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Learning from the Mistakes of Big Name Leaders

By March 28, 2014No Comments

Two unrelated church news items have filled the internet this March. First, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle was accused of manipulating the New York Times Bestseller List. He subsequently agreed that it was a mistake that he will not make again.

Then, this past week news broke of World Vision’s controversial decision to hire people in same-sex marriages to serve as employees in the U.S., a change which was quickly reversed two days later.

What can we as leaders in small things learn from such stories about our own decision-making and leadership? I would love to hear your thoughts. Here are some things that struck me.

The Mark Driscoll controversy isn’t the first for the widely known pastor and author. Last week he acknowledged some weaknesses in a statement to his congregation, retracting the bestseller designation and admitting poor handling of various staff departures. Among other steps toward change, he is now under the counsel of two other men who are not on his staff. Apparently in the past all the church elders worked for him.

What can we learn from this?

First, the last thing leaders need is to be surrounded with people who do not feel free to disagree with them. It isn’t best for us, our decisions, or those whom we lead.

This is a tough one to practice in real life. It’s so much nicer when my husband and I agree on a decision or my ministry team unites without any disagreement. But I open myself to major mistakes when I don’t work to create places for a variety of opinions and input. As leaders we should value those who see another side of an issue instead of quieting them.

Second, I value Driscoll’s statement confessing his mistakes. It is difficult for me to do, and I have never dealt with such large numbers of people. We do need to step up and ask forgiveness of those hurt by our mistakes and sins, which is another great reason to seek accountability and wise counsel for our choices.

What about World Vision?

There was some similarity between its situation and Mark Driscoll’s. According to the World Vision President’s statement about the ministry’s reversal of the new policy to allow employees in same-gender legal marriages to work there, the board failed to gather views from enough outsiders.

In this case I wonder if the ministry chose leaders without the values of the ministry. (And I do not know them or know their positions.) It is easy to be tempted to raise up leaders to help our cause who are influential as businessmen or through their wealth or fame. God is not bound by such things; he can move through a group of nobodies!

Secondly, change is difficult, even when it is truly the best thing to do. (I am not here addressing the issue of World Vision’s policy which has been widely discussed or saying it was wise. My point is that even the best decisions are difficult when they require change.) It is foolish to make important changes without a lot of input and buy-in by those affected by them.

A few years ago the church where I served asked our women’s ministry to switch our evening Bible study to another night for the sake of the church as a whole. Although the decision was not really up to majority rule by the women, I realized that it was one that needed good explanation and conversation in advance. All the women involved needed a chance to understand the reasons behind it and at least have a chance to understand the needs of a larger group of people. So I spent about six weeks talking individually to those most affected by the change before announcing it. Even individuals who could not adjust their schedules ended up recognizing the need and supporting the decision.

I didn’t learn how to do that by accident, but I watched and learned from some great leaders as they steered large churches and ministries through change. And I learned personally how much hurt can come from being without a voice in big decisions that affected me or my ministry. World Vision has hopefully learned a lesson, but it was at a great cost to their name.

Whether you lead a team, a small group, a ministry, a business, or a home, take such lessons to heart. I intend to as well!

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