Are We Theorists or Practitioners of Unity – The Proof is in the Pudding

We must be practitioners of unity rather than preachers of unity. This of course holds true of anything we might relay. The question must always be asked, “Am I a theorist of this or am I a practitioner of this?”

Theorists have knowledge and information and often a very strong desire toward something but they do not have an appreciable personal experience of what they teach; they have not yet personally succeeded towards the actual thing they so desire.

In the coaching world this is often the dilemma at hand. When coaches are working from theory they are incapable of taking their clients all the way through, so to speak. In contrast to this, when coaches are working from the perspective of a practitioner, one who has his or her own mastery of which they coach, they have the fine-tuned insights and wisdoms of those who have been there.

And this makes all the difference in the world. As a coach I have coached from both places. When I coached as a theorist I put all sorts of pressure on my clients to get what I vaguely alluded to. The undercurrent to my coaching was a sort of desperation for them to move forward so that I might be validated. This is awful, crazy kind of pressure to put on people.

When I coach as a practitioner I bring to the table and create a space of ease and confidence that encourages and empowers others. I know they can progress this same way, I know the inner workings, I know the path from beginning to end, and it makes all the difference. As practitioner my coaching is not heavy or combative but light and refreshing.

In translation and in regards to pleas of unity coming from within our churches and from our pulpits it is imperative that we look beneath the words of those who are preaching unity and perceive whether they are speaking from theory or from practice.

Theorists of unity are marked by a burning desire to see unity and they speak of it often. Yet theorists of unity often demand unity and there is an underlying pressure for the ‘people’ to get it. What is not understood by theorists of unity is that the moment one demands unity, unity is in fact broken.

Practitioners of unity are also marked by a burning desire to see unity but they speak of it rarely for they are too busy taking on 100% responsibility for the environment of unity around them. They are learning to be nurturers of unity and in turn become master growers of unity as do their people.

It is akin to parents with their toddlers. Imagine as a parent of a young child berating them to talk, “Talk damn it.”

Does the child in this kind of environment learn to talk sooner or later? Put under emotional pressure and under the fears of the parent that, “this child may never talk” the child regresses. Talking, this natural growth process, is hindered by the over-bearing and insecure admonitions of the parent.

The same goes for demands (or pleas or well-crafted arguments) of unity. Instead of nurturing unity these demands merely inculcate underlying fear, apprehension, anxiety, and a pervasive sense of failure. Unity cannot grow in this environment.

The ones pleading for unity in this way are often those ill-equipped to dispense it.

I write this today so that we may all take heed of theorists of unity. They will make you feel very bad. And it will be your fault. Avoid this at all costs.

In contrast practitioners of unity nurture respect, give honour, and invite differences. Consider the following.

Practitioners of Unity Refuse: 

  1. To set people up against each other
  2. To keep people small
  3. To be great (and don’t make a point of talking about not being great)
  4. To have secret conversations
  5. To have things their way
  6. To discount the opinions and experiences of others
  7. To humiliate and discredit others
  8. To put others on the spot
  9. To make excuses or cast blame

Practitioners of Unity Do:

  1. Listen well and with an intent of understanding rather than responding
  2. Invite varied opinions with an eye to strength found only in diversity
  3. Welcome tension as that creative space where humans thrive and grow
  4. Receive from what others are bringing to the table
  5. Work to establish safe spaces gauged by answers to this simple question, “Do you feel safe?”
  6. Determine their effectiveness based on the fruit – the proof is in the pudding, how good does the pudding taste?
  7. Continually work to increase gladness of heart in all interactions and situations
  8. Give and act in dignity and honor to all people
  9. Take 100% responsibility for the state of unity about them

I write this because I am concerned, as I work with pastors and churches in many places, that unity is an oft misunderstood Biblical command.

Within the church we too often seem to focus on the outer signs, and in some cases bully, to ensure veneers of unity rather than doing the hard work in ourselves as leaders to become agents of unity. And the difference is found in the fruit. God never said, “Make others be in unity with you.” Simply put we would hate to be preaching unity when we haven’t yet found it ourselves.

As leaders, no matter where or what we are leading, we must lead as practitioners. If something that you are working at is not working for you, is not ‘coming round’, then you are probably leading as a theorist. Stop and take the time, as much time as it takes, to become a practitioner. The change and resulting impact will prove to be profound.

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