changing minds without changing patterns

Scott Cormode writes:

We have all met new parents who vow that they will not make the same mistakes their own parents made. They will not raise their voices or indulge their children or succumb to whatever excess they saw in their own upbringing. And many of us greet those idealistic pronouncements with a wry smile. For it is a difficult thing to escape one’s initial formation. These new parents lack models for imagining different behavior.

They may not want to replicate their parents’ behavior but they often do not have any other behavior to offer in its place. When angry, they do not know what to do besides shout. So, in the end, they fall into old patterns and replicate their parents’ now discredited ways. When we seek to change only the minds of our students (without giving them opportunities to invent and practice new patterns of action), we cast them as those idealistic young parents.

They can critique the methods that formed them. But, in the end, they end up replicating those mistakes in their ministering contexts because they have no other models for action. They have not been taught how to put their new thinking into action and eventually they revert to old habits.

We have to spend as much time helping our students reflectively construct faithful action as we spend helping them critique the actions that people have taken in the past.

He’s writing about seminary education in this essay, but I think it’s true also for church. Which is why I have a lot of frustration about sermon prioritizing churches. Even when the preacher is very, very good there’s a disconnect between being convinced and transforming behavior. People can nod their heads and agree and be inspired all they want, but they have to also be given a forum for exploring new ways of acting and being and responding that helps them own the teaching and express it in their own lives to others.

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