From Programs to Relationships

pewsIt has been forty years since I was in high school. I would probably flunk a content-oriented test in any of my courses because I just don’t remember that stuff, but I do remember two teachers. Mr. Blakely was a very intelligent social sciences teacher who taught our International Relations Class. I remember how he shut up a rowdy classroom as I was ready to give a report. Somehow he showed he believed in me and he sparked my interest in what was going on in the world.

I also remember Mr. Wells. We called him Dr. Wells because he seemed like a mad scientist to the students in our Advanced Biology class. We took some awesome field trips finding wounded geese in a wildlife refuge and videoing untreated sewage as it ran into the Missouri River. He was so passionate about his field of study that he created a new awareness in me.

Gathering people together, lining them up in rows so they can look at the back of each other’s heads, and listen to a professional inspire and correct them, is not usually the most effective way to help people move forward toward their potential in Christ. Neither is herding them up in classrooms and driving them through pre-packaged programs created by another mega church.  

The effectiveness of hearing a sermon is way overrated. It might give us a little information and inspire us to further consider something, but it doesn’t usually help us get out of the huddle and put the play into action.

Trying to teach people into Christlikeness is not only ineffective; it can be dangerous. The scripture itself says that “knowledge puffs up, while love builds up.”I have seen too manyextremely knowledgeable, arrogant people who just wanted more biblical knowledge and more reassurance that they were among the elite few who understood the Bible correctly. What we need is not more knowledge, but more loving and living like Jesus.

Jesus had a very different approach. His followers lived and traveled with him. He occasionally sent them off on a mission they felt unprepared for and then asked them what they learned when they returned. They went where he went and encountered what he encountered. They lived with Jesus, did his work, and then talked about it.

Preaching holds some potential for inspiring us to begin a course of action, but its effectiveness has been vastly over-rated. Classes can expose us to new bits of knowledge, but we usually already know what we are supposed to be doing or not doing already. There is a difference between living life in the way of Jesus and learning algebra and they need different approaches.

Where does life make up its mind? How personal change happens is a bit of a mystery, but I can tell what has impressed me down through the years. It has nothing to do with content and everything to do with people and how much they cared.

Anyway of doing church will be successful if the people love one another, welcome new people with that same love, and help them to fulfill their God-given dreams and potential. If you love people and give them an opportunity to do what they love; they will love you back! How do you program that? You don’t! You model it! You let it build, little by little, until it becomes a pervasive force.

Love happens in relationships. From a leadership perspective, maybe the most important thing we can do is to have real relationships ourselves, complete with all their risks and potential hazards. We can also encourage relationships by making space for them to happen. Social and ministry events can help provide that space, but not loading up the church schedule is probably the single most important thing we can do. That way people can naturally develop relationships in their neighborhoods and wherever they normally find themselves.

Programs are a cerebral approach to a relational need. They are the quick fix that usually doesn’t fix anything. They are the easy way out. They may have some effectiveness, but nothing beats what happens when people love each other.

– An excerpt from Irreligious: Faith for the Real World.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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  1. Maybe the problem is not “teaching” per se, but the watered down approach to “teaching”–for so-called “felt needs” instead of simply opening up the word of God. Part of the Great Commission requires teaching. The very purposes of Scripture are (1) To make us wise unto salvation according to 2 Timothy 3:15
    (2) For doctrine — telling us what is correct belief
    (3) For reproof — telling us what is not correct behavior
    (4) For correction — telling us what is not correct belief
    (5) For instruction in righteousness — telling us what is correct behavior

    I see in your posts a persistent thread which denigrates teaching, as if all one has to do to be a “good” Christian is to engage in proper social causes. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have either without the other.

    • David – It is obvious that you and I approach faith very differently. Hopefully, we can agree to disagree and still be respectful of one another. However, I do reserve the right to delete a post. I believe in our desire for correctness, Christians are often unloving and unlike Christ. That really bothers me. It should bother you too.

      Your comment reveals that you really do not understand what I have been writing about. It is not “watered down,” “felt needs” teaching that I was referring to. It is academic beliefism that has been confused with following Christ. Hence, many a “Christian” “believes” the right things, but is not a very loving (or even nice) person. I do denigrate that type of “Christianity.”

      Surely, you can see a marked difference between both the content and manor of Christ’s teaching and that done by the church. His teaching was life oriented and in the context of a relationship, not academic.

      Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are two sides of the same coin. However, orthodoxy is by far the easier of the two. People think they have accomplished it and too often become smug and arrogant and woefully miss out on the “other side of the coin.” So, they do have one without the other.

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