the weblog of Alan Knox

Mutual Participation: Dip your toes into the waters or dive into the deep end?

Posted by on Jan 24, 2012 in edification, gathering | 5 comments

Mutual Participation: Dip your toes into the waters or dive into the deep end?

For the last two days, I’ve been trying to decide what to do with Art’s latest comment on my post “Replay: How do we edify others?

First, I think the comment is a well-articulated comment and a necessary component of our discussion of edifying one another when we gather with the church.

Second, Art’s comment is another indicator that he should be writing this stuff for his own blog… but then I need to keep my mouth shut so that he continues to leave the comments here.

I thought about copying Art’s entire comment, but I decided to continue the discussion by asking a question… which I’ll get to by the end of this post.

In the comment, Art is talking about participatory meetings. Now, for most Christians, church gatherings are not a time of real participation. They primarily gather to hear from others, and usually they hear from the same person week in and week out.

Some churches move toward more participatory meetings by having different people speak from week to week, or by encouraging comments or questions after the speaker is finished.

Other groups of believers move along the spectrum toward mutual participation by having a discussion about a specific topic or passage of Scripture.

Finally, some groups come together without a preplanned topic or passage.

Now, if a group of believers recognizes that mutual participation is beneficial for the church, and if that same group of believers recognizes that they do not all participate when they gather together, what should they do? Should they take steps toward mutual participation (perhaps along the spectrum that I described above), or should they jump in with both feet directly into all participating without a preplanned topic or passage?

This is the question that Art poses in his comment:

Doesn’t our best attempts to move past the pastor controlled meeting space still deny committing one another to the care and capability of the Spirit in contributing to one another when assembled? Wasn’t this something Paul was very quick to do with pagans only recently converted, leaving them on their own after a few weeks or months without “leadership?” Do the saints, in fact, need us and not the Spirit, to help them begin to “participate” so narrowly? I suppose I’m advocating “throwing the meeting in the deep end of the pool to learn to swim together,” but this seems to be the biblical pattern.

As you can see, I borrowed Art’s swimming analogy for this post.

So, what do you say? If a group desires mutual participation for the sake of helping one another grow in Christ, is it better to take small, incremental steps by adding more and more participation? Or is it better to scrap all facilitators and plans in order to provide opportunities for mutual participation immediately? Why?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-24-2012

    Reading this post makes me feel like an elder and I am so young still in years and faith under 40 on both.

    Where are those who have seen groups develop out of nothing? Where are those who have seen someone come to faith and take off in a radical and powerful way?

    Where are those who have been in a meeting that had a “script” and seen people just allow the Holy Spirit to move and do something else?

    I think the make up of a group will determine if things move slowly or should do a total 180. Mean while why does not every person who would ponder these thoughts just work on their participation.

    Either step up more as they feel led, bring up the subject for discussion if it has been missing or pipe down if they have been the one pushing a script or agenda different than what the group needs.

  2. 1-24-2012

    Some interesting thoughts there.

    For me, I wonder if this is not the purpose of the ‘home group’ scenario, or ‘bible study’ scenario that many churches and denominations go for? For some, the ‘preaching of the word’ is a ‘sacrament’, so it must occur for them by a called minister. That is their belief. Moving on from that though, Paul also calls for order in services – does that just mean ‘showing love and giving time to another’, or that we have an actual order to our services? Worth considering in any case.

    I have to agree though, participation is low in many churches I’ve been to, and those who do not participate, not always, but often don’t show much else? They show for church and you don’t know anything else about them. Without being judgmental (which is instantly hard when you speak of other people – as you have to in some way judge), it is hard to see how much participation in community they have.

    I agree with ToscaSac above – it is the makeup of the group that will determine the changes. Some people, as a group, are ready for something new. Some people are ready to let the Holy Spirit work in that way. And yet some are not.

    And there are many dangers in this ‘open’ form that will require strong, gentle leadership – such as ensuring one person doesn’t arrive with ‘their’ sermon every week, thinking they are doing the world a favour. But if that is what they feel God is calling, then God will also provide the leadership!

    Sorry for the ramble, but there are some good points to think about in the post.


  3. 1-25-2012


    I understand the frustration that I sense in your comment. I’ve also asked for real examples from others. This is one of the reasons that I often provide examples here. Our group is not perfect, and we did not start from nothing, but we’ve tried to respond to God as we’ve felt him leading us.

    What other examples and details could I share that you think would be beneficial for you and for others?


    You said, “[I]t is the makeup of the group that will determine the changes.” I think that’s very wise thinking. We have to be attuned to both the Holy Spirit and also to the needs of others.


  4. 1-27-2012

    Committ to the move and let Holy Spirit lead from there. I don’t think there is good or bad pace. Remember unity along the way. Perhaps more practically, we moved fast on our Wednesday nights and are still moving in the direction of open participation on Sundays. My advice is to be patient with people giving them time to get the revelation that God has given you.

  5. 1-27-2012


    Wise advice… that’s the way we’ve proceeded as well.