Is pragmatism a dirty word?

It seems pragmatism is on the nose. I’ve read a few posts around the Christian blogosphere that bag out a “pragmatic” approach to ministry.

Why is this? Am I missing something? I would have thought a ministry based on the ability to know and proclaim an absolute truth, where the methodology of communication is based roughly on “that which works” was both right and Biblical – those would seem to be key areas of the pragmatic school of thought – and yet, we seem to be so keen for our ministries not to be ego boosting that we’re fleeing the notion of pragmatism having a bearing on what we do.

Didn’t God give us the innate ability to strategise, plan for the future, and gifts to equip us for ministry. Shouldn’t we work with these gifts in a way that maximises our return (while being faithful to other imperatives – like not being proud etc). Does pragmatism necessarily lead to people planting churches with big screen video links?

This whole anti-pragmatism thing is strange to me. Perhaps I’m getting the wrong end of the stick… your thoughts? 


Gordon Cheng says:

The problem is not so much pragmatism, as the primacy of pragmatism in thinking about the world and the gospel.

To take just one silly example, everyone knows that if your church has no car-parking spaces, you’ve already limited the size of your congregation to the numbers that can reasonably walk to the church from the surrounding neighbourhood without too much inconvenience.

But if the entire post-church conversation and ministry planning meetings is given over to whining about carparking and plotting to build a multi-level carpark where the minister’s house currently is, pragmatism has turned from servant to master.

It’s not usually as easy to spot as in this example, and people always protest (when they’re sprung) that they’re not doing it, or that of course they acknowledge your point but in this case, we have to make an exception.

Gordon Cheng says:

‘are’ not ‘is’. soz.

Geoff says:

What have you been reading around the blogosphere about it Nath? Got any links.

Nathan says:

Yeah, there was an article about the Geneva Planting Network I linked to the other day from and the comments on the post on the fountainside about advertising regional ministry…

There have been a few other things, but it’s mostly a vibe.

I’m genuinely open to being persuaded – so thanks Gordo for your input. It’s helpful. I guess, like all things, there’s hyper-pragmatism that tars all pragmatism with the same brush. I’d hate to see us reject what works in order to embrace what doesn’t and feel good about doing it…

Leah says:

I’ve never really done an in-depth study of the word ‘pragmatism’, but from what I knew of it, I always thought it was a good, common-sense type thing…