Programatic Paralysis ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

The annual “Auction Rummage” was sponsored every year by the organization known then as “The Women of the Church.” Each year they took over the Parish Hall for three weeks, and gathered in contributions from attics and garages. The money raised went to a regional church charity that distributed clothes and food in the Winter. Every year the competition increased to outdo the last year’s raised amount. Tenacious behavior, not to say, vicious, seemed more and more to surface in those weeks.

Gradually the actual women of the parish who were sincere followers of Jesus were more and more displaced. Women of the community who were never seen in the parish on a regular Sunday took prominent roles. The clergy and staff were inclined to go to a conference or on vacation, if possible, during “Rummage Season.”

And then the new Curate, questioned its purpose, and suggested it not be held the following year. If the one hundred or so women involved each year contributed $200.00 to a fund the sum raised, he thought, would be larger than ever, with none of the strife and parish disruption. It was then that “Programmatic Paralysis” set in. ‘We have always done it,’ and ‘The women would be so upset,’ and ‘The money is raised for the poor after all.’ Needless to say the Auction Rummage did not die. The Curate moved on.

Such events as that rummage are rare these days, but the pattern is not. Questioning an entrenched program is threatening. How many VBS packages have to be purchased before there is serious theological discussion about the outcome? How many weak choir performances have to be suffered before the purpose of a robed choir is discussed. How many Alpha Courses must be held, with all the attendant effort, before the true results are evaluated? How many Newcomers Classes? How long must Small Groups remain that don’t spread the kingdom? How long must the favorite program of some substantial donor be continued? What makes this kind of paralysis happen?

Program Paralysis always takes hold of a parish and its leadership when they have made secondary things primary. When they have made “running the parish” more important than “making disciples.” When they have made “some activity” at the parish buildings or on their campus more important than right faith and behavior in the lives of the people. It is really that simple to understand, and it is always fueled by confusion and laziness.

Confusion is rooted in the neglect of the clearest mandate the Lord Jesus gave to those who had been with him long enough to follow him no matter what the cost. They were now to: “Go and make disciples,” not engage in church activity.

Laziness is rooted in sinful resistance to walking in the light. Nothing could be more characteristic of apostolic believers than their desire to follow Jesus and become fishers of men. That always requires grace, but that alone is insufficient. It takes an act of will.


Next Week: The Moment of Truth?

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