Rhetoric vs. Reality

It is much easier to describe what you would like to do rather than actually do it. This is true of real life and true of just about every organization. This can also be true for the local church. There is an ideal of God to be pursued and the first step is often in using our rhetoric to call people to God’s ideal. When the reality doesn’t quickly follow the rhetoric, it can be a source of frustration and criticism.

So when the rhetoric of a church outpaces or looks different from the reality, what should you do about it?

Check Your Rhetoric with Your Reality

There is only one way to judge the effectiveness of your rhetoric and that is by your reality. The vision you have for your church, ministry, or small group can be great, but if your rhetoric presents a lofty picture it must be paired with the realistic path to get there. Otherwise, you have great sound bites and nothing to show for it.

At times, you must check and change your rhetoric to address your reality. Don’t shy away from weakness or even the word failure when it comes to accomplishing the vision or goals. Identifying and working on weakness and failure is the only way to achieve the reality you are seeking.

Other times, the rhetoric may need to altogether change. This can be true of how people can use the “movement” rhetoric in the church today. Many are talking about a church planting movement, disciple making movement, or missional movement. The vision is to see many churches, many disciples, and many missionaries. It is not a bad vision or idea, but it often focuses on the end ignoring the means. It sounds exciting and sensational so it gets tossed around as if calling people to a great idea is the only thing needed to accomplish it. Any great movement that happens is usually identified after the fact and is the result of consistent faithfulness through the mundane that becomes the monumental.

The movement rhetoric in the church seems like a rush to recreate Pentecost without sitting in the upper room praying first. There can be a problem with this type of rhetoric because it presents an incomplete picture of how it gets accomplished. It’s unhelpful and even destructive rhetoric that needs to change.

Pursue the Reality of the Rhetoric

But we can’t stay merely frustrated with a reality that doesn’t match the rhetoric. We must become a people that pursue the ideal. God’s ideals are not the problem; our brokenness is what impedes our ability to see them come to fruition. The good news is that God is so passionate about seeing His ideals accomplished in and through us that He meets us in our brokenness through Jesus’ death and resurrection, to save us from our sins and set us on His mission. Living out this gospel truth is the only way to pursue the reality of the rhetoric.

If you are in the church being called to a great vision, but not seeing it accomplished in reality, embrace the pursuit of the vision. I’ve seen too many people (and been one) to lob verbal grenades from afar at how the church isn’t facing the reality of the situation.

Have you ever considered that maybe that’s why you are there?

Maybe God has revealed the vision to others so that you and the church can work together towards its fruition. God’s ideals are worth pursuing and His gospel enables all of us to be a part of the pursuit. Each person in the church must participate in pursuing the reality or it will never move past rhetoric.

But how do we move from the status quo to a new reality?

Be Gracious Towards Reality

The status quo is likely imperfect whether it’s in your personal life, church, or small group. The rebel against the status quo is not to abandon all aspects of it and swing the pendulum hard the other way. It must be doing the hard and messy work of repairing and fixing the brokenness of the status quo.

It can be a long journey or a small fix, but both need a gracious approach that has been modeled by Jesus to us. He entered our broken world, took our brokenness and sets us back on His ways by faith toward His ideal.

So when you see flawed leadership, feel your small group leader has messed up, or grow weary of the rhetoric not matching the reality, approach the situation with grace. Approach the situation seeking understanding and being available to work on the solution.

Celebrate the “Minor” Realities

Lastly, celebrate the minor glimpses you see of the rhetoric coming to fruition. Success is not only found and to be celebrated when we believe a movement is happening, it’s too be celebrated every step along the way.

All great rhetoric has an ultimate reality that includes minor victories. Celebrate the minor victories to encourage and inspire the move towards reality. Hopefully the church can be a place that presents God’s ideals with appropriate rhetoric, but does not ignore or simply maintain the broken reality.

One response to “Rhetoric vs. Reality”

  1. Great post I loved the idea of Rhetoric vs Reality. Some people talk about it in terms of “here” (reality) to “there” (vision / rhetoric). But I think the idea of celebrating mini-milestones as you go is important. The bigger the vision the longer the journey, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see progress and celebrate movement.

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