Possible Versus Actual . . . .

possible    A Way To Drive An Idea

There was a discussion during a church business meeting about the direction of the ministry.  The Pastor was sharing his vision and direction with the congregation, but there was a lot of pushback by a number of the members.

The concern was about what “might” happen if we go these new directions with the change in format, music, atmosphere, etc.  As I was listening to the Pastor describe the situation from his perspective, he said this . . . .




. . . . and so we started creating environments where kids started coming and lives started being changed, and you know where I got the resistance  – from the church people – and so one night I’m sitting in this meeting – been going an hour and a half – and there – because we had a band, a video, and stuff –uuuaaauuuaaa – you know – and all these – and their wonderful people – wonderful church people – know many of them – knew many of them for many many years – some of them come here now – and- and the meeting was — Andy if you keep doing this – creating these environments

– here’s what’s going to happen

– here’s what going to happen

– and here’s what going to happen

it was this potential horrible stuff – and sex drugs, and rock n’ roll

oh – – – it’s going to be terrible

I just kept thinking – where in any – and finally at the end – toward the end of the meeting a lady stood up to my right – she’s still a friend of mine – she stood up – tears in her eyes – her voice quivering –

and she said I – I’m amazed at what I’ve heard – she said for an hour –

I’ve listened to everyone talk about how afraid they are of what might happen.

Can I tell you what has happened!

My two sons -who’ve never been involved in a church – look forward to every Wednesday night – and never miss – and if you shut down this program I’m afraid they’ll never step foot inside a church again.

And she sat down.

And I made up my mind.  I’m going to spend the rest of my life finding people who understand that you can create environments – in the local church – that allow us to partner with people who are fishing.


Link: Clip of Andy Stanley – Fishing Buddies *




When I heard the statement which was made by that mother at that meeting, I thought, WOW — what a powerful argument.  Why exactly did those words sound so powerful?  What is there about “might happen” and “has happened?”*

Remember, we can not only think, but we can also think about our thoughts.  We can hear something which affects us emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, spiritually and then step back and examine it.  We can go “analytical.”


At least two things are creating the effect or impact as Andy Stanley related this example.

First, he is setting it up by repeating a key phrase/thought — “if . . . what’s going to happen.” There is a sense of “prediction” in the wording, which makes Stanley’s design to speak of it as potentially happening.  It is the “if” along with the “what is going to” which speaks of the projected possibility.  He finally characterizes it as “possibilities” by saying – “this potential horrible stuff.”



Andy if you keep doing this – creating these environments

– here’s what’s going to happen

– here’s what going to happen

– and here’s what going to happen

it was this potential horrible stuff – and sex drugs, and rock n’ roll

oh – – – it’s going to be terrible


He could have said . . .

  • “Andy, what may happen . . . .”
  • “Andy, the possibilities are that when we . . . “
  • “Andy, when we go this direction, we face the possibilities that it will lead to . . . .”

Nevertheless, it is still clear in his wording and tone of voice that he is characterizing all the things which are going to happen as the anticipated possibilities of going the direction he is arguing for at the meeting.

“Possibility” is again clarified as the argument which is being made as seen in the quoted words of the mother who got up to speak (whether or not those were the precise words of that mother, or an accurate description of the import of that mother’s words).

It is those words which were purposefully cited and included in Stanley’s message because they frame the recurring “argument” of “the possible” versus “the actual.”

and she said I – “I’m amazed at what I’ve heard – she said for an hour –

I’ve listened to everyone talk about how afraid they are of what might happen.

Can I tell you what has happened!”



Second, the power of the “argument” is in this — A comparison was made between possibilities versus actualities.  When possibilities are set up against actualities, the possibilities are immediately given second seat.  “Possibility” takes a back seat to “actuality.”  The common sense thing is to go with the actual, not the possible.

Now, “the possible” needs to be separated from “the probable.”  If something is probably, though not actual, its probability is related to it becoming actual.  The higher the probability, the more likely it is no different than the actual.  We are addressing a framing of a point with the word “possibility.”  Words matter!

However, more than that, when the “actual” is the actual — That is “the actual” is seen as and stated to be as something that has really happened, then the actual is given even greater weight.  There is no speculation or equivocation as to the actual, when the actual has really happened.  When the actual is laid out “in all of its actuality” —  when it is really real – it really happens / happened, the impact of the argument balloons.   When “really happens” is laid out against the “possible,” the “possible” declines, dwindles and is even dismissed.  “The possible” no longer carries its weight!***


Actual Is Preferred Over Possible:

The “actual” is preferred over the “possible.”  For why would we go with what might possibly happen when something so good has happened  / is actually happening / will actually happen.  For the possible may never happen!  But the actual has happened.

Now the value of that analysis and the usefulness of this discussion of actual vs. possible, the nature of probability, Andy Stanley choice of words, the mother’s words, etc. is two-fold . . . .

√ Obviously, there is value in understanding such an argument and even understanding how to counter it.** However, our point is NOT that such argument can be used at a business meeting to support a cause or position which we are advocating.  It can be used for that!

There is a need to understand this argument and a time and place for us either to rightfully make or counter such an argument.  As it has been said, “Error is halfway around the world before truth has put its boots on.”  We can better reason and argue for the truths of Scripture if we understand the means and methods of making a reasoned argument.

√ However, understsanding this “argument” can also be used in generating content, making a point, driving the Big Idea, creating an introduction, driving a point in the conclusion, etc.

A speaker or preacher can use this “possiblity-actuality” concept . . . .

  • to further the point one is making
  • to drive the truth which is being laid out
  • to increase the weight or strength of a principle
  • to give greater clarity to what is being said
  • to challenge the audience to go with actual over possible
  • to introduce a passage which addresses the actual and rejects the possible
  • to conclude a message – you can go with what God actually wants to happen in your life / promises will happen or you can . . .
  • etc.


Let me try to do that . . . Off the cuff . . .   Here goes . . . .****

“Now we could probably – if we were to corporately sit around a table and talk about this principle  – we could probably identify some of the difficulties and problems which go with implementing it.  There might be those who could well contribute to the discussion of what some of the possibilities are which come along with operating on this principle, in us going this-or-that direction as we seek to implement that principle in our lives.

  • It might possibly leave us in a difficult financial situation.
  • When we follow this principle, there might be some who will take their marbles and go home.
  • Possibly, it will shake up some friendships.
  • It may be a hard step to take because it has the potential of upsetting our comfortable lifestyle.
  • There are a good number of possibilities which flow out of following through on this principle!

However, let me share with you NOT what might happen, but what has happened in the lives of those who have sought to put it into practice — What we have actually seen take place in our family, with our finances, in the ministries that we have been associated with, and in the lives of new believers who have grasped it.”

–Ted Martens


In a sense, the argument is also being made, but not at all in the way it was made at that church business meeting description.

The “argument” highlights or intensifies a point we are making — because there is a propensity or predilection to go with “the actual” over “the possible.”

In my example, we have “dragged” the argument into a different context and usage, but it still carries the same argumentative weight and can add weight to what we are saying in a speech or message!


Basically Two Steps

#1) Predict the possibilities (or point to the realistic possibilities)

  • some may be reluctant because they think of this-or that possibility
  • but what happens if . . . or if . . . or if . . . .
  • I would like to, but I fear that . . . .
  • there are some actual possibilities you and I may quickly entertain
  • there are some will bring up possibilities in order to frighten
  • there may be those around you who will say, “If you do that . . . “
  • this world has its own predictions as to what happens when . . .
  • what one / what you / what I would typically conclude happens when . . . . is . . . , but . . . .

#2) Contrast it with the actual

  • actual results
  • stories of what has actually happened
  • what will actually happen even though it looks like
  • what has happened in our lives
  • what actually happened as seen in the passage
  • what can actually happen, which is so worthwhile, that I will ignore that possibility
  • what is actually happening when you step out and dismiss the predicted
  • it is  — discover out the actual — or loiter with the predicted — but you can’t have it both ways
  • what the Lord promises will happen



*(@approx. 24m of original message – Fishing Buddies)

** I was again reminded of classical rhetorical theory.  You see, Aristotle came up with this argument long before that day in the church business meeting.  “Aristotle does propose as a possible counterinstance the case raised by some, namely, “The sensible is knowable, but sensation is not knowledge.” — (http://www.trentu.ca/org/ossa/p41.htm)

*** The way to undermine such an argument is to convince the audience that the possible is really probably.  Probability then replaces possibility, and the task is then to work with the nature of the probability.  The more likely the probability, the more it moves to actuality.

**** I often say “Off the cuff . . . Here goes.” for a reason!  I want to make the point that over time you will find it far easier to generate content for your message when you repeatedly use these various rhetorical techniques.  How to take a rhetorical technique and use it will become easier and easier.

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