Why a Life Formula Won’t Work

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Straight up, formulas don’t work in real life.

If you’re baking a cake, you can use a formula.

If you’re mixing chemicals, I’d recommend you get a formula.

If you want to know how big to make the beams on your floor so the second story won’t collapse onto the first, by all means, please use a formula.

But once you start planning for college entrance, trying to win a sporting event, thinking about getting married, finding a job or anything else involving the variables called “real people and real life,” then go ahead and dump your formula, it won’t work. You just entered the world of probabilities, and formulas are now all qualified with words like “usually,” “often” and “most.”

When we assume we can use a formula to make the future what we want it to be, we end up with a bucket full of regret and a feeling of being betrayed by the system. I wish I could list the number of formulas I thought would work that did not. I was all but promised a set of things would happen when I blogged consistently, when I did xyz as a dad or husband, when I wrote a book, when I graduated from high school got a bachelors degree and again when I got my M.Div…and a whole lot more. You name it, all of them had promises of what they would lead to. But they rarely, and sometimes never, did.

But this truth doesn’t seem to stop people from trying to sell me on their formula. The other day someone did it with the “key” to writing. Another guy told me the “key” to getting volunteers. A lot of times, people try and turn the Bible into a formula too. They see it almost exclusively as an “If you do this, then this will happen…either for good or bad” kind of resource. While there are certainly some “if/then” truths in the Scriptures, it is also equally true that the Bible is not a book of formulas. The most famous of these being the entire book of Proverbs. It’s filled with “if/then” statements that are “wisdom” for living, not formulas you can plug and chug through.

The one that bugs me the most is Proverbs 22:6ish. “Train a child up by [insert your own list of good behavior, ideas and a litany of Christian ideas here] and when they grow old, they will not depart from it.” Right. So every kid that goes astray can be traced back to a failed ingredient in the formula. Mom didn’t read enough scripture to them, dad didn’t come home from work early enough, their church wasn’t ______ enough…and on and on it goes.

But if you have ever taken a seminary class on the book of Proverbs, then you know that all good scholars will tell you “proverbs are not promises,” they are “wisdom literature filled with probabilities.” Yes, if you hang out with people who do “x,” you’re more likely than not to do “y” with them. Maybe A LOT more likely to do that. But we all can give evidence of the exceptions, because for better or worse, people are always screwing up the formulas.

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Brian Berry
Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.

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