Three Dramas that Drive Us
Church leaders are focused on best practices and missional theory, but what really matters is often overlooked.

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.
January 30, 2009

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments

mike rucker

February 03, 2009  5:45am

skye, thanks for your reply. i was beginning to think no one noticed me ... :) but did i read the wrong article? "...we deceive ourselves if we believe these two dramas comprise the bulk of our life or significance. [behind them] ... lies a third drama more powerful than either and whose outcome controls them both — the drama of the eternal." "[When] we fix our eyes once again on Jesus, we'll discover a spiritual leader with the wisdom to focus on the only drama that really matters." in fact, on second reading, i missed how well you described Jesus, and how much He did that didn't focus just on the eternal. his compassion and his mercy - the healings He did - the way He wept at lazarus' tomb - were these all contrived, and simply with eternity in sight? some might argue they were; if so, He was little more than someone who did fancy object lessons. i would have felt used. i've made the argument before - maybe not with this (tough) crowd - that no one who believes in hell - a 'view to the eternal,' if you will - can tell me they 'love their children' - the view to the 'practical,' perhaps. why? because there's a chance that they (the parent) will go to heaven, and one of their children might wind up in hell. and yet, somehow, they'll sit in heaven and not worry about it or even shed a tear. (one calloused writer, Robert Jeffress - a 'revered apologist' [cough, cough] - compared this scene to you eating steak while someone else ate hamburger... that would be laughable if it wasn't so sad.) the answer and explanation that i usually get (those that don't deal in ground beef, that is) is that somehow God will clear their minds to see things as they really ought to be seen. now, if somehow 'God's love' is expressed via hell, and someday i'll see through His eyes - the ultimate 'eternal view' - that burning my child forever and ever is the way i should truly express my love for my child, then i'd say one never ever truly knows what loving their child is in this life. (and it's that elevation of the eternal to 'the only drama that matters' that leads to mothers killing their children because 'God told them to', by the way.) now, i'll NEVER argue that most pastors and ministers aren't motivated by their own guilt and failure to do what they do - i can speak from experience on that. that's an excellent point you make. but maybe i'm missing your real point...? mike rucker fairburn, georgia, usa

Report Abuse

Skye Jethani

February 02, 2009  4:32pm

Mike, As always you've provided an energetic and passionate commentary that provokes conversation and response. I greatly appreciate that. But if equal energy and passion had been spent reading my post you may not have missed its point. You've jumped to the conclusion that by "eternity" both Thomas Kelly and I are speaking of heaven, mansions, and final rewards. In fact, I was referring to none of the above, and a reading of Kelly's work would affirm the same. For the record, I believe that what we do here, now, on the earth, and in our present lives does have incredible importance. I too am opposed to any Christianity that allows the believer to dismiss this world in favor of the next. I humbly suggest that we all consider that "eternal" is a word that can refer to both the present as well as the future. It speaks not only of what is to come, but that which already is and will endure through all ages. Skye

Report Abuse

mike rucker

February 02, 2009  3:36pm

"At any given moment we are each engaged in three dramas, but only one of them ultimately matters." i wholeheartedly... ...disagree. it's the old view of 'salvation' as heaven vs. hell rearing its ugly (and brainless) head again. it's the view that 'only eternity matters' discounting again our lives here on earth, and missing completely the rainbow of redemption revealed in romans. if, skye, everything DOES come down to eternity, then i'd argue it's that very belief which makes the practical and the 'theoretical' here matter all the more - since it plays no small hand in how eternity will play out for an individual. what does the term 'shepherd' mean if only eternity 'ultimately matters'? shepherd is an active verb. what action is needed past the preacher's presentation of the gospel and the hand lifted with every head bowed and every eye closed? there may be eternal rewards based on what we do here. but that shouldn't be our sole motivation for doing good in THIS life, with it's own revelation of what 'matters.' in fact, it's the action done with NO expectation of an eternal reward which is the truest good deed, isn't it? in the end, it's 'thy kingdom come', and not the 'mansion over the hilltop' that's truly scriptural. mike rucker fairburn, georgia, usa

Report Abuse

prophetik soul

February 01, 2009  4:01pm

Very insightful and filled with discernment. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why churches look and function more like businesses today. We mistake outward success and pragmatism which is seen in many secular business leaders for spiritual depth.

Report Abuse

Kathy Patel

February 01, 2009  12:08pm

I am sooo proud of you and I am really enjoying following your work on the internet. Keep us thinking and keep your critical mind sharp.

Report Abuse


January 30, 2009  9:04am

Wow, did we all need that word in days such as these–thanks!

Report Abuse