Great Expectations

Turning others loose to lead.

My wife Ruth and I recently spent three weeks in Ecuador as guests of my sister who had been there several times before and was there ahead of us for this visit. We spent most of our time in Cuenca, a colonial city and UNESCO Heritage Site. It is also a modernizing city in a rapidly developing country.

I get great satisfaction from observing different cultures and attempting to learn from them. As this was my first visit to South America and to rare excursions beyond tourist areas and cruise ship ports, the experience was even richer. I could go on and on about the many things we learned on our adventures.

One specific observation led us to an in-depth discussion of the difference between their culture and ours. This, in turn, led to an “aha moment” concerning our spiritual culture and renewal.

We observed the almost complete lack of baby strollers and carriages. In fact, in three weeks, with the exception of tourists and a very few urbanized locals, there were none to be seen. You could see a mom or grandmother with a baby tied to her back or chest and one to three toddlers walking along beside. Children that appeared as young as two years old valiantly struggled to keep up and to keep close.

Even the difficult task of getting on a crowded bus with their bulky market bags was handled with much grace and dexterity by the whole family. The kids had learned to keep up and keep safe at an age where we in North America would completely protect and transport them in the latest equipment.

The cultural observation was powerful and our discussion first turned to the problems of 21st-century child obesity and sedentary trends here in the Western world. Ecuadorean children have a different trajectory, even at a very early age, with respect to activity, mobility, and fitness. They also learn great safety habits and develop instinctive protections in high-traffic situations.

I have spent a good amount of time talking about and learning about discipleship over the last few years. Part of that discussion centres around the need to reinvigorate and renew our making of disciples.

So here is my point: Could it be that in attempting to make it easier to be a disciple by spoon-feeding and protecting and even insisting that the heavy carrying be done by a select group of leaders and clergy, we have stunted the growth of our flocks? Is the inertia and even decaying of our influence and ministries a result of producing “flabby” and immature followers of Jesus who have been taught to passively receive instead of actively participate?

When was the last time a young person or a young Christian was coached to lead a prayer or a Bible study in your congregation? Or is virtually all prayer led by clergy and a select, small group of veterans, and are all Bible studies led by the same few people year after year? In Ecuador, the toddlers have bruises and scabs on their knees and elbows. The expectations lead to some falls and tears. But the parents think it’s worth it. Maybe our congregations can find it worthwhile, too.

Published in The Presbyterian Record on April 1, 2014.