Spyglass on a Map

We believe in conventional wisdom, in tried and true ways, and in what the experts tell us.


That’s a great place to start. However, when someone comes up with a new idea–a church decides to try something else, someone suggests the conventional paths are full of potholes, or the “tried and true” ways are simply tried ways, they need not be labeled as “stubborn” or “arrogant.” One certainly can be so. But, one can be stubborn or arrogant whether one believes in conventional wisdom or not. Those who chart their own course should be encouraged to do so.

I’ve been re-reading A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, by Edwin Friedman. It’s probably the finest book on leadership I’ve ever read, but it’s lesser known–because it was unavailable through all conventional means until a few years ago.

Among other things, Friedman makes the case for the self-differentiated leader–someone who:

  • is someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about.
  • is someone who can separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence.
  • is someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.

He says:

“…those who lack self-definition, whether they are children, marriage partners, employees, clients, therapists, or supervisors, will always perceive those who are well-defined to be ‘headstrong.’ As with Columbus, they will describe well-differentiated leaders as compulsive rather than persistent, as obsessive rather than committed, as foolhardy rather than brave, as dreamers rather than imaginative, as single-minded rather than dedicated, as inflexible rather than principled, as hostile rather than aggressive, as bull-headed rather than resolute, as desperate rather than inspired, as autocratic rather than tough-minded, as ambitious rather than courageous, as domineering rather than self-confident, as egotistical rather than self-assured, as selfish rather than self-possessed–and as insensitive, callous, and cold rather than determined. Such sabotage will be cloaked in supposed virtues likes safety and togetherness.”

All this is to say–good leaders don’t always perfect what’s already in the book. They help write the next chapter over the objections of those who helped write the early chapters and think the book is largely closed.

Listen to what’s already been written. Understand there’s good reason why conventional wisdom has become such. But, never fail to go where God leads because others might think you a fool. It’s far more foolish to ignore God’s leading and listen to humans.

Not every impulse or dream is of God. Sometimes it’s not divinely given, but it’s an idea that’s worth exploration anyway. Go for it, and remind those who are inappropriately attached to conventional wisdom that it was someone’s new, hair-brained idea at some point.

The earth used to be flat.

Everything used to orbit around earth.

Eggs are good for you.

Eggs are bad for you.

Eggs are so-so for you.

Ministry has it’s equivalents and always needs to leave room for well differentiated leaders to explore with encouragement from those who have been the thought leaders for years. Because the goal is the advancement of the Kingdom, not the preservation of our own legacies.