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Dear Church,

If you look at the early church, they devoted themselves to four priorities: teaching, eating together, praying and fellowship (Acts 2:42). They met together in the temple courts, they came to each other’s houses, eating together; they were doing nothing less than ‘invading’ the lives of one another. The early church was centered around fellowship whereas the modern church is centered around ‘programs’ – our goal is to recruit people into programs – a program for children, a program for young adults, a program for singles, a program for bikers, a program for seniors and so on. Somehow, we make the assumption that ushering people into programs equals disciples. Over the past 20 years of ministry, I have met individuals who have been burned out in programs, they are worn out, discouraged, and ready to drop the towel.  So, do church programs hurt people in their fellowship and discipleship?  Programs like summer camps, AWANA, Sunday Schools, book studies, etc. are not bad per se. But they are not substitutes for real fellowship and genuine relationships. They do not necessarily grow our discipleships, holiness and koinonia. They do not necessarily mature people in faith.

As a result, we can be surprised to learn that a lady who is active in several programs in church is getting Divorced, or a youth ministry leader has a problem with addiction, or an Elder who is rooted in several church programs has been caught for financial embezzlement or a Pastor has an affair. We have seen these people every week, devout to being part of a program and had no clue that they were struggling. The church exists not to run programs, we exist to “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.” (Hebrews 10:24).  We exist to come together as people of God to call each other to repentance (Luke 15:1-7). We exist to visit each other to encourage the weak and broken hearted. We exist to celebrate community (Koinonia) because community is where the gospel goes forward. Paul tells the Philippians, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:8).  Paul yearned for fellowship.

Programs do not require repentance, Holiness or desires heart to heart fellowship, but they certainly need our time, effort and ingenuity.  If churches think programs can foster repentance, holiness and fellowship they are mistaken.  If we are too busy to sit eye to eye with a brother or sister needing prayer and encouragement, if we are too busy to lovingly confront a brother in his sin or encourage someone going through doubts and discouragement or simply enjoy the presence of a fellow Christian – then we have a problem. If we do not get back to the early church model, to the basics of the church gospel proclamation, discipleship through Koinonia, eventually our programs will fail. Our programs cannot fix our struggling marriages, our programs cannot fix our hidden sins and deep addictions, our programs cannot fix simmering hurts from the past, our programs cannot fix our shallow prayer life – the Gospel lived and spoken through Koinonia can.  It is time to prune every program that keeps us from living out the gospel together as the body of Christ.

Let me end with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truths. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”
 
Be encouraged,
Mathews

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