Working assumptions

  • Sumo

We get to know people gradually. I don’t know now what I will learn about you tomorrow, next week, next year.

But I can’t wait until then before talking. We have the conversation now, I respond now, and I choose how love you now.

This is where working assumptions are so handy.

A working assumption is a tentative conclusion or belief, on the basis of what I already know. It’s a generalisation, but used in a specific situation. Like any generalisation (even true ones), it will not always apply to a single case.

It’s reasonable to assume, for example, that a New Zealander you meet has a working knowledge of rugby union. So you might ask how they think the All Blacks will play this year. You’ll soon discover if your working assumption is true. In the mean time, you will make progress in the conversation. (I was going to call this a trivial example. But not all rugby fans would be happy …)

Here are some of my working assumptions that help me in Christian ministry. As I seek to encourage people in faith, or introduce them to Jesus, these things are often in mind:

  • If you are human
    … I assume you understand religion. That is, you get the (bad!) idea that we humans, by some right activity, create credit for ourselves. Our efforts reconcile us with God/gods/the spirit world/the impersonal universe. (This doesn’t mean you agree with religion, by the way.)
  • If you are a “not religious” Australian
    … I assume that you don’t understand Christianity. You probably think of Christian faith as a type of religion – a way to work towards God. I might say dozens of times, ‘Christianity is not good works by us, but completely good work by Jesus – it’s his gift’, and hear the response, ‘So if you are good enough, God will accept you?’
  • If you have a Roman Catholic background
    … I assume that you don’t associate God with grace. It’s more likely you’ll think of law or guilt. I say ‘background’, because it works for practising and lapsed Roman Catholics.
  • If you frequently use the word ‘busy’
    … I assume you have a problem with idolatry. Work, interests, or what they produce takes up such a huge portion of life that I sense this is what you really worship. Maybe it’s the money, or status, or sense of security. Or maybe the freedom to lack courage (‘I can’t, work won’t allow it’). This one applies both the believers and unbelievers.
  • If you are a 20-something Australian bloke
    … I assume there’s a lot of fear. Fear of failure, of being found out, of not having it all together, and particularly fear of looking bad in front of your peers.

Certainly this list could continue. What do you think of these specific examples? And what about the broad idea of working assumptions? I’ve said they are tentative, therefore can change. Perhaps you think they’re altogether wrong. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have.