Magazine article The Christian Century

The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church

Magazine article The Christian Century

The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church

Article excerpt

The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church

By Ken Evers-Hood

Cascade Books, 288 pp., $34.00 paperback

Here is a brave, wise book--brave in its use of jargon, and braver still in its portrait of a human Jesus. Ken EversHood, a pastor in Oregon, has absorbed the complex lessons of behavioral economists and translated them to his own work in the parish. Recognizing that congregational life takes place between is and ought--probably more is than ought--he has learned to accept parishioners as they are, and to admit his own habits of mind so he may become a better leader. "We can be taught!" he says.

Yet for every insight, he must explain himself. The word irrational, for example: rather than unreasonable or wild, it means to a behavioral economist anything other than a cold calculation of self-interest. Parishioners may have very good reasons--reasons of the heart--for resisting a leader's initiatives. EversHood is at his best when he describes such emotional wisdom.

"Theologians and pastors often behave like classical economists," he says. "We develop ideas, often biblically based ideas, about how people should behave. But then, of course, the reality of serving in actual churches is that people rarely behave as they should." He adds, "This is actually fantastic news," for when people disregard their self-interest, the gospel can happen.

Other terms he must unpack include "heuristics," "Schelling points," "decision quality chain," "modified behavioral chain," and "tornado diagram," along with the finer points of mathematical game theory. It takes a dogged reader to stay with him. But he rewards the effort with great stories--parables, if you will--in which the joke is on him. This is a good move for someone who could otherwise come off as too clever by half.

In one delightful passage Evers-Hood recalls coming to his present church and learning that a longtime feature of Sunday worship has been "the birthday chicken." People celebrating birthdays put an offering in a chicken-shaped basket, the congregation sings "Happy Birthday," and the pastor gives them a blessing. After his first Sunday, a lay leader told him everything was great ... except that he had done the chicken wrong. The birthday chicken does not appear in any Presbyterian book of worship. …

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