People > Programs

neighbors street sign

"Be the prepared to be the answer to someone's prayer." - Ramin Razavi

I heard this quote from one of my coworkers a little while back, and it sent off a flood of thoughts about neighboring centric ministry vs programming centric ministry... People > Programs.

The reality is people seek connections and relationships not programs. Programs are tools that help facilitate these connections, and programs can be an answer to someone's prayers, but the purpose is to connect people to people who are made in the image of God. People are the purpose (and in someways the mission = Church) and people make the mission happen. Programs can connect people and programs can meet tangible needs, but programs don't love, programs don't cry, laugh, or show compassion. Ramin mentioned that we must follow Jesus' example and words of "Seeing the people around us..." Really seeing them not just noticing them, but look deeply into the people around us and compassionately move beyond our programs and be able to adapt what we are doing to adequately meet people where they are at. Many times we move people to our programs when we need to relocate ourselves to where the people are - we need to be in their dirt and messiness not the other way around... People > Programs.

Jesus was so good at this. He took every moment to look and see the people around him. In Matthew 9:35-38 we get a glimpse of this when he saw the people around him and he had compassion on them... He stopped and in the moment he saw the people deeply and had an emotional and intellectual reaction to them. He was moved to do something about the people around him and he lead his followers to do the same. In order to do what Jesus demonstrated and instructed us to do, to love God, love our neighbors, and to love one another, we must be in the moment and embrace the relationships around us. Once we do this hen move to bless them in the ways the Holy Spirit instructs us to do.

As leaders, we see our programs connect people, but so often because of this *success* our programs become our mission, NOT the people we are trying to reach and connect to Jesus. In order to prevent our programs from becoming our mission we need to become more people centric and less program centric. In a sense, our programs can become a burden to people, because inadvertnetly there are times we make people feel guilty for choosing our programs over being in their neighborhood and hangingout with their neighbors. This is unfortunate. It can cause people to operate freely uder the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and miss the ministry that God has for them. We take them out of their neighborhoods and distract them with participating in our events and programming…

2987611025_b9a279bba1I must state here, that I am not against programming, because programming helps us meet the felt needs of people (See Acts chapter 6). What I am saying is that our programming needs to be more than just purposeful, it needs to be focused and strategic - moving people to love God, love their neighbor, and love one another. It must free God’s people to be in their neighborhoods to connect and minister the gospel to those that live around them. Can the Church stop trying to be a buffet restaurant and distract God’s people from getting a clear picture of the mission He has purposed us to do? We must free God's people and give them the ability to love the people around them... People > Programs.

*Post adapted from a March 2011 blog post I wrote about neighboring*

Cynicism of Prayer


I am by no means an expert on prayer. Let me first get that out of the way... I pray, but not always with the consistancy I wish and I don't always believe my prayers get answered...

There I said it. Most of us if we were to admit it live in "shame and spiritual weariness," as Paul Miller aptly states about prayer. We are afraid to admit to God our lack of faith in His ability to do anything in our lives and thus become burned out, because we try to carry the burdens of life on our own. Our theology and practice is a "cynicism of prayer" not being heard or answered by God.

Prayer is continual and constant...

Prayer is not an item that we check-off from our todo list. It should be woven into the fabric of who we are becoming. Prayer is continual and constant.

Since for most of us prayer is something we occasionally do when the need arises or when we are in a setting or situation that calls us to pray; we do not necesarily see ourselves as people of prayer, but rather we would identify ourselves as someone who prays occassionally. Because of this it shouldn't surprise us when we become cynical about God hearing and answering our prayers.

It like the little child, who wants a sweet, but asks his or her parent once for a piece of candy and gets no response and then walks away dejected. It's always the persistent child who continually asks, sees a response from the parent and receives some sort of answer whether it be a yes, no, or not yet.prayer mountains

I'm not suggesting that God only responds to a frenzied and nagging conversation from us. Instead what I'm advocating is that through a consistent practice of us speaking with God we become aware and even sensitive to God's movement and action in our daily circumstances as He answers our prayers.

We also begin to perceive the things that God wants us to be about or ask.

By making prayer a continual and constant part of who we are and who we are becoming we become internally and visually aware of God in the midst of our lives.


Four characteristics to demonstrate as a person of prayer...

To break the cycle of praying with cynicism, there are four charateristics that I try to posture in my life as person of prayer...

Pray with expectancy

Pray with faith

Pray with courage

Pray with honesty

Above all, it is important for us to communicate with God about our doubts of Him hearing our prayers. To remain silent and not express our doubt that God hears our prayers can prevent us living a life on purpose for God. The courage to speak aloud this quiet cynicism is empowering and frees us to be the people of God.

Serious Rant...

LoveGodLovePeopleDoSomething1I read this quote yesterday regarding a message someone heard this past weekend..." a great way to show your love for Jesus; is to spend time with him."

Really? Is this what we've come to in our Christianity?!? The best we can do to show we love the person who sacrificed everything for our filth is to spend some time with him throughout the day. Of course when it is convenient for us.... Is this just an American church issue or does the Church worldwide struggle with "spending time" with Jesus?

PLEASE hear me... I am not belittling the need to walk with Jesus daily. We are called to do that, but it is not culmination of our Christianity it is the genesis. When I read the New Testament, I fail to see how this is one of the options we can show Jesus we love him. This isn't a great "way," it's assumed that we'd spend time with Jesus.

Why do we always have to remind ourselves to love Jesus? Are we not listening to the Holy Spirit that lives inside of us, because He tells us to do more than just spend time with Jesus? I get the need for reminders and instructions on how to love God and stuff. Life has a way of taking its toll on our priorities and such... Hey even the author of Hebrews (A book in the Bible) reminds us to not take our eyes off Jesus. I just feel that our commitment needs to be deeper and move us beyond the stagnation of "needing reminders" to spend time with Jesus.


The gospel beckons us to permit God's radical and life-altering grace to transform us. If we fail allow it to happen then we have missed it. Jesus wants so much more for us than to just hangout. He wants us to live a vibrant and exciting life that challenges us and stretches us through seeing God's heart for humanity and all creation.

I just wonder if we are not realizing the depths of what Jesus has done for us. Maybe we aren't realizing the situation we are in because of the consequences of our rebellion and sin. We are in a desperate need to be rescued and God provided one for us in His Son Jesus. His life, death, and resurrection transforms us to be different and act differently. We become the healers, restorers, peacemakers, love-givers, and the truth revealers, empowered by Jesus to carry the redemptive qualities that come from the grace of God to a hurting and broken world (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Jesus gives us purpose, passion, authority, and dignity.

Homeless DinnerHere's the skinny - Jesus wants more from us than to just spend time with him; he wants us to live sacrificially by loving our enemies, serving the poor to the point that it costs us something personally. He wants us to forgo some special event or after work-hours activity and stay home and hangout with our neighbors. He might even ask us to die for him physically, and most definitely he wants us to die to ourselves daily...

The best way to show Jesus we love him is go find the person we least like or have nothing in common with and wash their fungus infected feet (literally and metaphorically) with love.

Do I sound too judgmental? Come on son! You know I was writing this to myself; I needed to here it. Thankfully we are a people of a second chance. Oh how I need grace daily in my life.

“youth group isn’t everything or shoot most of us can’t stay at a church beyond 2 years....”

Youth group isn’t everything... I read something the other day that has me thinking a lot. I read a tweet that remarked about how a student could’t go to youth group because the student was grounded. I don’t know why or the reason for youth group being taken out of the equation, but it is irrelevant for what I am writing about. I’m not ragging on the person who posted it on twitter, because I have said it myself many times in the past and I know many others who have said the same thing. I have felt the same frustration as the person who posted the tweet. What I am questioning is the thought pattern that myself and others have about the extreme importance of youth group verses the discipline of parents (I must say that the person who posted the tweet was no way implicating this). What I mean is that I have felt many times that if the student only came to youth group more they wouldn’t be a problem at home or at school. I have thought that the program, the youth coaches, and myself are the ones who can disciple the student away from their moral degradation. What they need more of is Jesus and we are the ones to give it to them (Moralistic therapeutic deism). What the student really needs is to model Jesus to their parents or “honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 19:19...

Seriously, since when did youth group and youth ministry programing become the only mechanism that students get discipled? I know I am probably going to piss off many of my professional youth ministry colleagues with this post, but the reality is we and our programs are not the center of discipleship for our students; the parents are, and if they are not we need to figure out a way to get them there. Ultimately, the parents will be the ones involved in the students life for the long haul, not us. Shoot most of us can’t stay at a church beyond 2 years. Youth group isn’t everything... Youth ministry needs to be holistic.

SO what if a student is grounded from youth group! It’s not like they are going miss out on being at church, because they are the church. Hey look at it this way; when this happens, we add to the adolescent penchant for rebellion and this will make them want to come back from more...

Heck, I’ve even grounded my own teenagers from youth group, and I am the youth pastor.

Conversation on Acts-like insurrection strategy...

Recently, I posted about a conversation a few others were having about a new strategy for discipleship and church growth (the original posted can be found here Adam McLane). Within the blog post and ensuing conversation, I commented some of my thoughts to the blogger of the original post... I thought it would be helpful if I shared my thoughts on the conversation. Also, this whole conversation started with a blog post he did on reaching parents of students - The Parent Gap. Below is what I posted in the comment area in response to Adam McLane's blog post on finding a new strategy...

"As a church, we have been praying and thinking about the command by Jesus to in-short “love God and love our neighbors.” Through this, it has caused us to rethink the how we do church, our measurements for success i.e. “wins” and over-all strategy. We are nowhere near having things figured out, but the conversation of being the best neighbor our neighbors have ever had, and loving our neighbors not because we want them to be Christians, but because we are Christians have caused us to have deeper discussions of how church would look different, be different, and act different.

I recently launched a home Bible study this summer in my house for high school students. The book we are studying is the book of Acts. I started off the study by telling the 30 high school students it would be great that if one day “soon”, they were the ones leading a Bible study like this in their homes, neighborhoods, and schools and not me! One student said, “then we would be doing your job and the job of our adult leaders. You would be out of a job!” My response was that it would be great if that happened, because then they would all be doing what Jesus commanded and that is to make disciples, and not just me doing it…

Its hard for those of us who are paid staff to think about “new strategy’s” for church, because it can cause disruption and uncertainty in our own lives and livelihood. I have been on staff as a youth pastor on a couple of mega-churches, and I am currently on staff at a mega-church. I know the leaderships' heart is to make disciples, and to see people fulfill the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. However, realizing that discipleship really begins with depth, which leads to numerical growth, and not the other way around can be daunting and paralyzing for churches of all sizes… It is a cultural thing in many ways.

One of the commentators above stated this about the America church, “They are looking for ways to “keep” people in church, upping their numbers. The church in America has basically been stagnant for decades.” This can true for many churches and staff persons in the U.S.. However, I am encouraged by bloggers such as yourself, others, and conversations similar to this that are popping up all over the country. I am excited that the Father seems to be moving in the U.S church and the hearts of His people, both big and small to realize His plan for the kingdom."

I hope by sharing this with you, we can continue the conversation and seek to BE the church and not just play church..


So a few days ago, a middle school student from my ministry, facebooked me a message and told me that she was so moved by a video that we showed  on Sunday morning during middle school worship (More on the video later) that she wrote a song about it. Well last night at youth group, she sang the song to me... And it was amazing, touching, and deep! The song was about a young girl locked in darkness, who is seeking freedom, love, and grace... What stirred this song - a video called BAHT! This video is about a ministry called Rapha House. Rapha House buys young girls out of slavery and puts them in halfway houses, which in turn gives these young girls hope, love, and life skills to live beyond slavery. Our student ministry is giving it's Sunday morning offerings to the Rapha House, so that they can make a difference in a young girl's life.

Surprises... Sometimes you never know how a middle school student might respond to challenges :)