A few days ago I posted parts one and two of a little blog series I wrote almost five years ago called “The Participation Problem.” I still cringe a little at some of my phrasing from five years ago, but it’s exciting to look back and realize that I’m participating in creating the kind of reality I was calling for give years ago. Here’s part three.
The Participation Problem, Part Three
So let me propose a way forward out of our Participation Problem:
First, the church cannot lay down her responsibility to call the world to the new kind of life offered in Jesus. This means that we cannot simply accept consumerism as a benign cultural force and just design our services for religious consumers. No. Despite the fact that our culture mitigates against participation, it is something the church needs to be calling people to.
I see it as part of the church’s prophetic task to call the world to an engaged lifestyle instead of a passive one. A servant lifestyle instead of a consumerist one. If it’s better to give than to receive, and if we’ve been enabled to serve one another, the we’d best get on with it the best we know how. Despite the difficulties and the steep-ness of the incline, we have to keep pedaling the bicycle of mission and participation. Bulk up if need be, get plenty of rest and plenty of people to support you, but keep pedaling.
Second, we need to become good at creating organic, flexible structures where people can figure out what their gifts are, learn how to use them, and have opportunities to use them. The place we need to improve the most is in the “opportunities to use them” department. For too long, the only time and place to use your gift was during a church service. Now, there’s nothing wrong with services, of course. They serve a vital function in the life of a church, I have had some of my most profound experiences with God in church services.
But if we send a message that the service is the only place to use a gift, people will get the impression that the only gifts that are really worth anything are leading worship, music, preaching, and ushing (is that what ushers do?). The list is different for every church, of course. It might be organ-playing and public praying. Or video editing and DJing. The end result is that whatever goes on in services is viewed the end-all, be-all of ministry.
So we need to expand the places and times where gifts can be expressed. How? That will be directly affected by the gifts represented in the church. Remember these structures need to be flexible, organic, bendy. When we get people serving side-by-side in new contexts in their area of anointing and gifting, a great side-effect is going to be a genuine sense of community being built.
More and more I believe that true community is built in the context of mission. That is to say, if we are moving together for the same purpose, we’re probably going to end up as friends. Community for community’s sake fizzles unless it is linked with mission (and mission and community linked together also needs the fuel of spirituality, but I’ve talked about that elsewhere).
I hope and pray we can move forward from the current Participation Problem (“How on Earth can we encourage people to truly participate?”) into the Participation Problem of the future (“What on Earth are we going to do with all these people who want to participate?”). Those are the good problems to have.
What kinds of “success stories” have you encountered in regards to creating the kinds of structures I outlined five years ago? And by “success” I mean they actually engender participatory discipleship.