Often there may be a gap between what we know and what we do. For example, although we know that God is all-powerful, loving, and good, we sometimes trust in ourselves rather than in Him. Perhaps this gap between what we know and what we do reflects a gap between what we know with our heads and what we know with our hearts. Let’s look at some examples of the Knowing-Doing Gap in the life arena.
Recognizing the Gap
In the book The Knowing-Doing Gap, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton wrote about the gap as seen in the business world, where much time and money are spent on learning how to improve the way things are done. However, new ideas often are not implemented, leaving businesses with little to show for their newly acquired knowledge. Although employees may return from workshops with binders full of valuable information, they may put the binders on the shelf and resume business as usual.
Does your church have a Knowing-Doing Gap? You’ve probably seen people sometimes failing to act on information they know to be true. This is particularly evident in the life arena, where attacks on life are so common in our culture. Yet despite knowing that God values life, many people in our churches — and sometimes even churches themselves — remain silent.
Is there a Knowing-Doing Gap in your church in relation to the life arena? After a compelling sermon or presentation, do people mentally “put the binder on the shelf?” As a leader in the life arena, how can you turn knowledge into engagement?
Reasons for the Gap
People may have many different motivations for being involved in life ministry. We can all agree that the life arena can be overwhelming. There are many serious issues in our culture that are compounded by a political climate with vastly different viewpoints. This bleeds into the church with many believers being confused about life issues. So what is the motivation that will best help close the gap between knowing and doing? Yes, it’s the gospel! As we feel helpless looking at the enormity of the problem, we remind ourselves that Jesus rescued us from our helpless condition – we were dead in our sins when Jesus rescued us. Jesus transformed our hearts and works through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Although the culture of death surrounds us, Jesus’ rescue of us from sin and death has given us hope —and the desire to rescue others.
Some people confuse talking about a problem with taking action — as if merely talking about something takes the place of actually doing something about the problem. Talk is indispensable for defining the issues and for creating a plan of action — perhaps even for inspiring action. But it does not take the place of action itself. People often agree that someone should do something, but they stop short of seeing themselves as one who should take action.
Memory is another obstacle that gets in the way of doing. This is the reliance on doing things the way they’ve always been done. This actually keeps people from thinking and reflecting on a new way of approaching a problem. Considering new options for action can make some people uncomfortable, because they may not want to work through the uncertainties related to new ideas and a new process. Most people desire closure and the secure feeling that everything has been planned. We who minister in the life arena must be willing to step out of our comfort zone as we confront new issues that we’ve not had to think about before. Twenty years ago, who would have thought that we would be discussing the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide as a reality in our culture?
Fear of rocking the boat is another obstacle to putting what we know into action. There are churches that do not discuss life issues because they do not want to offend people in their congregation or make people uncomfortable. This is often in relation to the possibility that there may be a woman in the congregation who has had an abortion and they would not want to add undue hurt. It is true that there probably are women in your church who have had an abortion — the solution is not to ignore that fact but to talk about it and to offer healing through Jesus.
In addition to the Knowing-Doing Gap, there may be another relevant gap in the life arena: the Ignorance-Knowledge Gap. In some churches where life issues are not addressed, there are those who aren’t clear about why doctor-assisted suicide is outside of God’s plan, or why abortion is wrong. You might hear people say, “I would never have an abortion, but I respect another person’s right to do so.” I recently heard about a teenager who told her parents that her supervisor at her job was pregnant and considering an abortion. The ensuing conversation revealed that the teenage girl knew abortion was wrong but didn’t actually know what happened during an abortion. That is not surprising, given that our culture speaks of abortion as an acceptable birth control method or a “solution” to a problem. This is an illustration of the Ignorance-Knowledge Gap.
Addressing the Gaps in Your Church
As we equip our churches to be gospel-driven champions of life, we must be mindful of where our congregations fall on the continuums from ignorance to knowledge, and from knowledge to action. Here are a few suggestions for addressing gaps that may exist in your church.
At Churches for Life, we often talk about building trust within the Life Team, with church leaders, and with members of the church. One Life Team Leader decided to have a personal conversation with each one of the elders at her church. She wanted to find out what their individual passions were in the life arena. Her meetings consisted of asking questions and listening to the hearts of the leaders in her church. This action also had the extra benefit of the church leaders getting to know her better.
Start with your Life Team. A great way to address a new life issue is for the Life Team to learn about it together. This might be done by reading an article together and discussing it, by watching a DVD (or YouTube video) together and discussing it, or by reading a book together and discussing it a chapter at a time over the course of several months. Life Teams often debrief with one another after attending a life-affirming conference (such the CFL Summit) — sharing what they learned with one another. After a Life Team has gained new information, the next step for the Team is determining how to share the information with the congregation and determining what actions might appropriately accompany the learning.
Do simple but important things on a regular basis. This could be submitting prayer requests to the prayer team in your church or making an announcement about an upcoming life-affirming event. Remember that people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed, so develop the “drip, drip, drip” method of communication — just a little bit at a time. As a visual reminder, one church handed out refrigerator magnets with pictures of different facets of the life arena to each family on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.
Keep simple things simple, and guard against making simple things more complex than they need to be. As you discuss initiatives with your Team, consider areas in the life arena where the church needs to be equipped. Ask “What is the simplest way that we can begin this conversation in our church?” Brainstorm non-threatening ways to equip your church, such as a family movie night followed by a discussion.
Knowing Is Doing
Knowledge that is put into action is likely to be far deeper than knowledge that is confined to the head. James addresses this with the early church in James 1:22–25: Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. Let’s follow this example by doing what we know to be right — and leading others to do the same.
Pfeffer, Jeffrey and Sutton, Robert I. The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000.