Thursday, April 14, 2022

EdgeUcation: Person NOT Program

(This post will also serve as episode 39 of my podcast.)

This is the first in a potential series of posts where I would like to introduce newcomers (and others) to Edgewood. 

At Edgewood Church, in Danville, IL, we are about the person... NOT the program. What do I mean by this statement? Well, I'd like to answer that with Five Thoughts. 

Thought One: We don't really have programs.

This is just the truth of the matter. We don't really have programs. We don't have any full-time staff. We have two bi-vocational pastors (I'm one). We have a part-time-not-on-site secretary. We also pay for a part time janitor and a part time Biblical counselor. So we don't have any program directors or even anyone with enough time on their hands to be a program director. 

Please don't misunderstand, if there were someone who wanted to volunteer their time to start and run a program, I would not fight against it... but in the meantime, it is important for anyone who visits or is considering committing themselves to this church to understand that we don't have any kids programs, teen programs, adult programs, senior programs, or anything of the sort. This isn't to say that we don't have anything going on, we do have people in the nursery during the worship/preaching service time. And during our Sunday School time there are those with a passion for children who are teaching them as well. 

To be even more clear, I (as a pastor) am not fundamentally opposed to programs. To have a specified flow of purpose (a program) when it comes to ministering to one another can be hugely helpful: How do we attempt to disciple new believers? What do we do to help young parents with the raising of their children? What can we do to support those struggling with addiction? Who is watching over the widows and others in need?  The issue isn't one rooted in some sort of philosophical opposition to the creation or maintaining of a program, not in the least.  We are simply at a place where the needs of our church community must be met by the individuals in the church community as they are led by the Spirit, not as they are directed by a program.

Thought Two: We are not a service.

Even though I am not philosophically opposed to programs, I am also not overly motivated to work in that direction, no matter how much we grow. I won't oppose programs, but you won't ever catch me as the driving force behind a program in the church because the church is not a service that is offered. We aren't the country club. We aren't a baby-sitting service. We aren't a private school. We aren't entertainment. ... in fact, you won't really understand the church community until you start to understand that YOU are part of the WE and there is no THEY.  

That last sentence might be a little confusing, allow me to explain: The church absolutely does have a leadership structure to it. There are to be elders in the church and there ought to be deacons. This leadership structure is important in the church for accountability, training, and stewardship. But too many churches (especially those that could be called a "mega-church") have fallen into a corporate sort of structure with the pastors operating as Managers, Administrators, CEO's and CFO's. Not only (do I believe) that this is a faulty way of structuring a local church, this corporate mentality will also lend toward some wrong views of ministry and membership.

In fact, members are not meant to simply be the recipients of ministries. Every member is in the ministry. Being in the ministry is not limited to some elite, specially trained paid staff. Paul the Apostle states in Ephesians 4 that when Christ ascended, that he gave to his people who are still here (the church), "... the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers..." to do the ministry? No.  It says, "... to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ..." (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV) So the ones who are typically thought of as being in the ministry, are actually the ones who are there to equip every member for the work of the ministry. We are all in the ministry.

If you look for a church, choose a church, stay at a church, or leave a church based on what they do or do not offer, there is a high probability that you are viewing church through a faulty lens. 

Thought Three: We aren't trying to "keep" you. 

Ok. That sounds a little more harsh than I wanted it to. 

Here's the thing: I absolutely want every Christian to go to and be faithful to a local church. Without a doubt, there isn't a person that lives within driving range of Edgewood that I wouldn't love to have as a part of this local church. Our doors are open and we cordially invite you to join us, and when you do join us, we will do everything in our power and under the direction of the Holy Spirit to work together and keep you to the end.  (I Corinthians 1:8)

But if the thing that keeps you is the programs that we offer, I would rather you go. A person that attends a church for the programs they offer will not last through the fiery trials that we must face. So, if you are not properly entertained by our music, or your teens aren't enjoying the youth group games, or if there aren't enough activities for the singles, or the kids don't have enough to keep them contained in a kids room... then go. OR... Stay. Stay for the right reasons. 

Thought Four: Person NOT People

The right reasons might be contained in the phrase, "It's about the people -- not the programs."  But you may have noticed that I didn't phrase it that way in the title. 

This is because it is not about the people, it is about the person... the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the head of the church: both the local church and the universal church. Jesus is supreme in all things and has been given all authority by the Father. And the Father has, "... put all things under his feet and gave him [Christ] as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."  (Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV) The Local Church and ultimately the Universal Church over all ages, is the body of Christ in this world. And the authority that the Father gave to the Son is intricately and eternally tied to us in the form of the church. 

This doesn't mean that the people aren't important, but their importance changes from central importance to consequential importance. Every individual becomes important because HE is important. This shift protects local churches from three things: One - it protects churches from being dependent on one or a few individuals because of what they bring to the table. Two - it protects individuals from being discarded because of what they might lack. And Three - it protects the entire group from developing hierarchies or cliques within the community.  When Christ is the head of the body, and especially of a local church body, we are free to become the members of that body that we are called to be. 

Another great way to describe this is True Christian Community. 

Thought Five: Welcome to Community. 

The local church is meant to be a community. And it ought not to be a community that we design and pick, but it is the one that is given. We must avoid the attempt to gather or attract those that we believe will create the community we dream of. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: 

"Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial." (Read more of this quote here.)

This means that those who step through the door each and every week ARE our community. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ. These are the members of this body. And I completely and whole heartedly trust our Head (Christ) to bring to this particular community those exact members he chooses to bring. With open arms toward each other, we will gather together each and every week. We are dedicated to one another, we love one another, and we serve one another. 

When dedicated to a local body in this way, I won't lie to you, it can be rough. There are real people here with real problems and real attitudes and real issues. Feelings will be hurt. Tempers will be pressed. Thoughts will be challenged. Emotions will be jostled. But we serve a real Savior who really saves. And when a real community bonds together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the results are sweet and the benefits are eternal. 

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