By Greg Smith, JBL:NAAC Board Member
The speaker for the conference of clergy was confident, progressive and effective as a communicator of the Gospel for the 21st century. So, when she began to say that she had little time for things like long range planning and goal setting for congregations, “Natural Church Development,” and discipleship programs it had a shock effect.
Some were delighted, because obviously these were the kind of things that they were being encouraged to institute in their congregations by church leadership. Perhaps they felt vindicated in their lack of willingness to participate.
Others, whose experience with some of these things had been positive and hope-giving in an age of much worry about the future of church, suddenly felt the wind taken out of their sails. One such attendee felt the need to challenge her remarks, which gave her a chance to clarify her remarks.
“It is not” she began, “that these things are inherently bad or produce negative effects. What I take issue with is the addiction that so many church leaders seem to have with ‘program.’ As if it is in the next program where our salvation lies. If only we do this, then all will be well: problems solved; the reign of God arrived. This is not the Gospel.” (This is a personal paraphrase of what she said. I hope it is reasonably accurate.)
In reflecting on this moment in a wonderfully and, uncharacteristically, stimulating clergy conference, this is exactly why practitioners of the catechumenal process are cautioned and continually caution ourselves that “This is not a program.” To practice the elements of the catechumenate in the life of a community of faith is rather the cultivation of a way of being with one another in the journey of our baptismal living. It is the formation of a culture of practice that nurtures participants for the day to day experience of being in Christ. It is not a solution to the issues facing the churches of the 21st century, but it is a way of being in the midst of the issues and challenges that is faithful to the invitation of Jesus. It might just be a pattern of recovery from the institutional addiction to program fixes.
This reminder of the nature of the catechumenal process raises some questions for practitioners however. Others may wish to add their own:
• How do we introduce the catechumenate to our communities in ways which are not programmatic?
• Do we need to change our language of Christian formation?
• How do we present something which appears to have a progression: inquiry to enrollment to baptism to baptismal living, in a way which does not say “Program”?
• Can we resist the kind of program marketing that proliferates in the consumer world in which we seem to compete for attention?
• Are we really ready to break with our addiction to fixes and to practice being fully present to God’s activity in our lives instead?
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