Thursday, January 26, 2006

Learning from North Point, part 6

I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from this series, but here we go again.

The second of the “Seven Practices for Effective Ministry” is Think Steps, Not Programs. More than any of the other practices they mention, this one highlights the teleological focus of their ministry model. Not only are they as a church going somewhere, but they also believe their ministry exists to help people “go” somewhere, or better, a related set of “somewheres.” As they aim to help people enter into and grow in an intimate relationship with God, grow into their fellowship with the body, or enter into ministry, they always want to make it easy for people to identify and take whatever might be the “next step” to get them where they’re going.

We could understand this using a cartographic metaphor. Let’s suppose you’re in Mt. Pleasant and you want to get to Dallas. If you’re Bo Pilgrim you can take the simple step of hopping on your corporate jet and flying to Dallas. For most of us, it’s a little more complicated. We have a journey to take. To get to Dallas, we’ll first have to pass through Winfield, Mount Vernon, Sulphur Springs, Greenville, and Rockwall (and quite a few other points in between). Saying we want to go to Dallas is an illustration of the first practice: Clarify the Win. We’re saying Dallas is the place we want to end up. If we can get there – or help our people get there – we will have “won” – or accomplished that which we were trying to accomplish. If we want to get people to Dallas, we first have to get them to Winfield, then to Mount Vernon, etc.

Let’s try an example of a destination: Our youth pastor today said that he’d like to get more parental involvement in youth ministry. In this case, picking up the cartographic imagery, he’s “gotten a parent to Dallas” when that parent has become active in youth ministry. If he is “thinking steps, not programs,” what he’ll do is first identify where the parents are now, and figure out what a logical next step is, if he wants them to end up in “Dallas” – to gain a vision for involvement in youth ministry. There are some cases where simply telling people that “Dallas” is a good place to go is sufficient. My guess, however, based on years of trying to get church people involved in ministry, is that that method doesn’t work with most people. Instead, we have to get them to Winfield first. Our “thinking steps” then, will lead us to identify what counts as “Winfield” in relation to where they now stand and the objective of involvement in ministry.

But how are we traveling? Are we walking? Driving? Catching the bus? Or will Scotty just beam us up?

It’s possible that some might contest the whole teleological view of ministry. We’ve done away with teleology in so many areas of our lives; another won’t be a big deal. I’m convinced, however, that we are attempting to accomplish something in the lives of people through our ministry. Paul spoke about “presenting everyone perfect in Christ.” Obviously Paul didn’t think this was a solo project on his part, or a result of the merely human effort he and his colleagues exerted. But he did sense a responsibility to obey God to make a difference in the lives of people. He also sensed that his goal was not some telos (end) in the people themselves, but an end of conformity to Christ.

The advantage of the teleological approach, is you have somewhere to go and (perhaps) can know when you get there.

The disadvantage of the teleological approach is that you have somewhere to go, can fail to get there, and know that you’ve failed to get there. That can be mighty depressing. If we’re operating on the basis of program – mere activity – we can feel pretty good about ourselves even if we never get anywhere.

For myself, I prefer going somewhere.


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