Participation - theology shaping practice
By Tim Evans - 11 March 2019
Having a participation policy is pretty much standard for a youth and community organisation such as ours. Of course we believe that those we work with should have an active role in shaping the provision they benefit from and in wider organisational decision-making. Different organisations do it differently, but what does it mean for a faith-based organisation to believe in participation? We recently bought our Branch Leaders together to explore this very subject, precisely so we don't 'just' have a policy, important as that is.
We asked ourselves a simple but profound question: What does it mean to participate 'in' or 'with' God? We came up with 5 areas:
God's nature is participative. In the creation accounts of Genesis, the text describes God as using 'we' not 'I' language. God is intrinsically relational, co-productive and co-operative.
In those Genesis accounts, the natural world is an expression of God's creativity and human beings, made in Gods image, are to co-operate with God and with the natural world and with each other in order to faithfully steward and continue the creative work of God.
In the Gospels, Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, which is manifest to all at Pentecost. The Spirit testifies to our union, our connection, our participation in the ongoing work of God in the world.
God gives gifts to all, not for the benefit of the individual but, as it says in Corinthians, for the common good. We are all are given gifts to share, to use to benefit the whole.
A key feature of Jesus' ministry was bringing reconciliation - between individuals, between groups and between God and the world. As people who seek to live like Jesus, our calling is to participate in the on-going work of reconciliation. The idea of Missio Dei, became an important principle in our discussion. Missio Dei means "God's mission". Rather than seeing mission as a task God has handed over to us, making it "our mission on behalf of God", this understanding regards mission as belonging to God: God is already at work in the world, with or without us. Our job is to 'sniff out' the works of God and join in.
A stand-out theme of our theological reflection was the sense of hope and possibility we have because God leads, acts first, initiates, and then asks us to participate in something on-going: stewarding creation, living by the spirit, utilising our gifts, joining in with the reconciling mission of God, seeking the kingdom in the here and now.
Of course, you then have to ask what this means practically in terms of our work. We each committed to at least one action to enable or deepen the participation of those we work with. We work with young people in particular because we believe they can live hopeful lives that transform the world around them, because we can inspire them with that hope that God has entrusted to us.
What actions would you take?