Few Christian leaders set out to promote or speak falsehood. I believe that falsehood among Christian leaders comes about more often by omission than commission (what is allowed to remain undone versus what is done intentionally). Failure to intentionally listen can shut out new truth which, by default, is a choice to deal in untruth. Conversely, to ask questions and listen is a conscious choice to raise the amount of truth and, therefore, accuracy in the meeting room.
It is tempting for leaders to circle their chairs and ask questions of one another with little input from those outside of the boardroom walls. By definition, leadership involves standing before the people, while servant leadership goes a step further, calling us to be among the people. To lead effectively, we must have our eyes and ears outside the boardroom to watch and listen. Not only does listening test accuracy and promote truth, it also can bring much-needed fresh insight into problems we’ve been trying to solve—maybe for years.
Asking Two Questions
Certainly listening in a multi-faceted organization involves more than two questions, but the two I will share with you are a solid start to seeking and gaining truth in order to make better decisions. These two questions might seem unnatural at first, but like many disciplines, you can retrain yourself and set a norm for listening before or as the rhetoric starts. The two questions are:
- What do we know?
- What do we need to know?
Continually interjecting these two questions into discussion might sound something like these examples:
- Nursery crowding: “We will lose young families if …” Wait! What do we know? What do we need to know?
- Dissolving a ministry: “No one even attends anymore because …” Hold on. What do we know? What do we need to know?
- Worship style controversy: “People are saying …” Just a second. What do we know? What do we need to know?
- Discipleship: “If you get the men, you’ll get the family.” Is that all true? What do we know? What do we need to know?
- Restructuring staff: Before we jump all over this … What do we know? What do we need to know?
- A complaint: Is there an element of truth here? What do we know? What do we need to know?
As I face questions or issues of complexity, I am continually considering or verbalizing those two questions. Last year, sixteen months after our Senior Pastor was hired, he built a biblical case and cast vision to our Elders and pastoral staff for our church to be a truly multi-ethnic church community. Part of his proposed strategy was to dissolve our services that targeted specific audiences (contemporary, classic, Spanish-speaking), and hold services with everyone together versus broken apart. So this assumption formed up the answers to “What do we know?”
Our Senior Pastor asked me to lead a long-range planning team to flesh out the vision and strategy for eventual approval and then implementation. Instead of immediately launching into those meetings with opinions, perceptions, conjecture, and even debate, I set out with the team to answer the second question as well: “What do we need to know?” Below are a sampling of resources that we explored with resultant insights:
Is the vision for ethnic diversity in keeping with our surrounding community?
The answer from inquiry was a resounding “yes.” The city of Houston, of which Cypress is a suburb, recently surpassed New York City as the most ethnically diverse city in the country. A demographic study of a four-mile radius of our church not only confirmed that our community was much more diverse than the U.S. average, we were also in the midst of a significant cultural shift to become more and more diverse as time went on.
What do the pros, those with pronounced experience, say about ethnic diversity in churches?
Among numerous secondary resources, I read a book on ethnic diversity and unity in churches by George Yancey called One Body, One Spirit. I then created a “cliff notes” version of the book for our long-range planning team and Elders. There were a myriad of insights from just that one resource but a few insights that were particularly salient were:
- Ministering to racial diversity should not be the primary goal but rather serve to support other high level goals of the church (like outreach).
- We should not be “colorblind” but rather acknowledge that we are different and then adjust ministry to celebrate and accommodate varying ethnic backgrounds.
- It is important to have multiracial representation at the leadership level.
What is our church’s preparedness for a shift in methodology toward greater ethnic diversity?
The long-range planning team broke off and interviewed numerous constituencies within our congregation. Some of the findings let us know that we had work to do and/or adjustments to make as we moved toward implementation of integrated worship services. In particular, our Life Stage ministry staff and one particular ethnic group pushed back against the idea.
As part of an effort to be actively aware of dynamics within our congregation, we survey them annually, especially to gain demographic and discipleship practice insights. In the survey this past fall, we added a question asking people’s perceptions of the leadership’s intention to join ethnicities and ages together. The congregation expressed some of the strongest evidences of owning the vision by not only supporting the vision for ethnic diversity, but also by providing biblical, pragmatic, and personal reasons for doing so in their own words.
So the outcome of the two question inquiry was gaining substantiated insights as well as being more in tune with the views of congregation.
I challenge you to do what might not come naturally to you or those around you. Start out a decision-making process by asking before answering: What do we know? What do we need to know? Set out a pathway as to how and where you will find the needed insights—then send your team out to explore. Continue on to dialog and decision-making in light of, not in spite of, the truth that you have discovered.