When I go painting (which I don’t do often enough) I spend ages choosing where I’m going to paint from, and where I’m going to choose as my vantage point. My first choice is not always the best choice, and I take time to settle.
Other people in the painting class stand to sit, nearby or far away, sometimes painting in the opposite direction completely. One does a landscape. Another does a still life. A third does a portrait. Even we are in the same town square.
And then when we finish and compare what we’ve done with the others in the group, we’re often amazed at the differences a slight change in angle has brought. How did that person see the purple in that tree? How come I missed the farmhouse? I’m really pleased I chose to ignore that field – green is such a tricky colour.
I know that when I’m painting. You’ll know that from your hobby of choice. Different cover versions of the same song. Different commentators on the same match. It’s normal stuff. So how come we find it such a hard lesson to apply to being leaders?
Why do we find it so hard to say, “I need to stand where you stand. What can you see that I’m missing?”
Actually, I think I know why it’s so hard, and there are good elements as well as bad. I’ve been involved in some pretty difficult issues within my denomination, and the hard battle has usually been to resist compromise and maintain a position. On the uniqueness of Christ, say. Or the Trinity. Or some of the pressing moral questions today.
In those circumstances you eventually have to say, that the difference of view is not just a difference of opinion – it is because one side actually unorthodox and wrong. This is not a subjective “Paint what you like and there is no wrong painting” issue. This is an objective “We conform to the reality of God’s Word, and we have no choice but to stand by it for our good” issue. I’ve been in settings where the “It’s all a matter of opinion” line is run, and it is clearly a thinly-veiled power grab for compromise. Once you’ve seen it, you never lose the insight that the claim “It’s all a matter of opinion” is not itself open to the same critique.
And never forget that ‘perspective’ in art is a mathematically grounded and objective science. Your two eyes may be seeing the same thing slightly differently, but the rules of perspective guarantee that (unless someone is laying a trick) they will combine to confirm the truth of both viewpoints, not to produce a compromise between them.
But there is a real danger for people who have fought those battles and won their scars. The danger is that like the famous fleas in a jar who learn not to jump too high because of the lid, and then never jump out even when the lid is removed because of residual fear, we have learnt to fear the “It’s all a matter of opinion” approach, and never use it even when we could benefit.
An elder resists your decision to preach through Galatians. A member disagrees with the budget decisions. A pastor at a neighbouring church makes a controversial decision over bible translations.
And we are hard and intolerant. Or defensive. Or dismissive. Or sneering.
As if everything were immediately and completely clear and obvious to us, if to no-one else. And nothing is ever just a matter of opinion or style. As if you had all the facts.
But there are way too many facts for you to know them all. You filter them as much as anyone else. It’s just that if you’re not careful you think that you’re the only one in the room who doesn’t filter. Because you are The Leader.
So the next time you’re tempted in that direction, pause, and ask the Perspective question:
“You obviously think differently to me. What do you see that I don’t? What am I missing?”
It’s harder, and humbling, to ask that question. And it doesn’t mean that the other person will turn out to be right. You might not change your view.
But you’ll be much clearer on why.