Program or Presence?
Part One in a series on how the Lord’s Prayer is a road map to mission.
I have been re-reading through Faithful Presence by David Fitch this last week. As I read, I am struck by the significance of presence over and against program.
Many conversations that I have with colleagues are about how to “reach” the emerging generations. I’m coming to the conclusion that this is the wrong question. The better question is, “How can we be present with the emerging generations?”
Do you see the difference? One question is about how we can, in a sense, sell/convince/capture the other is a question of being and engagement.
The first question leads to programs. If we can find the right program that will “capture” their interest then we can “reach” them and bring them in. Programs become the center of creative outlet, financial commitment, and time consumption. What is great about programs is that they are easily measured. The metrics are clear and you can determine your success by counting.
Programs in a monolithic culture are very useful. They work because we can assume what people like, want, and how they will resonate. We can also assume that people probably desire the same outcome: being part of our congregation. You see, monolithic culture is key to the success of programming and goes well beyond skin color and economic status. It needs to cut into worldview. During the mega-church boom programs were effective because it could be assumed that many, if not most, people wanted to be part of a congregation, they just needed to find the right one. People were looking for congregations that met them in their niche culture. For the sake of growth and success congregations were happy to oblige.
Then the culture changed, it fragmented, it evolved into something that was not monolithic. We slowly became more isolated from one another even under the guise of deep connection via the internet. Where we are now is the logical conclusion of what began 50 years ago. No longer are there necessarily groups of people looking for niches, now we are so desperately individualistic that the way we used to think about “reaching” people has lost much meaning. We can no longer make any assumptions about any group, much less any individual.
We must seek a new way forward. This new way is not in programs, it is in presence.
The questions before us as the people of God is not how to “reach” people. The questions are now, how can we be with people. How can we be like the God we claim to follow who “moved into the neighborhood”? As one of my favorite poets, Derek Webb, wrote, “We must become what we want to save/that’s always been the way.”
Presence demands more of us than programs. It demands that we set aside our outward desires for looking successful. It demands that we are OK with connecting for the long term. It means that we will have to give of ourselves to others in relationship and connection. We will have to understand that our metrics have to be set aside. They don’t have meaning in the new paradigm. You can’t measure relationship, connection, spiritual growth, and wholeness. Presence is not some new thing we do at our church buildings. It is an intentional living into the world within which we find ourselves.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the Lord’s prayer is the road map to being present in our families, neighborhoods, and towns. Read it. Ponder it. Let me know what you see in it…
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” — Matthew 6:9–15