Those of us who are leaders have a limited amount of leadership capital, and we don’t want to spend it on the wrong issues.
So we need to distinguish two questions.
1.How sure am I that I’m right?
Of course, as strong, driven leadership types we’re always sure we’re right, aren’t we? But in the middle of the night, we know that niggling voice which says that there is another side to the issue – and perhaps more than one. Listen to that voice. Because part of the dark side of leadership is when we let our early instinct override later, important information, and the need to rethink our position. We bulldoze, because we think changing our minds is a sign of weakness. But, as the man said, “When I’m wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?”
2. How important is the issue?
Not every issue is equally important. Sometimes an apparently minor issue is actually a cloak for a deeper concern, as when Paul saw that the Galatians Christians were denying the gospel by who they had lunch with. Or didn’t. And sometimes an apparently major issue is really trivial. Another part of the dark side of leadership as that we can, theologically, connect any trivial issue with the gospel if we try. But if we don’t do it properly, we end making every issue a hill to die on. And that’s foolish.
So take a piece of paper and draw a square, divided into four smaller squares. Shade in the top, right square.
Underneath draw an arrow, with the arrowhead on the right, labelled, “How sure am I that I am right?”
And on the left hand side draw a vertical arrow, with the arrowhead at the top, marked, “How important is the issue?”
Issues which force themselves into that top right corner will be those that inevitably cause conflict and hurt – so only go there if you’re really ready for that, by choice.
Because there are some issues where I know I’m right, but it really doesn’t matter if I lose. One church I was part of chose the wrong colour chairs. wrong? Oh, yes. Definitely. I’m absolutely sure that the colours clash, and the result is ugly. Does it matter that I lost? Not really. Was it good for me to be seen to lose? Probably.
And there are issues which are hugely important but where I’m honestly in two minds. I really don’t know how to synthesise the biblical material on the possibility of remarriage after a divorce. I have good friends who are quite certain – and despite both being evangelical scholars, they reach opposite conclusions. I’ve read, thought and studied until my brain hurts – but if I speak on the issue I have to be honest and say, “Well, I think I am right, but I might be wrong. What do you think?”
But here’s the warning sign. If every issue you’re facing as a leader right now forces you into that top, right hand corner, then somewhere down the line you’ve miscalculated badly.
- Take that decision making matrix. List some issues in your life and ministry at the moment which occupy that top, right hand corner.
- Now, for sanity, list an equal number of issues which are important, but you are honestly undecided, or where it really doesn’t matter what happens.
- And again, issues where you have a strong view, but which are trivial, and it will do you no harm to be on the losing side, with grace and good humour.
- And now, pray about those three different groups of issues.