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iving In Middle Voice Christian leaders best respond to God by living in middle voice. To the extent we live in middle voice, we need not worry about how much of life is controlled by God and how much of life is controlled by our choices; both are the same.

In an essay entitled, "Is Growth a Decision?" 1Eugene Peterson describes the spiritual life in terms of living in middle voice. We typically use verbs in active voice or passive voice to describe the activities of our lives. I use active voice to describe an action that I do: "I counsel my friend." I use passive voice to describe an action that happens to me: "I am counseled by my friend." In middle voice, however, I both act and am acted upon: "I take counsel." In middle voice, one person "actively participates in the results of an action that another initiates." Middle voice best describes our activities in intimate relationships, especially our relationship with God:

Prayer and spirituality feature participation, the complex participation of God and the human, his will and our wills. We do not abandon ourselves to drown in the ocean of love, losing identity. We do not pull the strings that activate God's operations in our lives, subjecting God to our assertive identity. We neither manipulate God (active voice) nor are we manipulated by God (passive voice). We are involved in the action and participate in its results but do not control or define it (middle voice). Prayer takes place in the middle voice. . .

We don't have enough (or any!) verbal experience in this third voice, this voice that is fine-tuned to the exquisitely and uniquely human venture of entering into and responding to God. But no friendship, no love affair, no marriage can exist with only active and passive voices. Something else is required, a mode of willingness that radiates into a thousand subtleties of participation and intimacy, trust and forgiveness and grace.

In the life of our church community, as in our individual lives, we desire to live and participate in actions God has originated. Living in middle voice requires neither our complete control nor submission, but humility and boldness. Middle voice recognizes that we are responding to a vocation, or calling, from God - not just with discernment, but also with the activities of our lives. Middle voice action means that we co-create our lives and communities with and through our relationships with God.

As church leaders, we may support an atmosphere of response in middle voice by encouraging:

  • awareness of God's purposes for the church and our individual lives,
  • recognition of what God is already doing in our individual lives and community,
  • leadership that is open-minded, truthful, caring, assertive, and helpful to community interests,
  • visions based on a careful understanding of the unique opportunities a particular community has in responding to God's call, as well as thoughtful, creative, realistic and practical leadership decisions,
  • solid plans of action, including effective goals that support participation in God's plans and our vision and help avoid delays, obstacles and tangents,
  • mutual ministry involving all of the members of the body of Christ, and
  • positive reactions to growth, learning and change.
1Peterson, Eugene. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1989.) pp. 102-105.
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