Prescribe the solution, please!


The 7 steps to success. Don’t we wished it had worked for us. The 3 ways to reach your goals. If that had only worked for me. There are many prescriptions claiming to bring us the hope we desire, whatever the specific. Remember the old adage “early to bed, early to rise, makes one healthy, happy and wise.” There are many who follow the prescription but are not healthy, happy or wise. Without patterns in our lives we would be lost. They help us navigate daily routines, relationships and our understanding of how to fully engage in the world. However, patterns can be prescriptive or descriptive in nature. Prescriptive patterns are more specific, rigid and regular. They claim to give all people the same hope if they follow the recipe.

We are prone to see prescription as a solution for most problems. Let me explain. When I am in a group setting feeling insecure, I want someone to prescribe to me a way to fit in and belong. I am searching for a way to escape my insecurity and a prescription may just help. When I am invited to engage in spiritual community or live missionally I may look for a model to follow. I want to know the right way to participate and limit my failures or deal with my feelings of inadequacy. A prescription may just do that for me. This is a prescriptive approach to life. Prescriptive solutions are good and necessary but are not always the best approach to patterns for spiritual community, faith and relationships.

In a descriptive pattern one size does not fit all. Descriptive patterns of life describe what is happening in real time, rather than prescribe the solution for all people of all times. Descriptive patterns make room for paradox, mystery and uncertainty. Descriptive patterns know that each of our children need to be raised differently. What worked for one child won’t for another. It entails interaction not mass production. Maryanne and I raise our children through descriptive patterns. We discipline each of our children differently. How we talk to them, form expectations and determine what is necessary relates to the factors of who they are, their level of maturity and the level of trust they have formed with us. We are developing 4 individuals into adulthood not mass producing adults. We are working with the unique variables of each child at each stage.

Nurturing organic community involves looking at things from a descriptive pattern. The organic order is made up of individual tailored responses formed out of relational contact. When it comes to church, we need to look for descriptive patterns and not for new models of prescription. The leader who is looking through a lens of prescription is asking, “what is the new model?” The leader looking through the lens of description is looking at the raw ingredients around them to effect change. Descriptive patterns search for the right questions before the right answers. Right answers to wrong questions aren’t all that helpful in organic order. Joseph Myers in his book Organic Community says, “When people are planning a new initiative they often start with the question ‘where are we headed?’ This question prompts a point-by-point master plan of the future. The question ‘where are we headed’ is always answered with some form of ‘there’. From this question we develop a plan that is too precise and not precise enough. It is not very helpful to speak in terms of going from ‘here’ to ‘there’, because as living creatures we need the freedom to end up somewhere else. Begin with the ‘end in mind” many will say. How many times have you arrived at the place you planned to go only to find a uncertainty you did not expect. When planning a new initiative I prefer to ask the question “what are we hoping for?” The answer to this question will serve as an organic guide. Most likely the answer will allow enough flexibility to deal with future questions as they emerge. Our focus should be on the journey not the destination.“

The descriptive patterns of community life indicate that what structure allowed one to belong may not be meaningful to another. It implies that what ignites one to live missionally may not ignite another. It means as leaders we become developers of people not just producers of programs. Reggie Mc Neal says, “People often ask me, ‘Doesn’t this customization feed the consumer church economy?’ The answer would be yes if we were trying to sell a product. But the product and purchase we are after in this case is a Jesus follower who is more convinced and more intentional than ever to pursue the life Jesus wants for the person. That’s hardly a consumerist outcome!”

Jesus invited some fisherman to come follow him. What was once meant as a descriptive invitation to a group of fisherman has been prescribed to many since those words were penned. Not all of his disciples were asked to follow in this way. This was for a specific group of individuals in a specific time. The organic order says follow me with who you are. Jesus was using organic order to speak to them by looking at the raw ingredients around him. They were fisherman.

How do you understand patterns in your life and community life?

Todd Rutkowski

~ by blueporch on April 19, 2010.

4 Responses to “Prescribe the solution, please!”

  1. Jesus recognized the unique flame of longing and belonging within each person he encountered, and he showed them, men and women, dignity and respect because of it. The following poem comes to mind when I think of any individual’s apprehensive response to valuable, healthy community life….

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
    talented and fabulous?
    Actually, who are you not to be?
    You are a child of God.
    Your playing small does not serve the world.
    There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
    people won’t feel insecure around you.
    We were born to make manifest the glory of
    God that is within us.
    It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
    And as we let our own light shine,
    we unconsciously give other people
    permission to do the same.
    As we are liberated from our own fear,
    Our presence automatically liberates others.”

    —Marianne Williamson

  2. So often I wish there was just a “step 1, 2, 3” prescription for all of life’s messy stuff. But then life wouldn’t be life. And as you say, it gets ugly when prescriptive patterns wholly supplant descriptive ones.

    My paraphrase of Proverbs 14:4 would be “When there’s no cow crap in the cattle stall, there’s no cow. And when there’s no cow, what’s the point?” Or “no crap, no life.”

    I sometimes wonder what heaven will be like in this regard. Our current reality of both longing for everything to be not messy and controllable (prescribed) and yearning for the unknown/the adventure/”real life” together creates a constant uncomfortable tension. In this world, the euphoria of the highs has so much to do with its contrast to the devastation of the lows that the two are inseparable. Will they be separable in heaven? What will that wonderful God-version of chaotic safety actually look and feel like? How much of this life’s tension is a byproduct of living in a fallen world, and how much of it is a wonderful reality of how God has made us?

  3. I love that you gave me a new way of thinking with the “What are we looking for” question replacing the “where are we headed” question. All of a sudden I can put certain things into a context that makes my heart feel glad and light. It opens up for me the freedom to go on an adventure with Jesus. I haven’t been able to express it correctly but now feel as though I can not only express it but explain it. As we develop relationships in the community we live in the ides you have expressed here are so helpful and freeing. Thanks Todd.

  4. I guess we are faced once again with the question… is it about the destination or the journey. I spent most of my life trying to get somewhere (and got many places) but missed the joy and sorrows of the journey along the way. Learning to live in the journey…

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