People who study change like to distinguish between "continuous change" -- change that happens little by little with one phase moving smoothly into another -- and "discontinuous change," where you move from one phase into a radically different one. I've written previously about discontinuous change here.
Lately I've been thinking about some of the changes we've made recently (in the last 2-3 years) at Central. Many of these are changes that push us toward a new paradigm, toward a major disconnection from the way we've done church in the past. In a couple words, "discontinuous change."
Traditional church practice centers on programs. Now, programs are not bad -- they're actually very necessary. Even Sunday morning worship is, in a sense, a program. It's a routinized way of doing things with common elements repeated over and over with relatively consistent leadership. Why do I say that Sunday morning worship is a "program"? Because -- and this is critical -- the primary focus of Sunday morning worship (and almost every other program in the church) is on the events themselves, rather than on the people participating.
So for years churches have run programs like Sunday School or small group Bible studies or Alpha or youth group. The focus of these programs is generally a prescribed curriculum run by relatively consistent leadership who focus primarily on their own roles and their own responsibilities. The goal of these programs, of course, is that people who participate in the program should be involved, engaged, and even transformed. But the focus of the leaders' energy is different than the goal. Pastors prepare sermons by focusing on the sermon, not by focusing on the growth of an individual. Sunday School teachers tend to focus on preparing a lesson more than on their students. Alpha leaders, depending on their area of responsibility, focus on the talk or the meal or the worship or the set-up. Like it or not, when the church is doing programmatic ministry, people are secondary. It's a little weird to think about it in these terms, and may be a little uncomfortable.
What would it look for a church to do ministry by focusing on people? What would it look like to make disciples by focusing on those disciples?
Trouble is, a church will never get to this different way of doing things by tweaking their Sunday School ministry. You can't gradually change your way into this different paradigm. This kind of a shift requires discontinuous change. If a church decided that the best way to make disciples was to focus intentionally on people rather than on programs, it would require a radically different way of doing church.
This is the change we've started to enact at Central. It's tricky, and it takes time and intentionality. But these days, as a pastor at Central, I am trying to focus a larger and larger percentage of my time and energy on people. So I do a lot of going out for coffee and a lot of visiting in people's homes. I focus my efforts on key leaders who will be able to invest in the lives of others through pastorates, through D4D (Designed For Discipleship) groups, and through their own networks of relationships. I find myself worrying more about individuals and where they're at in their own spiritual formation than I do about the next program or the next sermon.
It's a radically different way of doing church, and I'm not sure we're there yet. No, scratch that. I know we're not there yet. But we are intentionally starting to move in that direction. Our ministry leaders are learning about coaching individuals. We're modeling relational leadership that focuses more on the relationship than the leadership.
This way of being church flies in the face of so much I've been trained to do over the years. But in many ways, I love it. I love hearing others -- people I've invested in -- succeed in leadership. I love when a conversation over coffee opens the doors of possibility in another person's soul.
Programs will come and go, even at Central. We'll bring back various programs, and we'll continue some that we have in place currently. But I hope we never go back to focusing mostly on programs and secondarily on people.