Whilst studying I came across a quote from Samuel Wells, the Vicar of St. Martin in the field (in Trafalgar square) who spoke of the most important word within theology being “with”.
Which made me think how often is Church done “too” us, someone said on our Mission Shaped Ministry Course “we do Church to the next generation as it has been done to us”, realising that so often we passively receive Church as we have known it week by week.
Sometimes, in the worst extremes it can feel as though faith is being done ‘at’ us.
I have known leaders who have said things like “if you don’t like it there is the door”, which is saying your voice and your view does not matter.
In many ways it infantises us, when someone does everything “for” us we never lean to do it for ourselves, and certainly never learn to train others to do it for themselves either.
Too much of modern day discipleship looks like spoon feeding people, cutting up their food for them, thinking for them and unsurprisingly (although often well mean) this leaves them stunted and dependent in their growth and unable to fend for themselves.
Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse used to have a sketch where their phrase “you don’t want to do it like that, you want to do it like this”. It was a controlling picture, an unhelpfully parental picture, that assumed you knew nothing and the person talking knew everything.
Often these well meaning types can run the risk of keeping us from fulfilling who God has called us to be, and to do what God has called us to do, and leaves us rather as a pale imitation of someone else, someone we ‘re not. God has no need of a clone of anyone else, but rather his call on your life will enable you to be you in its beautiful Technicolor!
The power dynamic with “too” or worse “at” has one person with all the power and the other with none, one is the provider -the one who does, and the client – the one who is done too.
Yet when we look at the ministry of Jesus he was a leader who embraced the concept of with, he shared his life with his disciples, he gave them opportunities to participate in ministry and to shape what was happening. It was a journey of empowerment and opportunity within the context of relationship, it was mentoring and apprenticeship of people who were active participants invested in the outcome.
The fruit of Jesus’ with style ministry is seen by its fruit that when he returned to heaven the disciples continued the work on earth without him, when we breed consumers and disempowered spectators we won’t grow disciples that will step up when we leave the room, but grumble as they seek someone else to “do it all for them”.
When we think of Ephesians with the 5 fold ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, we often think of them exercising their ministry to us (or at us if done badly) but rather they are meant to help us become more proficient in their ministry, learning how to be visionary, prophetic -hearing from God ourselves-, how to lovingly share our faith with those around us, how we pastor and love one another and how to learn and share with others what we have discovered about who God is.
We need to learn again how to do discipleship alongside one another, sharing our journeys together as fellow travellers following Christ, not as expert and pupil, yes we need to mentor and apprentice one another but not trying to shoehorn people into our cookie cutter idea of what we think they should be, but working alongside to help them fullfill all that God has for one another. As we do that we see new leaders arise that look like them and who God has called them to be, rather than clones of us.
Too often, especially in ministries of justice and compassion, we loose something of the uniqueness and value of the people who receive from us but have no possibility of reciprocation, which dehumanizes them and withdraws from us a wonderful catalyst for blessing.
So, let’s learn from Jesus our teacher, the one who by his spirit longs to work with us, the one who invites us to work with him rather than for him, and calls us to work with his beloved alongside us in a way of value and dignity not working ‘too’, ‘for’ or ‘at’ them but with, a liberation movement for the body of Christ as we seek to make disciples Jesus