The church is being called to a P.I.E. ministry: outreach which is Participative, Interactive and Experiential
One high-end Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C., made headlines: "Man Thrown Out for Ordering Risotto." A patron who loved risotto saw it on the menu as an entree, but asked for a small portion as an appetizer. The waiter went back to check with the chef, who owned the establishment. He returned shortly. "I'm sorry; we do not serve risotto as an appetizer."
"Fine, I'll pay the whole entree price, but please bring it first as my appetizer."
"I'm afraid you don't understand, sir. We do not serve risotto as an appetizer."
"This is crazy! I just want risotto!"
The chef came out of the kitchen. "Risotto is not meant to be an appetizer," he said coldly. "It must be a main course. And you, sir, must leave my restaurant."
The incredulous patron refused to budge. The police were called in, and the unfortunate fellow was escorted from the premises for ordering risotto as an appetizer. (As told in Roger Dow & Susan Cook, Turned On [New York: HarperBusiness, 1996], 104-5.)
We are living in a culture in which people are no longer going to take whatever is handed to them. Like the hapless fellow wanting his risotto, people want to participate in shaping what they pick up, chow down and take away. People want to participate in the production of content, whatever it is. People want to be involved directly and personally.
It wasn't always this way. In their study of the 21st century as The Age of Participation (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1995), management consultants Patricia McLagan & Christo Nel argue that from a historical perspective our institutions were based in representative principles of governance such as (1) people want and need to be controlled; (2) clear focus and direction result only from strong leadership; (3) people do only the things that they are rewarded for doing; and (4) "people will not use their personal freedom in service of the organization".
It is each one of these assumptions that is being overturned in the interactive, interdependent culture in which we have been called to minister. And it is important to remember, as we gear up to serve and save this 21st century world, that Jesus himself thought and lived within an interactive ethos in which he was part of events, not apart from them. In all aspects of first-century life, Jesus got involved. In every aspect of his ministry, Jesus got others involved.
If the church is to communicate the gospel to the 21st century, it must come to terms once again with Jesus's Participative, Interactive and Experiential methods of ministry. Jesus had a P.I.E. ministry which involved him intimately in the lives of those around him. The church must grab a piece of Jesus' P.I.E. The church must get involved and understand what get involved means.
To get involved means moving from Representation to Participation.
In the '70s and '80s, what was the #1 daytime television programming? It was soap operas.
In the 1990s, what was the #1 daytime television programming? It was talk shows.
In the 2000s what was the #1 daytime television programming? It was reality shows
what is the difference between soap operas and talk shows? It's the difference between representation and participation. In soaps you hire professional script writers and actors to act out the most bizarre scenarios a writer can come up with. In talk shows the audience becomes the "stars," and people come out of the woodwork and step forward to showcase scenarios that are beyond the imagining of even the best scriptwriters. In talk shows, viewers get real-life experiences, not fictional realities. Even more so in reality shows, we see first-hand the daily lives and experiences of those we thought we could never get access too.
To minister in a participatory, interactive, experiential world, the church must come to terms with the participatory, interactive, experiential nature of the gospel.
How can we do this through outreach and incarnational ministry? Is through the understanding that Christian concern is never paternalistic in any sense, but comes through a pattern of "solidarity" with the poor and broken, that allows for no sense of superiority. This is through the calling of public theologians that engage in justice, love mercy participating fully in the structures that confront societal conditions.
The gospel, at its heart, is concerned with enabling humanity to express their authenticity and even vulnerability. Just as humanity needs identity to be human, so also humanity needs to accept responsibility for their life and for the world. To participate in the P.I.E. is our living responsibly for one's neighbor. For the Christian, it is the essence of the gospel especially found in the thematic approaches of the Gospel of Luke that in losing one's life for others, one finds the meaning of life.
The degree to which Jesus' participative ethic went can be seen in the Eucharist. Is non-participation the essence of the cup tradition of the Last Supper? Paul understood this, and in Paul's theology, to drink the cup means to become a bodily participant in the death of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:10) by which the participant receives God's gift of love and reconciliation (Romans 5:8, 10). Jesus founded his church to be a participative community.
We have an opportunity now to experience the life of the real Star of the universe, Jesus Christ. We must Participate, Interact and Experience!
Grab a piece of the P.I.E.!
Follow Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pastorbilljr