FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine.
Roll, Lazy River
by RC Sproul Jr.
The experts tell us it’s all about the parking lot, whether for parking cars or keisters. Once it’s not easy to find a spot for the old clunker, people will pass on by to a more spatially congenial place to worship. And we wouldn’t that to happen. So begins the building program, or should I say, so begins VISION 2020!!!! Or should I say, so begins the vicious cycle. You need to build to get more people, and you need more people to afford the new building. You figure you can serve both, that you will untie the Gordian knot with programs. If you build them, they will come.
The drive to add more programs, however, is birthed by the same spirit that births the new parking lot, and the new sanctuary. Both feed the insatiable appetites, both bow before the great god Pander. Trying to lighten the load of the cross, trying to broaden the way simply invites more fellow travelers who are on the road to destruction. Like too many of the companions of Pilgrim, these only distract and mislead. And as with Pilgrim, they drag the rest of us down with them.
Sloth is what drives us, or, perhaps we should say, doesn’t drive us. Though we were made for dominion, since the fall we have been a lazy bundle of inertia and entropy. That is, our default position is to be still, because we don’t care that He is God. We who have been born of water behave like water, always seeking the path of least resistance. And the tide of the church growth movement just keeps pushing us along.
Our laziness begins with our imaginations, as we simply assume, because it’s easiest, that things are as they always have been. The program laden template has already been provided for us, not by the church fathers (we don’t know what they thought because the blamed fools wrote in big words) but by the generation before us. Our parents gave us Sunday School, and so we obviously must give it to our children. But we haven’t even enough curiosity to ask why. The story is told of the young husband who delights as he watches his new bride prepare the Christmas ham for the first time. Just before she puts the porcine appendage in the oven, she cuts a three inch thick slice off one end. “Why do you do that?” he gallantly asks his beloved. She sports a puzzled look, and, confident in her husband’s love, admits she doesn’t know. “I’ll call my mother and ask. She does it every time too.” Alas, her mother is as puzzled by the family habit as she is, and so the bride calls her maternal grandmother. “Grandma, momma says she always cuts a big hunk off the ham before cooking it because she always saw you do it. But she doesn’t know why. Why did you?” “Oh, honey, that’s easy. I had to cut off that slice every time because the hams were always too big for our little oven.”
There was a reasonably commendable explanation for Sunday Schools, the grandmother of all church programs, when they first started. They were designed not to teach the faith to the children of the covenant, but as an outreach to the lost and undereducated. Sunday Schools began as combination of mercy ministry and evangelism. It wasn’t intended for us. These well-meaning folks didn’t listen to the regulative police, and now we have youth leaders with purple hair eating worms for the kingdom. Worse, our fathers have become as weak and shiftless as the fathers of those little urchins of a century ago. It is a hard thing to watch as fathers fail their children. But it is a hard lesson to learn that when we do their job for them, they will only fail all the more.
Of course there are degrees here. There is a laziness that just lets people, including our children, to flounder for themselves. Some presume upon the covenant grace of God, and hand their children to the devil, to lighten their load while they pursue personal peace and affluence. That many churches are dissatisfied with this is to be commended. But again the lazy imagination takes over. No one stops to think how it might work if we, instead of rescuing the children with another program, we would rescue the fathers with church discipline. And so we resave each family, one generation at a time.
It’s hard work teaching grown ups. They argue, and you can’t cancel their television privileges if they don’t do their homework. It’s hard work being a student, as a grownup. After all, you’re so busy driving the kids to youth group. Recently a pastor asked if I had any suggestions for teaching children the basics of the faith. “Yes,” I suggested, “have you considered the parents?” “Oh,’ my embarrassed pastor friend explained, “but they don’t really know anything either.” “That then,” I suggested, “is something we shall have to remedy.”
The problem is even broader than our children. Men who are too morally lazy to be open with their wives, are given instead accountability groups, something they can put down in their Daytimers. Women likewise who aren’t being taught by their husbands, get together with their peers and pool their ignorance. In the meantime, the pastor’s role is to manage all this activity, to direct the sheep to the right room in the education wing, rather than to actually shepherd them. I don’t doubt that some of them, if they don’t know better, are at least uneasy with this status quo. But it’s hard work to swim against the stream, and not good for the bottom line.
Programs are the death of the local church, for they all are gimmicks to make the work of the ministry easier. Why actually talk to your neighbors, when you can get them in the church with a living nativity, or a mailing/phone/billboard campaign that lets everyone in town know they’re welcome to come in their flip flops. Or better yet, maybe moving pictures of Jesus picking up His cross will mean we won’t have to pick up ours. May God grant us the grace to do the work HE has given us to do.