The Idol of the Shoulds

I’ve been examining the idols on my mental shelf and have come to an interesting discovery.  Apparently, I have swapped out idols over the years.  Fame and fortune have been pushed to the side (perhaps due to the realization that neither were likely to happen) and have been replaced by the Idol of the Should.

You know this idol.  It often takes the form of a List.  It represents all of the things that we should be doing in order to be the person we should be.  If we were only able to complete the list, we know we would be happy.  Alas, worshipping this idol only brings about feelings of stress, guilt and incompetence.  

Organizations also worship the Idol of the Should. 

I first encountered this in one congregation where I distributed a survey regarding Adult Education opportunities.  I asked three questions:  1) what would you like to see taught?  2) what day/time would be best for these offerings and 3) would you attend a class if it were on a topic you were interested in and at a time you would be available?  Of the thirty respondents (a statistically significant number based on congregation size), nearly half indicated with great specificity the topics that interested them as well as the time they could attend…. but also stated that they would likely not attend.

In other words, they wanted their church to offer a Sunday morning class on the Book of Revelation, but they themselves would not attend that class.  They wanted to belong to a church that offered this… because they believed a church should offer this… but they themselves would not participate.  (Please feel free to swap in almost any other programmatic aspect of church life for “Adult Education” to get similar results.)

We worship at the Idol of the Should when we evaluate our current reality, but also when we remember our past.  “We should have pasta night, because we’ve always had pasta night.”  “The choir should sing that anthem for Palm Sunday, because we always sing that anthem.”   Each time we bow our knees to the Idol of the Should we find ourselves bound by expectations that are not always driven by our core values… but rather are motivated by a false sense of who we are, or who we think we are called to be.

You might be asking, are there some things an organization really should do?


It might be helpful to look to the foundational documents of the organization (for instance, in my denomination the Six Great Ends of the Church are a great starting point). Evaluating how much your current organization is in line with the original intent can be eye-opening. Of course there are times when the impetus for an organization is no longer in play (the March of Dimes is a classic example). If that is the case, are the core values that might translate to a new reality? What are the needs of the community in which you serve? What is essential in order for that to happen? These are the “should” you, well, should pay attention to.

As for me? I’m packing this particular idol away. I can see that the one behind it is the Idol of Niceness. Perhaps I’ll tackle that one next?


The Idol of Should is also liberally applied to the Pastor’s work. One example from my previous call would be, “The pastor should visit every member within the year” even though most members would rather the pastor inconvenience them with a visit unless they have an emergency.

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