Overthink: How Smart People End Up Looking Dumb

Overthink is when you convince yourself that your nutty idea is better than the choice that 99% of the rest of the world would make.

Like in last night’s Super Bowl.

You need a yard to win the game.  You have Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch in the backfield.  Yet you convince yourself that throwing a pass into traffic is a better choice.

Brilliant.  See you next year.

But before we get too carried away with our ridiculing of the Seahawks, let’s admit that overthink happens all the time, even among church leaders.

I’ll never forget the time I was sitting at a banquet table with some preachers I’d never met before.  A couple of the guys were sharing the exciting news of their church plant.  When I asked what the name of their new church was they said a word–a single word–that had absolutely no spiritual connotation whatsoever.  I thought they misunderstood me, so I asked again what the church’s name was.  They laughed and repeated the word and then launched into a lengthy explanation of why they chose the word to be the name of their church.  I nodded and said, “Oh, okay.”  Inside, I was thinking, That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

Here’s something to keep in mind.  The longer it takes you to explain why your idea is a good one, the worse your idea probably is.

Good ideas tend to be simple and obvious.  But we like to impress people with our brilliance or our coolness, so we often disdain the simple and the obvious and shoot for something that will raise eyebrows.

And no, I’m not opposed to innovation.  Every great advancement in our civilization has sprung from it.  What I’m talking about is commonly called “reinventing the wheel”.  If your idea is really an advancement, great.  But if you’re simply trying to prove that you’re smarter than everyone who relies on the tried and true, you’re probably heading for an embarrassment.

This morning I’m pretty sure there are some Seahawks and Seahawks fans who wish the coach had gone with a boring old handoff.

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8 Responses to Overthink: How Smart People End Up Looking Dumb

  1. Rich Demoro says:

    God simplifies, man complicates..

  2. Keith says:

    One time I heard about these trying-to-be-cool church planters launching this church called “Way” … I missed how it turned out because I never finished the book of Acts, but I assume the one-word name without clear religious connotation sunk their efforts. They should have done what 99% of people would have done in that situation and named their group “Synagogue of Jesus of Nazareth”. With that name they might have saved less spiritually-dying non-Christians (especially Gentiles), but it would have taken less time to explain to religious people. Those dumb early Christians … always trying to raise eyebrows 😉

    • Mark says:

      Nice try, Keith. I like the sarcasm, but you have your facts wrong. “The Way” absolutely referred to a way of life that was unique, the way to God, etc. People knew full well that the term referred to a religious movement. To say that the terminology had no clear religious connotation simply isn’t true.

      And those “dumb” early Christians (as you call them) were not trying to raise eyebrows. They DID raise eyebrows because their devotion to Christ was so unshakable and the miracles they performed were so amazing. But they certainly did not sit around and try to think up gimmicks that would make them seem clever. I think this is the thing much of the modern church misses: if we raise eyebrows, it needs to be because of our holiness, not because of our cleverness. Cleverness can be found in a million places in this world. Holiness not so much.

      • Keith says:

        I agree. I should not say the early church’s name had no religious connotation just because I did not see the connection (especially when I’m not their mission focus). I should not claim that their motives were to look clever when their motivation was actually Jesus-centered holiness. We get increasingly inaccurate when we claim to know whether someone’s motives are to create a gimmick or to reach a person. I’ll make you a deal. I will get my facts straight and quit taking unwarranted and largely inaccurate shots at the early church and its planters, if you will no longer take this particular unwarranted and largely inaccurate shot at the current church and her planters. We ought to speak of church planters with great reverence. They lay aside their lives for the sake of the gospel. You and I write Super-Bowl-themed blogposts from the comfort of stability and then argue about the holiness of others. We are not at risk of appearing clever ;-). Thank Jesus for church planters!

        • Mark says:

          Keith, I know you love the Lord and I consider you a valued brother in the struggle for Christ. But I simply have to defend my comments. In no way did I take a shot at church planters. My blog post wasn’t even about church planting or church planters. It was about “overthink”, the tendency we have to complicate things rather than going with the simple, obvious choice. That I used a couple of church planters as an example is a far cry from taking an “unwarranted” and “inaccurate” shot at the church and church planters. Perhaps it would help you to know that I have been involved in church planting myself, have supported church planters financially, have encouraged the church where I preach to include church planting in our missions program, and baptized a “Timothy” who became a successful church planter. I just have no idea where you get the notion that I am taking shots at church planters. I shared an personal experience which struck me as an example of overthink, period.

          Also, I agree with you that church planters lay aside their lives for the sake of the gospel if by “lay aside their lives” you mean make great sacrifices. Indeed they do. But so do all true servants of Christ, those in formal ministries and those who sit in the pew on Sundays. I know people who’ve never preached a sermon or taught a class, yet they have faithfully let their light shine in the darkness in spite of persecution, given most of their income away, and led more people to Christ than many preachers, myself included. I think we should speak respectfully of ALL true servants. Even so, sometimes even true servants can be guilty of overthink.

          Blessings to you.

  3. Keith says:

    Mark,

    If I have misinterpreted your remarks, I apologize for my poor reading comprehension. I mean this sincerely … this is not a throw away line. We are on the same team and we are for one another.

    You stated, “I just have no idea where you get the notion that I am taking shots at church planters.” What follows is not a rebuttal, but rather an explanation of where I got that notion … even if I got it through misinterpreting what was said. Hopefully this will help us understand each other.

    I heard or misheard multiple statements against both the church planters in the post and the common church planter practice of using non-traditional names for the church they plant. One of the comments that I interpreted that way was the italicized statement that their name was, “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” That sentence was the only italicized one in the entire blog post, and therefore I read it as a point of emphasis. As a very strong negative statement communicated in a very strong manner, it met my imperfect working definition of “a shot”. The characterization “dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” was made about a name the church planters had clearly felt conveyed the vision they had for their plant (since they gave you a “lengthy explanation” of it). Calling the name of their church the dumbest thing you had ever heard seemed to me like you took a shot at them and their decision to use a non-traditional name.

    The only two decisions referred to in this article on overthink were the Seahawks’ decision from last night, and the naming of this church plant. When other negative statements were made throughout the article without being directly tied to the church-naming decision, I assumed / wrongly assumed they referred to both it and the Seahawks’ decision. Multiple statements were made about the motivation that leads to overthink. Among the characterizations were: “like to impress people with our brilliance or our coolness, so we often disdain the simple and the obvious and shoot for something that will raise eyebrows,” and “simply trying to prove that you’re smarter than everyone who relies on the tried and true.” In our conversation in the comment section, words like “gimmick” and “cleverness” were used to describe the motivations of overthink in the church (and since the only example used of overthink in the church was those church planters, I assumed it applied to them). I do not believe any of these characterizations accurately convey the motivations of church planters using a non-traditional church name.

    It is the characterization of the name of a church plant being the “dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” and the insinuation that the motivations of the church planters were not good that I found “unwarranted” and “inaccurate.” If I misinterpreted those things, I am sorry.

    Out of curiosity, how is the church plant doing? Has it made an impact?

    Thank you for replying with grace and for all of your contributions to the kingdom through your church planting, discipling, leadership, preaching, and writing.

    Keith

    • Mark says:

      Ah, Keith, now we’re getting somewhere!

      The italics that worried you do not indicate emphasis…they indicate that it was a thought that I had rather than a spoken statement. Go back and read it again. You’ll see that I was thinking those words rather than speaking them. This is how thoughts are communicated when writing. In other forms of writing italics can indicate emphasis, but when a writer is commicating a thought as opposed to a spoken statement, italics are used.

      Also, the comment “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” would normally be interpreted as hyperbole. Hyperbole is a literary device defined as “an obvious exaggeration to make a point.” Was it REALLY the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard? No. But it’s like saying, “That’s the worst meal I’ve ever had” or “He’s the rudest person in the world.” The point is what matters, not the actual fact. Hyperbole is used all the time by everybody. (That statement is itself hyperbole.) Have you ever said, “It’s raining cats and dogs”?

      You asked how the church plant is doing. To be honest, I hadn’t heard another word about the church after that meal a few years ago. I looked up their web site. They are still going, but it doesn’t appear that they are making much progress judging from the size of the staff and that they are still in a small renteded facility. But, at the same time, it’s hard to tell how a church is really doing from a web site. I’ve been to churches that I thought were awesome even though their web site was not very good.

      Taka care, Keith. Thanks for your input and for caring so much about the kingdom.

      • Keith says:

        Mark,

        Thank you for clearing up the use of italics for me. I appreciate it, and I understand that you were using hyperbole.

        Let me end my part of our interaction by encouraging you to set an example for the rest of us by changing how you use church planters and their non-traditional decisions as negative examples. These guys were not an example of overthink or smart people looking dumb. When the article was written you did not even know if their church plant/name was effective or not. You only knew that it did not immediately make sense to you, and required a lengthy explanation. We now know that it helped (or at least did not prevent) them continue in their mission to the present moment, which is a huge accomplishment and wonderful news to both you and me.

        The insinuation that church planters or non-traditional church leaders are motivated by a need to seem clever or cool needs to disappear from public dialogue in the Stone-Campbell Movement and the church as a whole. This has not been the motivation of any church planter in the history of the church, and it is not the motivation of out-of-the-box decision-making like single-word church names. If one wants to be clever or cool, there are much better ways to go about it. Perhaps you can help change that false perception, as your writing influences more people than I ever will.

        I am not asking you to never criticize a church planter, or use a church planter’s decision as a negative example. I am asking that in the future you ensure that you please ascribe the church planters’ actual motivations, and that when you hold a decision up as an example of failure/overthink you please make sure it actually was a failure/overthink.

        A guy my Savior sent to plant churches and take the gospel to Gentile people like me once said, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil” (Romans 14). I have attempted to follow through on that charge in our interactions. I consider church planters, their motivations, and their non-traditional sometimes-hard-to-explain-to-the-religious decisions to be good things.

        May you continue to impact the movement through your work and your calling. And thank you for the consideration you will take in the future whenever you characterize the motivations and evaluate the decision-making of church planters.

        If you respond again and I do not, please do not receive that as a negative gesture. I have said everything I have needed to say, and if I keep writing the odds that I say something stupid go up exponentially (as if I haven’t already said stupid things ;-)). However, if you do respond I will listen and learn from whatever you have to say. Thank you.

        Only because of Jesus,

        Keith

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