As parents of four young children, my wife and I have been able to observe, from when we had our first little one, that their desire to participate in what is going on begins very early in life. In our home, this was first apparent at mealtime. We had to let her participate as best she could when she wanted to equip herself with the spoon to address the task at hand. Too bad for what that meant for the cleaning of the corners of a highchair that was manifestly not conceived for the first such experiment by the uninitiated. We learned the hard way that to refuse this act of freedom was to provoke an instinctive rebellion--a hunger strike. The mouth shuts, the body wriggles, as if to say: “If I can’t participate, I won’t eat!”
Paradoxically, we discovered the opposite phenomenon just a few months later. I remember this stage especially with our second child. He had been feeding himself with the spoon for several weeks when he looked at me and said, “Oh, I’m tired, will you feed me?” What had happened? It was if he had lost interest in the task, as if he had just needed to know that he could do it himself but still preferred us to do it for him.
Our life in the West is like this. We like to live an adventure, but we are in the habit of experiencing it through the heroes of our novels, films and TV series. Are we not equally in the habit of living by proxy through a missionary that has been sent out… in my place, the evangelist who evangelises... in my place, the prophet who exhorts… in my place, the pastor who cares for the flock… in my place, the teacher who reveals the treasures of the Scriptures… in my place? What effect can this have on a community in the long term? Unfortunately, we know the answer only too well, don’t we? Might we not allow these ministries to EQUIP the Community, so that it can participate rather than doing it all ourselves (Eph. 4 v.12)? And we who are in the ‘ministry’, are we not in danger of equipping the uninitiated who is on the journey with “his spoon”?
What would happen if a Christian organisation were to deliberately choose participation as its core value?