A False Trichotomy

By Terran Williams

One of my sons is a natural-born competitor. Through his eyes, every normal activity is a race to the finish. He’s the first to get dressed every morning, the first to finish his breakfast and the very last to let go of the invisible “score card” we all tend to keep in our heads at times. Although we’ve told him winning isn’t everything about a thousand times, I’m still not sure he buys it. A few years ago, I remember him crawling onto my lap and asking me if I loved him.

“Of course!” I replied.

“But do you love me the most?”

I held him tightly. This small boy, whom I love with all of my heart, and yet no more than any of his precious siblings. Each one, so different to the others, and yet all of them, equally and fiercely loved. Still holding him to my chest, I did my best to explain how some things were never meant to be pitted against one another, that not everything in life is a race and not everyone is a competitor.

“Your brothers and sister are not your rivals, my boy. They are your greatest allies. Here to sharpen you, love you, be loved back by you and help you to become all you are meant to become.”

This is not only true of siblings is it? There are many things in life, and indeed in church life, that we can mistakenly see as being opposed to one another but in actual fact, were always meant to work together for the greater good.

  • Men vs Women.
  • The Spirit vs the Word.
  • Love vs Truth.
  • Equality vs Ability.
  • Salvation vs Works.

I don’t know about you, but after more than two decades in church leadership, I have been privy to countless debates and conversations on how to do church right. In our genuine desire to honour God and love and serve people well, we circle round the same questions again and again…

  • In our Sunday meetings, are we meant to primarily disciple believers or reach new people for Christ?
  • Should we try to reach more people for Christ by getting them to come to church services or by sending our people out to them during the week? ‘What’s more important – ‘come and see’ or ‘go and tell’?
  • Are we making true disciples through all our church activities? What does genuine discipleship really look like in our context today?
  • How can we best serve and send our people out on daily mission and how can we collectively better reach people for Christ and help them cross the line of faith?

In the worst forms of these conversations, we pick one of these aspects and pit it against the others. Choosing what we see to be the most important aspect in our way of doing church, we contend for why it is superior or more biblical.

As I have reflected on hundreds of these conversations and debates, I have come to believe that we can tend toward a false trichotomy in our ministry philosophy.

A dichotomy is “a division or contrast between two things that are opposed or entirely different.”

While there are very real dichotomies, there are also loads of false dichotomies too –when we wrongly see two things as being in opposition or contradiction to one another, instead of compatible and complementary.

In this same line of thought, a false trichotomy (by my own definition) is when three things are wrongly pitted against each other.

In my experience, there are three aspects of ministry that can at times appear to be in opposition to one another, but were in fact always meant to complement and strengthen one another:

Discipleship. Mission. Magnetism.

My heartfelt prayer as you read further is that your current focus and ministry passion would in no way be diminished or diluted, but that you would see that when these aspects are seen as allies rather than rivals, everybody wins.

To echo what I said to my competitive son,

“Discipleship, mission and magnetism are not rival church focuses. They are each other’s greatest allies. They are meant to sharpen one another and help the church become all she was meant to become.”

This is an excerpt from a new book by Terran Williams – download it for free below.

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