By Michael Mooney, Ministry Practitioner
What is already has been; and what was shall be (Eccl. 1:9).
It is my experience that the majority of Christian interactions can be summarized into one of at least three categories: 1) What was; 2) What is (normative); and 3) What should be. Here are three examples:
1) What was: “This is the way the early church did things…”
2) What is: “I am unhappy with the way we conduct our worship service…”
3) What should be: “We should change the order of our service to be more like the early church…”
Christian conversations generally follow at least one of these paths, with the most often course being the “what should be”, and the most often combination being “what should be” –with –“what was”. Whatever the path, what should be is usually combined with 1) what was or 2) what is.
Unfortunately, what is, is the least often considered much less embraced. When what is becomes the subject of conversations it typically follows a negative route of description with a call to change. For example, “Things should not be this way. Here is what we should do to fix it…” The subject of church fits as a regular in this place among people that have been Christians for a number of years. Young Christians are often excited about their churches, but seasoned believers have had time to observe more of the big picture of things –leading to discontentment.
Visions of Change
When believers (more especially ordained ministers) consider the “should be” viewpoints of ministry, notions of change naturally follow. Such has all the potential to become something good or bad –after all there is a time and place for change. However, when ministers begin to define the problems of what is, it naturally follows with the assumption that God’s will is whatever they perceive should be. This of course may or may not be true. After all, there is a natural tendency to assume that our preferences are also God’s –especially in the context of ministry. I call this God’s Preference Theory. It is defined by this rational. When humans do not prefer things it follows that there must be good reasoning behind such positions. Therefore, the next course of action is to make good arguments for these disapprovals. Of course we all want to make the “right choices” in life, and wish to be validated for making them. Nothing could be more validating than to believe that God approves or prefers our decisions. Hence, our decisions are what God has led us to embrace. For even scripture says “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psa 37:4) –facetious tone intended here.
Nevertheless, enough pondering of change will many times lead to action. This is where so many ministers make a huge mistake. Too often ministers approach change from the perspective of what should be. In theory this sounds correct, but with humans it is the wrong approach. Herein is the way it is usually approached:
1) Ministers become disgruntled with the status quo.
2) They form this dissatisfaction into a vision for change.
3) They begin to share that vision with others and generally meet two forms of resistance:
- those who do not agree with them
- those who offer verbal agreement, but are unwilling to take any action
4) The result is that the vision never comes to pass. Sure they may begin in some form or another by establishing a ministry or small church, etc. but in the majority of cases it never really gets off of the ground.
Why does this happen this way? Simply because the ministers tried to begin with what should be (combined with a spirit of frustration with what needs to be changed). By taking this approach, what is gets overlooked or dismissed as no longer valid. This likely happens because the ministers attempting to effect change have already embraced their concepts of ideal circumstances. However, in spite of discussions of mutual understandings, their audiences have not overcome the reservations of what is. They still live in the present –which is by the way reality. To the visionaries what should be is clearly focused in their minds with little regard for what is. When these two mindsets meet, no matter how much agreement is expressed between the two there is still major disconnection.
Ministers need to recognize that the present state of reality is that of what is. What was and what should be can never be the present state of reality. Even if the goals of what should be are somehow met, at that moment (the present) it no longer is what should be, but rather it becomes what is. Therefore, reality only exists in the present circumstances. If change is to occur, it must be approached from what is; otherwise failure is most probable. Why? Because such are the attempts to change things outside of reality. In our society, people who conduct their lives outside of reality are often deemed psychologically unhealthy. From this reasoning alone it seems absurd to expect the public (who defines mental health) to embrace and take seriously concepts outside of reality.
Up unto this point many will agree. Now is where the real issue is addressed in everyday life.