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The Church Needs Less Precept And More Concept And Percept Thinking

There is a fundamental difference between ancient indigenous peoples, ancient Greeks, and modern Americans that provides timely insight for today’s church leaders. Today we are people of precept. We are rule and law driven society that relies on documents such as the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and laws passed by elected officials to bring order to our lives. We change our precepts (rules or laws) when we want to change the world in which we live.

The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, were people of concept. They were interested, not in rules, but rather in ideas. They believed that a single idea could change the world and that there is nothing as powerful and relevant as an idea whose time had come.

Ancient indigenous peoples tended to be people of percept. When they wanted to change their world, they shifted their perception of their lives. They believed that if they interiorly envisioned a preferred future, their outer-world would be changed. Elders of indigenous cultures were known to sit in meditation envisioning the kind of world they wanted their children and grandchildren to inherit. For these indigenous peoples it was not about the rules or the ideas. It was about vision and Spirit.

Concept, Precept, and Percept Defined

As these terms can be confusing it is helpful to understand their definitions:

Concept: An idea, thought, construct, or notion; something conceived in the mind; a mental image or representation; imagining; formulating; practiced by Greek philosophers like Plato

Precept: A principle, authoritative rule, law, commandment, or tenant to regulate behavior, action, or thought….intended as a general rule of action or procedure; for Christians, The Ten Commandments

Percept: An object of perception; something that is perceived; an impression; a concept that is developed as a consequence of the process of perception; an impression obtained by the use of the senses; for church leaders, it is Holy Spirit inspired vision

Of the three, churches are most familiar with precepts…..commandments, doctrine, instruction, rules or direction dictating a way we should act or behave. Precepts are usually passed down to children by authority figures such as parents, teachers, and pastors. The term is encountered frequently in Holy Scripture, for example: “Thou hast commanded thy precepts to be kept diligently. O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping thy statutes!” (Psalm 119:4-5).

Long On Precept, Short On Percept And Concept

Let’s face it, most churches have their precepts down pat. They appear prominently on church websites, in Sunday School lessons, New Member and New Christian Classes, and are imbedded in every sermon. But regretfully, churches are less adept with conceptualizing new ideas and perceiving God’s vision for their future. And, arguably, in this post-modern, post-Christian, Me Too Movement, BLM, Cancel Culture, LGBQT+, Covid-19 ravaged world the evidence is mounting that emphasizing precepts alone has taken the church about as far as it can take her.

Hear me, I’m not down on precepts. I am primarily a precept thinker. My job as an Executive Pastor dealt frequently with precepts. Look at my blogs and resources and you will see that they are heavy on precepts. I believe practicing the right precepts is essential for efficient and effective leadership and management of churches, businesses, and organizations. Likewise, the teaching and understanding of precepts is essential to a strong spiritual foundation. That’s just it though, they are foundations that are meant to be built on and to support the right concepts (ideas) and percepts (vision).Regretfully too many churches are heavy on doctrine and light on the necessary ideas and vision to be effective in today’s world.

The Answer….Churches Need All Three

Most church leadership teams are dominated by precept thinkers, either by training or temperament. Therefore, churches tend to focus on ways to control behavior and outcomes through doctrine, programs, policies, procedures, and systems. What is lacking is conceptual, creative, and entrepreneurial thinking that produces fresh ideas and new results that add value to the mission of the church. And, maybe even more so, lacking is perceptual, future oriented, and visionary thinking that has the power to inspire, motivate, and challenge. Yet, all three types of thinking are necessary, if not essential, for a healthy and growing church or organization. In summary, without precept thinkers there is no structure, without conceptual thinkers there are no new ideas, and without perceptual thinkers there is no vision.

So What Now?

Armed with this knowledge and understanding, the wise church leader works diligently to see that the three different types of Spirit controlled thinkers are represented on all of their teams, staff, and committees. Each of the three types of thinkers can be found in every generation, but because we are strongly influenced by our own generational cultures and values our perspectives differ, as does their relevancy in any given situation. This means the input from precept, concept, and percept thinkers of different generations will vary significantly.

Another thing to keep in mind, regardless of temperament, those farther along on their spiritual journey, and who have done the necessary inner spiritual work, are more likely to perceive Holy Spirit inspired vision.

The bottom line take-a-way is that when the proper mix of Precept, Concept, and Percept thinkers, spread across multiple generations, are involved in church decision making, the odds of efficient, effective, creative, and visionary results are dramatically increased.


Posted on July 14, 2020

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5