My Dad loved Souper Potatoes!
“What are Souper Potatoes?” you say?
This is a little recipe I discovered a number of years ago that involves combining 5-6 partially cooked medium potatoes, grated (frozen hash browns if you prefer, but fresh potatoes make it creamier and tastier); 1 can of cream of chicken soup; 2 cups of sour cream; 2 cups of shredded Cheddar; and 2 Tbl. of minced onions and placing them in a buttered baking dish and baking them at 360 degrees F for about 45-60 minutes. For variations, you can include maple flavored sausage and/or sprinkle some crushed corn flakes on top. And my Dad would devour a huge portion of a pan in an attempt to fully assault his taste buds.
When my husband traveled to SD to spend a weekend with my Dad while I was pursuing my doctorate, Dad became excited (truly!!) about his son-in-law making Souper Potatoes. If you know my Dad, he tended to be a reserved man, keeping his feelings and thoughts to himself . . . unless he was hunting or playing a competitive game of Moon. This enthusiasm showed when my Dad, who only heated up food in the microwave (translation: he did not cook), started buying the ingredients in advance so my husband could begin making Souper Potatoes the instant he walked in the door. During the weekend, my husband churned out 2-3 big pans of the stuff and then froze them in individual packets for my Dad to eat for the next month.
On one weekend, my Dad declared to my husband that he wanted to help.
This created no small dilemma . . . It was evident to my husband that it would be easier if he did the task himself. After all, here was a man who did not know the difference between a rubber spatula and a plastic turnover (a colloquial distinction made in the region) . . . a man who did not abide by the axiom “cleanliness is next to godliness” . . . What was he to do? How could this son-in-law provide a way for his elderly father-in-law to participate in the making of the dearly loved and revered recipe for Souper Potatoes? How could he communicate his care and love for his wife’s 80-something-year-old father through participation? This necessitated his son-in-law to be quick on his feet as he needed a plan in the next few seconds. My Dad’s task? Stir the ingredients until they were thoroughly mixed. And, let me tell you . . . my Dad did it with great gusto! He no longer was sitting idly by and watching someone else do all the work. He was participating with his son-in-law in making something that my father loved to eat. On top of that, Dad took it upon himself to fulfill the role of cheerleader . . . pushing his son-in-law to work faster and faster and faster! You see, Dad lived by the philosophy: There IS a reward for speed. And he decided it was his duty to instill this philosophy in my husband . . . at least when it came to making Souper Potatoes.
Many of us have been placed in similar situations in which my husband found himself that day.
Sometimes we are assigned to complete a school assignment in a group, an assignment we may find much easier to tackle on our own. Or maybe your boss insists that you train an assistant and use a certain project as training ground. Or maybe a friend wants to return a favor and offers to assist you on a task that you had planned to do by yourself. If you have children or grandchildren, you may be in the middle of a job when you hear a little voice, “I wanna help.” No matter the scenario, the thought flashes through your mind, “It would be so much easier to do it myself.” In a nanosecond you sense the tension: efficiency vs. relationship.
That is what it boils down to, isn’t it? Efficiency vs. relationship? Time vs. presence? The task vs. the other?
In a time-oriented culture, it is challenging for us to choose relationship over easy. The person over the project. And yet, that is what participation does . . . participation communicates value . . . significance . . . love.
As a Christ-follower who is also ordained, I struggle with the emphasis that is placed on getting results in ministry.
That is, I frequently experience my tradition as stressing outcomes. This became apparent to me in attending my denomination’s national meetings a number of years ago. I sat through one seminar that informed me that the minister needs to pray for a revival—that is how your church will grow. Another seminar instructed me: it is all about preaching—your church will increase when it has good preaching. And still a third seminar told me that it boils down to leadership—you have to be a good leader! I remember my head just spinning as three “successful” pastors, whose churches had increased in numbers, advised me to use three distinct methods on how their churches multiplied. What were my husband and I to do? I remember sharing this dilemma with another, much wiser, minister who said, “This is simply what these three pastors happened to be doing when the Holy Spirit moved in their churches.”
And the light bulb came on.
A number of years later I came to understand this theologically as participation.
Approximately, ten years ago, I took a class during my Master’s program, which was taught by pentecostal Graham Buxton, called “Participation in the Ministry of Christ.” Since that intense week-long class, this concept has continued to simmer within me, which has enabled the rich taste of this theology to be savored. If the truth be told, I have needed this time for the deep essence of such a rich theological concept to be fully relished. I confess that I have in the past settled for the wearisome flavors of my culture’s emphases on pragmatics, outcomes, and speed to dictate my appetite. But I did not find these flavors to be robust in nature, and instead they fell short of generating satisfaction within my being. While they drove me to consume them, they were like empty calories from a fast-food restaurant in that while they may be appealing initially, they failed to create a long-lasting fulfillment.
I discovered that as I began to drink of this full-bodied theological concept of participation, I experienced freedom, strength, and joy that was accompanied by a deep longing for more. It is an interesting blend of fulfillment and longing. It is like being satisfied while wanting more. Maybe a more appropriate way to say it is: because it fully satisfies, it generates a zest for more.
Participation’s basic foundation is summarized in the words of Ray Anderson:
All ministry is God’s ministry.
Throughout the scriptures we observe God ministering to humanity. We see it in Genesis 3:21 as God gives clothes to Adam and Eve. We observe it later in Genesis when God chooses Abram and eventually informs him that he is to be called Abraham who will be the father of many nations. From the seed of this man comes a nation, Israel, who is called upon to minister to the world. In essence, this is how we know God: through God’s acts of ministry. In the Hebrew scriptures, God ministers to the world through Israel, and it is through these acts of ministry, which both reveal God and reconcile the world to God, that we know who God is. In the New Testament, particularly the Gospel of John, we see that God continues to minister to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. John 3:16 is clear: God loves the world, so God gives the Son to minister to the world. After the Son ascends to the Father, the Spirit is sent and continues the ministry of Jesus Christ in the world. This ministry involves the Spirit grieving and groaning with all creation as creation longs for the day when God will be all in all, and all will be reconciled to God.
The point is: God instigates ministry to the world, not humanity.
Humans would not know God unless God ministered to us; thus, the very idea of ministry is God’s, which is why Anderson says that all ministry is God’s ministry.
In many ways, participation is about relationship, not outcome.
God could minister to the world through only God’s self, which is particularly seen in the person of Jesus Christ. God is all powerful and all knowing; therefore, God does not need humans. God is a relational god who is complete relationally in God’s self. The concept of the perichoresis bears this out.
The perichoresis emphasizes both the unity and the diversity of the triune Godhead. God is one while also being three distinct persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; thus, God is both one and three. This unity and diversity reveal the relationality of the triune Godhead and reminds us that one cannot explain the Trinity as a solitary subject neither can one refer to it as three divine persons. Instead, as Jürgen Moltmann points out, the Three dwell in each other, and each one shares one’s personhood, consciousness, and will with the others; this sharing also forms their shared nature, consciousness, and will. Miroslov Volf explains, “The one divine person is not only itself, but rather carries within itself also the other divine persons, and only in this indwelling of the other persons within it is it the person it really is. . . . In a certain sense, each divine person is the other persons, though is such in its own way . . . .” Now, God desires humans to participate in this relational love, and to this end, God is ministering to the world in the power of the Spirit. Buxton comments that since Christians are participating in this life, they are invited to join the “Father, Son, and Spirit [who are] united in their longing to see all humanity forever caught up in the joy of divine love.” We are invited to participate with the three-in-one in their ministry in the world, “dancing with God in a world that has lost its way.” God’s relational love for humanity, then, includes humanity participating with God in the ministry to the world.
Participation is about the relationship.
The contrast of participation being about the relationship, not the project, may be recognized in the type of slogan around which my tradition rallied. The slogan was: ‘Til He Comes. The teaching was that Jesus will not return until every nation and tribe had heard the Gospel; thus, we must hurry to proclaim the Gospel to every living creature so that we can speed up Jesus’ return. Translation: It is up to us. Did you notice how this centers on project, outcome, and pragmatics? Under this understanding all ministry becomes human ministry. It is as if Jesus ascended and sent the Spirit to us and said, “Okay. It is up to you. Time is of the essence.” This means, Jesus is waiting until we complete the assignment at hand and then, and only then, will he return. So, we work and work and work, trying to accomplish this task that we have been assigned.
Participation, however, is about relationship.
Because the triune God longs for relationship with humanity, God’s Spirit is already moving in the world, ministering to the world. What does this mean for Christ-followers? It means inquiring: What is the Spirit doing and how can I participate in it? It means, I am not alone, but I am working alongside the Spirit who is already ministering to the world that God loves. In Anderson’s words, God’s ministry “precedes and determines the church.” My purpose moves from solely focused on what I am to do well so that I get results to knowing Christ who is ministering in the world through the power and presence of the Spirit and joining in that ministry.
In short, it is not all about me; it is all about Christ.
Holy Spirit, help me to see how you are already ministering to those around me and in me so that I may join you, partaking through ministry in your relational love.
 Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 322.
 Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 209.
 Graham Buxton, Dancing in the Dark: The Privilege of Participating in the Ministry of Christ (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2001), 20.
 Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press), 62.