Remember when Detroit changed its automobile designs on an annual basis to encourage consumers to buy the latest thing off the production line? This was a common marketing tool and other industries adopted this planned obsolescence approach as well to drive sales. It continues today as we anticipate the next new thing from Apple!
I was reminded of this tactic while talking to a pastor friend in another denomination. He commented that his denomination had just thrown the next “big program” at the churches. His experience was that practically every year the denomination found a new program that was going to ”turn the denomination around.” My friend saw some good in several of these programs, but his concern was that the judicatory leaders did not give a new program time enough to take hold and be effective before changing to something else. They were grasping at straws.
Those of us who grew up as Baptists in the south identify with this approach. Each year it seemed that “denominational headquarters” came up with a new program that was going to bring in the Kingdom. It was fed down the pipeline—national agency to state convention to local association to the church. This consumerism approach was meant to inspire, motivate, and sell product.
In Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal urges the church to move from this program development idea to people development. We should spend less time coming up with new programs and more time investing in people. Exactly what does this look like?
One type of people development is spiritual formation. Every believer needs to know how to approach, experience, and learn from God. Whether one pursues this path individually, finds a spiritual director or joins a group, each of us can benefit from learning and practicing some of the classical spiritual disciplines like centering prayer and lectio divina. The Companions in Christ materials from the Upper Room such as Exploring the Way would be a good place to start.
Another form of people development is disciple coaching. This combines two approaches—disciple development and coaching—to encourage individuals as they take responsibility for their own spiritual development. Mark Tidsworth of Pinnacle Leadership Associates has developed a process called Disciple Development Coaching ©. He defines it as “a focused collaborative relationship, resulting in the disciple living out his/her calling more fully.” The coach works with the individual believer to discover his or her growing edge, determine the steps to move in that direction, and walks with the person through the process.
Other people development processes are available such as mentoring, peer groups, and learning communities. What all of these have in common is a commitment to invest in people rather than programs. Programs become obsolete and must be replaced but the investment in people endures. Programs come and go, but when we help men and women grow in Christ, we are helping to bring in the Kingdom of God.