Cognitive Dissonance and the Journey to Becoming

Before I ever went into professional ministry, my degree and my vocation were in Social Work.

I often joke that having a Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) is a lot like knowing CPR: you know just enough to understand how bad a situation is and how much worse you could make it by trying to help.

There’s a lot of truth to that statement, But the fact is I learned a great deal in my time as a Social Worker that continues to inform my work as a pastor, including the notion of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when our actions are not in keeping with our understanding of who we are. For example, a woman who thinks of herself as kind while recognizing that all of her friends live in fear of her constant ridicule, or a man who thinks of himself as loyal even though he is cheating on his partner are folk living with cognitive dissonance.

As a minister, I often hear one of the most common criticism leveled at church folk – hypocrisy – as an issue of cognitive dissonance. Folk hear the church talking about love and forgiveness while they see it practicing active discrimination and condemnation. Folk hear the church talking about care for those who suffer while we spend most of our time and our resources serving our own members and servicing our own buildings. As a representative of the church I recognize these critiques as valid and well founded. We have a lot of work to do in order to live into the church God is calling us to be.

As Rob and I have gotten to know the vibrant, creative, life-giving community of Downtown Phoenix we have also encountered cognitive dissonance. Every day we meet generous people who care deeply about the service organization in their community but who don’t donate money or volunteer their time. Every day we meet deeply spiritual people who have no spiritual practice, no spiritual community, or no understanding of spirituality that challenges them to grow and thrive. This cognitive dissonance doesn’t make these people any less vibrant, creative, or life-giving – IT DOESN’T MAKE THEM BAD PEOPLE – it just means that they are not living fully into who they want to be in the world.

Think about that for a moment. Are you living fully into who you want to be in the world?

If this resonates with you there’s good news: as a people of faith we believe that it is never too late to grow into who you are called to be. Even better, City Square wants to help you do just that!

See folks, the church has been struggling for centuries with the cognitive dissonance that exists between the ideal God calls us to and the imperfect people we are and, while we’ve yet to get it right, we have gained a great deal of wisdom about what it means to live in this tension that might be useful to you in your own journey.

So if you’re a thinking person think about it, and if you’re a praying person pray about it. Who are you? Are you a kind person? A loving person? A brave person? Are you a person who takes time to care for others? Are you a person who takes time to care for yourself? Are you generous? Are you spiritual? Are you a leader? Are you a person of peace? Would the people around you recognize those things about you? What do you do each and every day to become a little more the person you want to be?

As you wrestle with these questions I hope you’ll share your reflections with us and help us hold a mirror up to ourselves so that, together, we can become more intentional about growing into who we are called to be as a community.

Welcome to the journey. Welcome to City Square Church.

One thought on “Cognitive Dissonance and the Journey to Becoming

  1. Evan Smith

    Brian, you truly walk the walk, and I find comfort in having solidarity with a fellow SW turned pastor. You and Rob are doing amazing things, and you and your ministry are always in my prayers. Keep fighting the good fight brother!

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