I voted today. Someone provided a place for me to say yes and no to things. I’ve held myself out of the vitriol that has been our public discourse knowing that I would be able at some point to darken in some circles on a ballot (that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?) and participate in the process. Today, I was not a spectator. Today, a place was provided for me to be a part of things. To have voice.
This is one of the things that processes do. They provide a place for people to participate. And this is no small thing. This provision can be the vehicle for dignity and voice and belonging. Through process, the image of God can emerge in human lives, the body of Christ become visible. This is grace.
I know some think that only informal or spontaneous qualify as spiritual. Process is seen as sterile and lifeless. It’s “institutional.” Informality seems more intimate and relational, and it is for some. Informality favors the powerful. Apart from the provision or opportunity to participate, an expression of power, those who already possess power or who have certain relational gifts, abilities, or dispositions are favored. The popular kids in the youth group thrive in the informal, as do the glib, articulate, and assertive in the rest of the congregation. This is why churches that trade on intimacy or informality are the least hospitable for many.
On the other side of the equation, some congregations encourage a spectator mentality. Church exists primarily to strengthen the inner life of the consumer. Participating is a little like jumping on a spinning merry-go-round. Only some will jump on. It’s not altogether clear how to do that.
Processes that are clear and dependable, open and genuine, honor those who can’t quite navigate congregational styles that reward only certain kinds of people. This is grace. And in this sense, the institutional life of the church provides handles, a way to grab on, a way for minority voices to be heard, or those who don’t thrive in arenas where you have to make your own way to be involved.
Now, sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. It’s very possible that institution can create a life of its own, the institutional tail wag the relational dog, etc. I get that. But congregations that lack reliable processes or routines actually limit the free movement of the Spirit that comes through the participation of those who do not thrive in environments that require a high degree of interpersonal competency.