How do people change? By changing their mind first and then their behavior follows? Or by changing their behavior first, and their mind follows? I’ve noticed both approaches in the church today.
1. “People think their way into a new way of acting.”
The first approach aims an argument at a person’s mind believing once they are convinced their life will follow their head. If you take this position you study hard for sermons, present logical arguments as if you are outlining a case to a jury, and present them in sequential order attempting to persuade the listener to change their mind. You assume if they change their beliefs their life will follow. This approach is especially popular with academic communities. This approach would try to fix a stale marriage by persuading the couple of the important of a dynamic relationship assuming that once they believed this he would behave likewise.
2. “People act their way into a new way of thinking.”
The second approach starts at the other end—with a person’s behavior not their thinking. It attempts to help people act right first, believing that right thinking will follow right acting. Sermons from people with this view are not so much logical as helpful and instructive. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote fits into this second category: “Act as you want to be and you will be as you act.” For the stale marriage above someone with this approach would try to get the guy to send roses to his wife or the wife to put little notes in the guy’s lunch assuming that these actions would eventually escalate into a refreshed marriage and new way of thinking about their marriage.
So what do you think?
Which one of these views do you think is right—entering life change through the belief door or the behavioral door?
Which is more effective?
How does each approach affect how we would present the gospel and do evangelism?
Which approach would be more popular in an academic setting?
Which approach would be more popular with the social sciences—psychology, sociology etc.?
Which approach did John Wesley often suggest?
Which approach works better in your life?
I don’t know which door you prefer, but I know what many of my students would say. They would nod at both approaches and present a third position:
3. “People feel their way into a new way of thinking and acting.”
The notion here is that feelings prompt both belief and behavior. This “third door” to life change is not new—it is squarely in the revivalist tradition where emotion has always been used to elicit response and life change. However, though it is in our tradition, my students often face resistance—even scoffing—from their parent’s generation (who are often “refugees of revivalism”). These parents dismiss feelings as shallow and immature. However, the students merely shrug their shoulders and remark “My folk’s way hasn’t worked to fix their stale marriage.”
Whatever. If someone believes people feel their way into new behaviors and beliefs can you imagine how it changes the way they would go about doing evangelism, or discipleship and (especially) worship?
And now the question: The easy answer to all these multiple choice columns is always, “Both/and.” OK, then how would you draw a model of change that accounts for all three: beliefs, behavior and feeling—the cognitive, the affective, and the behavioral domains?
So what do you think?
©Keith Drury. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.