the weblog of Alan Knox

Different forms of participation

Posted by on Feb 21, 2012 in community, edification, fellowship, gathering | 4 comments

Different forms of participation

Michael at “2nd man united” is writing a series of posts called “What it means to be organic.” His third post in the series is “Moving Participation From Positions to People.”

In this series, Michael is comparing “mechanical order” to “organic order.” I think this is a helpful comparison, although certainly some will disagree with it. However, it is helpful when we see the differences in the topic being discussed.

For example, all believers think that participation is a good thing. But, often, we are talking about different things when we talk about “participation.” Michael writes:

In mechanical order, people are invited to participate by filling in positions in a master plan. For example, setting up ministry programs and asking for volunteers to serve in the ministries. In this case, leaders invite people to participate in ways that serve the plan. They are then inserted into the manufacturing process (program) with the intention that they are a piece that can help bring about the predetermined desired outcome…

In organic order, individuals are invited to participate as themselves for the good of the group as a whole. The mission (or ministry) emerges from how the individual participants grow together as a community and interact with the world around them given their competencies (spiritual gifts, natural talents, etc.). To be truly organic, community must take precedence above mission. This is the only way that the priority of the health of the individuals is kept front and center. If mission comes first, you sacrifice the health of the individuals for what they can do for the mission. Instead, the mission comes out of the improved health of the individuals. Plus, God’s eternal purpose is wrapped up in community. Community is the prime product. Mission is a by-product. (emphasis in original)

The difference, as Michael points out, is the form of participation. Are people required to participate with one another in set forms or methods that have been already set up as part of a plan? Or, are they free to participate as they are – that is, as God has gifted and prepared them?

Yes, in the “organic” form of participation, there is an increased likelihood of messiness. In the “mechanical” form of participation, things flow more smoothly.

Of course, I’m not convinced that “more smoothly” is better than “messier,” but that would probably be a good topic for another day.

Don’t misunderstand me… God can and does work through both mechanical participation and organic participation. However, I believe that organic participation is healthier for the church.

How have you seen God work through both mechanical and organic participation? Which form do you think is healthier for the church? Why?


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  1. 2-21-2012

    Oh, I like this and I wish I’d actually experienced it more often. People seem to be so afraid of messiness, though, don’t they? Afraid of someone speaking heresy in times of free-for-all sharing. Afraid of bum notes if people all have the opportunity to lead some singing. Afraid of plans not working out if people are free to start their own groups for mission, encouragement, social action etc.

    I’d love to know how you encourage people to be less afraid of messiness – you can’t go round lecturing people (my usual approach, sadly…) so what do you do?

  2. 2-21-2012


    I try to take myself out of the picture as much as possible. But, I also try to remind myself that I don’t have to fix everything that “goes wrong.” I’ve also found that one of the most difficult times of “messiness” is when there is silence. But, often there needs to be times of silence.


  3. 2-21-2012

    I am always looking for better ways to articulate the direction that The Lord is leading the people of Connections. I just love the term comparing “mechanical order” to “organic order”

  4. 2-22-2012


    One thing that I didn’t say in the post is that Michael is working through the book Organic Community by Joseph Myers. If you haven’t read, it may give you some ideas also.