Prepositions have power. One small word can change everything: your meaning, your intent, and even the way that you live and interact with people.
Recently, I was reading Kris Rocke and Joe Van Dyke's book Geography of Grace: Doing Theology From Below. I came across the following three paragraphs that really made me think about how calls me to live my life and how our church lives out her mission. (You can find the following three paragraphs on pages 74-75 of their book.)
There are three primary missional prepositions. The first is “to.” Ministries focusing on this preposition tend to locate power in very specific places such as the pulpit. They often deal with those they want to reach in a paternalistic manner; that is, they place themselves in a position of superiority over those they feel called to reach. Ministries that see “mission” as something done to others may even become oppressive, violating the dignity and freedom of those to whom they minister in the name of Jesus. Some Christians are trapped in churches and deeply oppressed by ministry that is done “to” them.
The second prepositions is “for.” Rather than becoming paternalistic, these kinds of ministries can fall into the trap of becoming maternalistic. Many of us have grown up in families with well-meaning mothers who tried to do far more for us than was healthy. Many youth ministries, for example, tend to do far too many things for young people rather than equipping them to act on their own. In these ministries people often have to seek the approval of the leader or pastor for everything they do, because they lack confidence or the freedom to think and to act on their own.
A third prepositional option for the mission of the church is “with.” This is the incarnation preposition - Immanuel (God with us). When this preposition drives the mission, whether it’s the church, organization, or even a short-term mission project, the potential to transform both the leaders and the people they seek to see is heightened. Along with potential there is cost - these ministries require a much higher investment of time and relational energy (though much more is released in the long run). This kind of ministry also demands that leaders give up power rather than guard it. This already invested with leadership sometimes shy away from their kind of ministry because it means giving up power and initiative to others.
In all honesty, this is not the first time I have come across someone making the delineation between to, for, and with. However, because so many people are talking about the difference between the three words, it does make me, once again, wrestle with the questions:
- What does it look like to do life "with" people?
- How does seeking to be "with" people change the way that I interact with my wife, my kids, and my neighbor?
- How does seeking to be "with" people change the way that our church approachs mission and ministry?
Prepositions do have power. I pray that God helps us to resist the urge of doing things "to" or "for" people. I also pray that He teaches us what it looks like to do life "with" people, both as a congregation and as individuals. `