and nothing at all happens if it isn’t approved, sanctioned, and spear-headed by church leadership. I can’t imagine a situation further from the New Testament example.
Ministry may occur within the context of a program, but the program itself is not ministry—no matter how well-intentioned, well-conceived, or well-executed. Ministry is the Holy Spirit-empowered interaction between two or more humans that results in the transformation of one or more of the humans.
Ministry is Holy Spirit-empowered human interactions that result in transformation.
If, in the midst of phone conversation, you challenge me to give up some sin in my life and the Holy Spirit motivates me to accept your challenge, ministry has occurred. There was no program, no budget, no volunteers, just two believers in Jesus having a real conversation. You might say it was iron sharpening iron. (Psalm 27:17) This type of natural, believer-to-believer ministry is so rare today as to be surprising when it occurs.
Instead, we expect the church leaders, especially the Senior Pastor, will drive all that happens in the organization called the church. The rest of us pay to make it happen and then volunteer to help in the organization’s programs when we’re able to squeeze in the time. And then we wonder why the lost don't come to Christ and Christians don’t spiritually mature.
COVID-19 has given us a great opportunity to recognize that programs are not ministry. The best programs create a context within which ministry (Holy Spirit-empowered human interactions that result in transformation) can occur. But the vast majority of programs, if evaluated on the basis of long-term transformation, accomplish little.
What if we short-circuited the system? Since it’s difficult to run our normal programs anyway, why don’t we focus on the heart of what ministry is and equip and empower people to actually do that. We don’t need a big organization behind us to do ministry. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit and interact with one another in biblical ways that build each other up. If we’d do that, ministry would happen in every home every day and we’d save a lot of time, money, and effort on fancy events. And maybe, just maybe, people would be transformed on a regular basis.
Ephesians 4:11–12 ESV - And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
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