In my ministry experience, I find decision making like emails: there is always another one to deal with and keeping one in the inbox does not stave off the inevitable action that is needed.
Some of you don’t have my problem because there was never a decision you could not make quickly — like skeet shooting, PULL! — another good decision bites the dust.
Reggie McNeal comments in Practicing Greatness: “Merely believing you are on a great mission does not guarantee success. Making good decisions does.”
How should we go about guiding our churches to make decisions? McNeal offers some very good advice in chapter 5 “The Discipline of Decision Making” of Practicing Greatness by offering six key elements of good decision making.
1. Ask the right questions.
Guiding change is a “hands” behavior of leadership that requires both skill and spiritual sensitivity. A smart leader recognizes people have an innate resistance to change and experience a sense of loss when it occurs in their church. Asking the wrong question even precisely doesn’t accomplish anything. If we continue to ask the same questions, we will likely continue to get the same response. Try different questions such as:
How do we “be” church better? [instead of “do” church].
How do we serve this community? [instead of grow the church].
How do we develop missionaries to this culture? [instead of develop ministers for the church].
How do we develop followers of Jesus? [instead of church members].
How do we prepare for the future God sees? [instead of plan for the future].
How do we develop leaders for the Christian movement? [instead of leaders for church work].
2. Get enough of the right kind of information.
Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (Matt, 16)
Poor decisions are often made either because a leader ignores information or has inadequate information. Alienation of people is a danger of vision casting. However, I have never heard of a church that did not ask a prospective pastor for his vision. The key to good vision casting is to begin with biblical principles, present the vision and gather perspective, bring people along slowly and avoid “overselling” or “promising results.” Instead, a wise leader will cast a vision of kingdom result that would be pleasing to God and challenge people to make baby steps toward that goal. If a leader wants information, he must ask for it and create a safe environment for people to respond. I think of this as intentionally trying to see beyond my perspective to understand not only the position other people have but the interest they have that underlies that position. People are far more willing to declare a position than they are to explain their underlying motivation/history/fear/bias/intent etc. A wise leader will attempt to find common interests in order to move forward with a decision.
3. Consider timing. (Gal. 4:4; John 13:1)
I will never face a timing issue as important as Jesus’; however, I should be patient enough to wait upon the Lord with the ones I do make. McNeal describes timing as: instinct, intuition, listening, prayer, and the ability to read an audience. All of these are emotionally intelligent behaviors. I would state timing differently than McNeal. I believe the Holy Spirit can and will build a fire under people to respond at His timing rather than their own. However, rarely would an emotionally insensitive leader lead such change. I go back to Matt. 20:26 and would say that a servant leader in most cases will be seen as a servant leader by his people even when he is “pushing them” to be obedient to the Lord. As leaders, we must recognize how critical it is that we be “accepted” by our followers. An accepted leader has the trust equity to move ahead even when the timing may be questioned by some.
4. Involve the right people.
Alright let’s all collectively gag and say POLITICAL!!! Now that we have that out of our system, is McNeal wrong? Great teams consist of people with widely divergent skills, influence, and maturity, so do churches. What happened when you were a kid and did an “end run” around dad to get the green light on something from mom? In my case I had joy for a season followed by a time of reckoning. I bet your kids have the same result. Who should be involved in a decision? Legitimizers, veto-holders, implementers, those affected by our decision etc.
5. Operate with the right motives.
Vision is a picture of a favorable future. Rarely will a leader accomplish a great vision with an ill motive. People will only follow leaders they trust. The character of your life is like a canvas painted one brush stroke at a time. I hope the inner canvas is as beautiful as the outer canvas that I see. People will forgive errors, especially if we exhibit Christ-like humility. If they believe your motive is wrong they will usually either abandon or attack your leadership. Neither are biblical practices I might add — but pragmatically that is what usually occurs.
6. Understand intended outcomes.
Why should anyone follow you? Because you are able to articulate an outcome that their spirit is in alignment with. When making a decision, ask what the intended outcomes are. What will success look like in your situation?
Which of the six steps of decision making do you struggle most with?
Why are leaders prone to either make decisions unilaterally or unwilling to actually make a decision at all?
How has your personality style affected you positively/negatively in decision making?