Tragedy of the Commons

More simply titled, “jackassery.”

The theory believes that humans will usually exploit shared resources, pursuing their own selfish interests.  It was originally proposed in an 1833 essay regarding overgrazing on common land in England.  Ranchers would corral as many of their own cattle, or sheep, onto “the commons” as possible.  The core of the problem warns that the shared parts will be abused and everyone will eventually when grass no longer grows for anyone at all on the commons.

Viewing the church as a shared ventured, the “Tragedy of the Commons” has insight for us.  Being human, we will have a tendency to resort to self will and thus our carnal nature till deprive strength in the entire spiritual concept of Fellowship.  Instead of positive power through “Synergy,” we weaken our vision and hope through a few draining the active flow of potential.


1) Job Descriptions, clarify and not assume committee duties.  Go ahead and list the objectives in summary, bulleted fashion should be sufficient to guide the tasks.  Do whatever you may to kick out any assumptions, which leave vulnerable holes in any venture.

2) Board clarifications – clarify and rule on committee boundaries, like an NFL referee.  An important reason for a “report and permit” emphasis in meetings.  It may be a primitive method, but we should not stray too far from it.  Informing Board is good so they may clarify plans and vision for the rest of the church, but also as a means of keeping everyone honest and on track.  If conflict has been an issue in the past, then make sure the Board Chair/Moderator has a regular checklist for all tasks, and do so before problems may arise.  Be proactive and undercut potential conflict before it can generate steam, Who will do what, when, where; and who will not do what, when and where?

It may feel like you are stating the obvious because you are stating the obvious, but when dealing with humans you must continually remind them about their tasks parameters.  It will keep them on course and expose any selfish preferences which may arise that might tread on another’s work.  Do it like a girlfriend reminding her boyfriend that “after all, we are in a relationship.”  She is smart enough to know that sometimes wayward thinking boys need altering to wayward courses.

3) Shaming:  confronting the “greed is good” influence in our society, which has been eroding social integrity for decades.  Expose it for what it is, selfishness; Shame the adolescent behavior, but with some effect of empathy.

Dr. Steve Minor, Administrator

Bully Pulpit Abuse

AKA, “Waging a Personal Vendetta”

How do you preach fairly and faithfully when you have been under fire and deeply challenged with simply surviving, let alone projecting energy for uplifting sermons?  Let’s be honest.  The sermon you want to preach involves the specific agonies of your renewed faith in the existence of hell.  Explain how the flesh burns mercilessly off their bones, with no hope for relief.  They may want a simple glass of water, but never.  Their suffering must be complete, feeling every moment of pain you yourself has suffered.

Think about it for a few moments . . . is it out of your system, yet? … OK, may we return to reality now?

Does that help?  It may feel good.  Get it out of your system if that’s what you need, but in the need your woes will only be worse.  Seriously, you must guard the Gospel itself as Christ’s call against your own personal grievances and vindictive retribution.  Your sermons may not be as harsh as previously noted, but pay attention.  Some of that hate will manifest itself without realizing it.

Teddy Roosevelt is credited with animating the expression of “bully pulpit,” but it’s probably not what you may suspect.  It does now really have to do with turning pulpits into clubs and proceeding to war with a strong, yet heavy, club in hands.  Roosevelt held “bully” as a term of endearment.  In his time, it held a sense of wonderful.  It was his favorite adjective to describe a good time.  William Safire, Political Dictionary, defines it as

“an active use of the president’s prestige and high visibility to inspire or moralize.”

It’s an advantage providing the intentions are noble enough.  Allowing your preaching to seize an unfair advantage over your adversaries is an abuse not easy to live down.  Once this sin is committed, you may never live it down.  Your preaching can easily be spoiled with such selfish use of God’s grace.

The Problems with Personal Vendettas.

1) You will damage your own esteem in this church.

  1. a) you are tipping off your opponents about just where you are holding on. When you are in the midst of conflict, you must play with care; holding your cards close always guarded without benefit of others peaking.
  2. b) Grinding your issues does not help. You are reliving pain and now you have expanded it into a public arena. Preaching is never a means to vet the pressure. You will only increase the pressure by continually reliving it every Sunday.  Digging this up every week will only renew its toxic effects upon your soul.

2) You will empower your antagonists

Expressing too much rage will assure your opponents that their strategies are working, you are wearing down.  Expressing strength will discourage them, but stooping to low standards will expose a weakness.  They just might interpret such rants as close to collapsing and opening the way for their full coup.

Typically, they tuned you out long ago, but an occasional word will perk the attention.  If they interpret themselves as the focus the only result for them will be pure ego.  Despite the rambling rhetoric, which they never catch, they will be on the phone this afternoon to brag about being the headline of today’s sermon.  The moral of what you meant to reveal will never see the light of consciousness in their minds.  They will only hear, “it was about me, me and me!”  You will be handing them an adrenaline rush on a silver platter.

3) You have let down the faithful who came to church this morning searching for some degree of hope to deal with their own problems.  They will be walking away today confused about what that was all about.  They are outsiders to all this.  Remember, antagonists are typically less than 5% of your church, which means 95% and more are present with pure hearted questions about faith.  Using your pulpit to grind an elusive and confusing ax will fail your church.  Pay attention to those wanting to be there for good.  Why would you waste such an opportunity focused on such a small percentage of contrariness?

4) You have failed God.  He has drawn people to hear the gospel and find hope, and how have you responded?  You have made it forum of your wounded ego.  How terrible to let God down.  You have betrayed your calling to “rightly divide the truth,” and proclaim good news of Gospel hope.

Try some of these precautions,

1) Benefit of long range planning.  If anyone reads a personal affront this morning you must be quick to point out how many weeks/months ago this topic was selected and the basic flow was set.  It has not risen from this past week’s tension.  It’s a safe out, and it will help you to stay focused in more neutral time of planning.

2) Just do the lectionary.  Whatever your reluctance may have been, here is a significant asset to use it.  It will ease your own tension in sermon prep and keep you on a safer path to avoid controversy and save your energy for better things.

3) Recruit a Sermon referee to make judgment calls.  Look up your wedding vows, maybe there is something in there you could contrive to persuade your spouse to help.  Talk to your peers.  Run the theme by your Board Chair of Elder Chair.  They may give you good “objective” counsel which stress will have exhausted.  And even if they never say anything, just knowing someone will be making a “call” on your work may be enough to keep you honest and on track.

When the stress is running high, you must pay close attention to your sermon topics, themes and general scripture references.  It will reveal what is “really” going on inside which may disturb you to see your deeper pain of resentment.  Your targeted abusers will probably have phased out anything you may say from the pulpit, but if they catch any of your preaching gone into “ranting,” you have made yourself vulnerable to very unnecessary, renewed attacks.

Dr. Steve Minor, Administrator

Not That Smart — Really

Dangerous, but Inept

Ever notice the less someone knows about something the more they will talk, chatter and boast about knowing all the is to know about that particular something.  Confident (AKA, “honest”) people will never need to make an issue about what they know.  Ignorance tends to make on bolder, but not actually smarter.  Concisely stated in their own words,

“This overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

From their 2009 paper, Unskilled and Unaware of It: “How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” published on-line,

This is the work of David Dunning and Justin Kruger (his student turned colleague), from Cornell University, known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a psychological study based on the human tendency to boast about what we know nothing about.  As Phil Travers notes, “If you can’t do content, volume is the next best thing.”

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”
Confucius (551–479 BC)

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) (As You Like It, V. i.)

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points.”
— Bertrand Russell, The Triumph of Stupidity (May 10, 1933)

“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.”
—attributed to Socrates, from Plato, Apology

Dunning-Kruger investigates the limits of our self-knowledge and basic naivete in personal awareness. Their findings show that people unskilled in an assumed competence do not realize just how inept they really are, because they do not realize what understanding would involve.  Thus, human naivete will allow a person to continue meddling in church affairs despite not really knowing what they are doing.  They are oblivious to the results of their deeds.

When Jesus established knowing false teachers/meddlers “by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16), the Dunning-Kruger Effect would reveal a profound and arrogant visions of grandeur.

The very personal skill of self evaluation is not present in people who meddle in church matters, who assume they are experts in their own fantasies.

“Ignorance rules the meddlesome mind.”
— Lucas Morgan

They are too incompetent to know how incompetent they are.

In the sports world, such semi-fantasy professionals are known as “Monday Morning Quarterbacks.”  After the big game day of Sunday morning, these rambling know-it-alls will tell you every misdeed of the QB from yesterday’s game.  Despite having no experience, perhaps never even been on a football field, yet they know what went wrong and if only they were the QB they would know this, that and everything else that could have happened.

Churches have the same types as well, — Monday Morning Preachers (MMP) — although sometimes you do not have to wait until Monday morning, they are ready to begin their criticizing by after church dinner or even by coffee fellowship hour.  Despite no seminary training, or any experience in ordained ministry, yet they know all there could be possibly be needed to know that the Pastor somehow does not know what they are doing, and if people would just listen to the MMP then we could clear up this community and usher in Christ’s golden millennium and etc., etc..

That’s what the Dunning-Kruger Effect is about.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
— Proverbs 1:7

Real knowledge begins with acknowledging what we do not know; our human capacities and limitations.  Then we can properly assess where we are in life and start with an honest foundation for the mind, built on reality not the clouds of delusion.

The effective Christian life requires the first step of getting over yourself,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves (give up the ego ya-da-da) and take up their cross and follow me.”
— Mark 8:34


Dr. Steve Minor, Administrator