People Vs Program-Centered
"So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.' So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly."1
I once asked a class I was teaching what, in their opinion, was the number one weakness in today's church. One humorist answered, "Apathy, but who cares?"
If I were asked this question, I'd say that in many instances we have become program centered rather than people centered. Some are even too Bible or too doctrinally centered. Now, before you write me off as a heretic, let me explain what I mean.
True, in our relationship to God we need to be Christ-centered. In our doctrinal teaching and manner of living we need to be Bible centered, but when ministering to people we need to be people-centered—whether it's from the pulpit or among we lay people in our one-on-one relationships to others.
The majority of religious leaders in Jesus' day were doctrine centered. That is, they loved their doctrinal teachings more than they loved people—and used their teachings to control and condemn people. Some religious leaders still do this today. Other leaders love their programs and use people to support and work their programs. Not good. Instead of loving people and using programs, they love programs and use people.
In ministry Jesus was never program-centered, but rather, was always people centered. That is, he started with people's needs and applied His message and what He did to meet those needs.
To Zacchaeus, the hated tax collector, the little fellow who climbed a tree to get a good look at Jesus when he came to town. Jesus, sensing his need for acceptance, didn't preach at him or quote Bible verses to him. He simply said, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." Upon entering his home, Zacchaeus began confessing his sins. Amazing. When Jesus met his presenting need for acceptance which was a social and emotional need, Zacchaeus then became aware of his deeper spiritual need. To the blind man, and other needy people, Jesus's basic question was, "What do you want me to do for you?"
If our churches and you and I are to be as Christ to others, whether we are leaders, teachers, or lay persons, we, too, need to be aware of people's presenting needs and seek, in Christ's name, to minister to those needs. Little point in preaching the gospel to homeless, hungry people without trying to first feed them and find them shelter. Thank God for the missions who are seeking to do this. Furthermore, there's little point of telling hurting, lonely, disappointed people, that God loves them if we do little or nothing to help meet their present need. True, there is a need to tell the gospel, but before we tell it, we need to first live and demonstrate it in what we do much more than in what we say.
At that point, though not discernable, when we change from being people centered to becoming program centered, we begin to lose our effectiveness and become impotent.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to be understanding and Christ-like in reaching out to others and seek to minister to their presenting need. Help me to love people and use programs to meet their needs, and never use people to promote my personal programs to meet my needs. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus's name, amen."
1. Luke 19:4-6 (NIV).