Ministry and the “Crystallization of Discontent”

Written by Carl Greene

June 29, 2022

This month you and I faced disappointments. We have been let down. There are friendships that have been derailed by some sort of friction. There are events that we were looking forward to that will not happen. What we thought would be a season of opportunity for the renewal of our local church coming out of COVID has ended up to be a discouraging, emotionally draining season of unmet expectations.[1]

Many of us want to give up.

We are tired and worn out. Yet, while discontentment is painful, it is also a potential catalyst for change. Discontentment can actually move us to making needed changes in our own lives and the life of the church. The key is that there is a “crystallization” of what we are feeling. We do not just complain about the issues that surround us or how we have been let down. We are motivated to act proactively to move out of the sea of discontentment that we are currently sick of. There is a crystallization of discontent.[2]

How do we move from giving up to motivation?

By feeling worse. Sort of. We need to allow ourselves to feel the pain. We need to acknowledge that we are not just experiencing a random bad issue, or an isolated bad day. When we start to link together the pieces of discontentment into a more systemic experience, we are crystallizing the discontentment.

In many ways, we need to move from assuming that a positive outcome will somehow organically develop to the realization that bad days will turn into bad years if we do not lean in with intentionality. When we admit that things are not working, that we truly are experiencing discontentment, we can then pull together the pieces of the puzzle and begin to look at alternative paths rather than hoping that life will magically improve.[3]

Let’s think about this as churches living in the shadow of COVID. In most churches people are not coming back to the worship service to pre-COVID levels. In fact, attendance is down in most settings. We have seen glimmers of hope of how God is at work and opening new doors. Yet at the same time, we are struggling to discover what the new normal is for our blended physical and digital existence.

Without a lens to look through, we can be overly optimistic that things are fine because we can find a silver lining even though a number of indicators point negative. We are so emotionally and physically drained from the last 2+ years that we do not want to admit or process the discontentment that is surging underneath our grimacing smile.

Take a Risk

Moving from defeatism discontentment to a crystallization of discontentment is not taking a bunch of self-reflection time and finding the perfect conceptual answer. It requires that we try something out.[4] We need to give ourselves and our church permission to fail as we try some new pathways. When we allow ourselves to feel and express discontentment in community, it opens the door to our taking Kingdom risk.

Want to know more about crystallized risk taking as a church? Check out some resources at SDB Church Health Process.

[1] Thank you to Rev. Joseph Lazurek for framing the concept of “crystallization of discontent” for me with the basis of Jon Tyson’s sermon: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/church-nyc-holy-ambition-jon-tyson/id1245313998?i=1000462408077.

[2] Baumeister, R. F. 1994. “The crystallization of discontent in the process of major life change.” In T. F. Heatherton & J. L. Weinberger (Eds.), Can personality change? (pp. 281–297). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10143-012

[3] Baumeister, R. F. 1991. Meanings of life. The Guilford Press.

A number of primary sources dealing with crystallization of discontent are well presented by: Nguyen, Steve. 2021. “Self-insight is sparked by ‘crystallization of discontent’ moments.” Workplace Psychology. April 26. https://workplacepsychology.net/2021/04/26/self-insight-is-sparked-by-crystallization-of-discontent-moments/#:~:text=It’s%20not%20me%E2%80%9D%20(Heath%20%26,304). Accessed June 28, 2022.

[4] Heath, Chip and Dan Heath. 2017. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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