by Skye Jethani
At any given moment we are each engaged in three dramas, but only one of them ultimately matters.
First, there is the drama of the practical. These are the events and measurable conditions that surround us every day. For many church leaders the current drama of the practical involves the economic crisis and keeping their ministries solvent. At other times the drama of the practical is about increasing attendance, launching a new program, or financing a building campaign. Those men and women who learn to master the drama of the practical are often the most revered and celebrated. They know how to get things done so we buy their books, attend their conferences, and listen to their advice.
But there is a second drama that many practical actors ignore - the drama of the theoretical. While we are busy living our lives and doing our ministry, there is a deeper drama informing and guiding our decisions. This drama of the theoretical is where our assumptions and beliefs are at play; where our often unspoken philosophy of ministry is behind the scenes pulling the levers and pushing the buttons - what we believe about the church, mission, culture, and theology. Those with more reflective faculties are able to speak and identify this drama of the theoretical in a way many practical dramatists simply cannot. For this reason, as my college professor used to say, they often find themselves writing about the world rather than running it.
Most pastors and church leaders, as well as the resources created to help them, are primarily concerned with these two dramas - the practical and the theoretical. What should I think and what should I do? For this reason we often ask secular experts in the practical and theoretical to help us lead our churches. But we deceive ourselves if we believe these two dramas comprise the bulk of our life or significance. Because behind the drama of the practical, and far deeper than the drama of the theoretical, there lies a third drama more powerful than either and whose outcome controls them both - the drama of the eternal.
The Quaker missionary and scholar Thomas Kelly wrote about this deeper drama as World War II was escalating:
Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history. It is the drama of the Hound of Heaven baying relentlessly upon the track of man.
We are not merely managers of religious institutions with practical duties. Neither are we merely thought-leaders living on the rarified air of theory and vision. We are spiritual leaders called to shepherd the souls of women, men, and children. Of all people we are called to be most aware and sensitive to the drama of the eternal. And yet I hear so little about this responsibility among church leaders today because playing in the drama of the eternal is something secular leadership gurus and cultural pundits cannot teach us. But if we, the leaders of the church, will not take up this responsibility then who will?
Of course, before we can hope to see into the "silences of the souls of men" we must learn to discern the secret things that move within our own souls. For weeks on this blog people have debated the merits of missional verses attractional church models (an exercise in the drama of the theoretical). But can we see how our advocacy of one model or the other is linked to the eternal drama at play deeper within? What does attracting a crowd to hear me speak do to satisfy my insecure identity? How might an aggressively missional model fuel my need for accomplishment? We are na?ve to think the drama of the eternal isn't in some way impacting the drama of the theoretical.