The letter Screwtape should have written

It is not [the Christian’s] primary task to think out plans, programmes, methods of action and of achievement. When Christians do this (and there is an epidemic of this behavior at the present time in the Church) it is simply an imitation of the world, and is doomed to defeat.

Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (1967), 80.



If C. S. Lewis lived today he may well have appended one last letter from Master Tempter Screwtape to his apprentice Wormwood (in The Screwtape Letters). In it the old master would have encouraged the young tempter to try to lead his convert down the byway of technique into the cesspool of causation. 

Now in leadership in the church, Wormwood’s quarry would be encouraged to come to think of ministry as something that requires the securing of the correct technique. The right words. The right affect. The right strategy. He would be encouraged to believe that any number of things could be a substitute for personal holiness in the life of the Christian minister. Would it not be better to have a highly relational pagan as a minister than an introverted saint? Ministers are, after all, people persons–like those in sales.

The byway of technique leads to the cesspool of causation. When mired in this desolate place, the Christian comes to believe that having the right technique will (of necessity) bring around a desired result). In so believing he replaces God with an idol of his own creation.

I don’t know if our churches and ministry organizations have moved beyond using planning and training as a tool and into the zone of making it the church’s reason for being. I hope not. The church’s reason for being is to be the incarnate community of God who lives the Gospel in a way centered on the Word and Sacraments by which they participate in the life of God. 

Planning and training can be no substitute for prayer, the word, and the table. To confuse them is to cause the church to lose its uniqueness and to negate its mission.




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