It was the day of our outreach event to celebrate the first-year anniversary of our church plant in Maui. We had spent thousands on equipment and marketing, and we had rented thousands of chairs. As we stood in the empty stadium we rented out and watching the clock ticking closer to the Easter bunny flying in on a helicopter, our leadership team felt a lump in our throats. Did we make the right decision here? Look at all these empty seats! Is there something we missed? We couldn’t shake the fear of working so hard and then nobody showing up.
In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, "the only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty." Even the best of leaders find this to be true on multiple occasions in our leadership journey. Most of the leaders I know (myself included), like our following to take comfort in the fact that we know where we are going and what we are doing. The reality is that we face moments where we feel stuck, directionless, not knowing which path to take.
The unknown is a hard place to be, because the general population is not comfortable with their visionaries or leaders, admitting that they are not sure what direction to take on a particular issue. One example is when President Obama stated that he did not have a "complete strategy" for dealing with ISIS, leading many of his critics to use this example of his lack of leadership. Leaders of organizations of any size can identify with external pressures to look like we know what we're doing whether we lead a church, non-profit, business, or political campaign.
Leading a church is particularly difficult because we have people questioning us at every turn and on every decision. Rick Warren, one of the most notable leaders of the Church in the U.S. wrote in his book Purpose Driven Church, concerning some of his early ministry decisions:
"In the early years we had nothing to lose, so we tried out all kinds of ideas. Some of our ideas were spectacular failures. And I wish I could claim that all our successes happened just the way we planned them—but it would be untrue. I'm not that smart. Most of our successes have been the result of trial and error and some of our discoveries were purely accidental."
Warren's humble self-assessment and honest approach encourages me because I have had my fair share of failures. We can take big risks when we have nothing to lose. However, it makes sense to me that the more we have to lose, the more uncertainty weighs in on our leadership decisions.
One Biblical example of leading well through uncertainty is in the story of the fourth king of Judah, Jehoshaphat. Modern literature refers to him as "Jumping Jehoshaphat." He was considered, in general, to be a good leader because of his commitment to the law and worship of the one true God, Yahweh. His leadership produced a great deal of prosperity and peace, but that was not always the case.
In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat faced great uncertainty as Judah faced a vast army, a Moabite alliance on the warpath with every intention to destroy his kingdom. Jehoshaphat cried out to God, "we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You" (verse 11 NASB). Then after the nation of Judah prayed and fasted, seeking the direction of God, the LORD spoke through the prophet Jahaziel and said:
"This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's" (verse 15 NLT).
When I am facing a dilemma or tough decision, and someone gives me the cliché Christianese response like, "don't worry—God's got this," it's not very reassuring to say the least. Then after the promise from the prophet that God has got this, King Jehoshaphat responded by appointing:
"Singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang:
‘Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever!'
At the very moment, they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves…when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see" (verse 22+24 NLT).
As I was reading this story, I learned several lessons from Jehoshaphat in leading through uncertainty:
1.) A leader needs to admit that he or she is powerless and doesn't know what to do. Admitting that we don't know might not be the popular or comfortable way our peers want to view us. Making the right decision in uncertainty requires honesty and self-assessment, taking into account an accurate measure of our influence and resources in having a positive outcome in solving the problem.
Jehoshaphat was honest in his self-assessment knowing full well that if God were not with him he would fail. Paul also warns us in Romans 12 not to view ourselves more important than we are, and I am sure you will find several other instances where the Bible warns of pride leading to defeat. Sometimes the best answer is, "I don't know!"
2.) A leader needs to fast and seek God with his or her people, collectively setting their eyes on God. Every time there ever was a great move of God's Spirit leading to great revivals; there was always one thing in common that preceded it all, prayer! Prayer changes everything! A holy desperation that drives a leader to cry out for God to help is not unattractive nor should it shake their followers confidence in their leaders. In fact, acknowledgment of weakness before a powerful God should give you greater confidence in your leadership! Unless they are continually seeking God in decisions, "the work of the builders is wasted" (Psalm 127:1 NLT).
3.) A leader needs to wait for God's direction. I will not go to deep into this but God speaks first to us through His WORD, the Holy Bible, and then he speaks to us through others. Many times God has spoken to me through seeking wise counsel. Jesus said, "what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him" (Luke 14:31 NLT)?
The step of seeking wise counsel does not trump or nullify the truths of the Scriptures. Another way we hear God is directly from the source whether by a dream, a gut feeling, or audible voice. Again God will not speak to us something contradictory to His WORD. Wait for it, it may not be immediate, but God will be faithful to answer you. Be specific in your prayers and include the: who, what, where, when, how's. Why, because God will be specific with his answers!
4.) Once the leader hears God, now it's time to take a leap of faith. How do we do that? Whichever direction you go, lead off with worshiping God, thanking him in advance for the victory. Jehoshaphat quickly appointed men to sing and sent them out in front of his army. There is power in worshiping God in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death. Joshua did it, Paul and Silas did it, Jehoshaphat did it and so should you. Satan hates valley worship!
5.) Watch God win the battle. Watching God win is the fun part! Watch your ministry thrive, watch your business grow, watch your plans succeed. Especially for those of you who have been given the high and noble calling of leading a church, watch God build it! Jesus made this promise to Peter and all of us; "I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it" (Matthew 16:18 NLT).
As you lead and make tough choices, just remember you will sometimes make the wrong decision. Pastor craig groeschel from Life Church Oklahoma stated in one of his sermons that, "sometimes failing is the first step to succeeding." He encourages us that if we're not occasionally failing we're playing it too safe, and that "we cannot play it safe and please God" (Hebrews 11:6)!
You may be wondering how our outreach event with the Easter bunny turned out. I had taken all the steps that I listed above, but now it was time for God to move. I walked up in front of the stadium, and there was a line wrapped around the entire front side of the venue. Over four thousand people showed up that day. After just ten minutes of sharing the story of how Jesus changed my life, over one hundred and fifty people rededicated or gave their hearts to God for the first time.
In leadership, we must remember that the only thing certain is that there will be uncertainty. In our journey, we will have success, and failure, but we should keep in mind that God doesn’t waste failure so neither should we. Admit that you don't always know, seek God, wait for an answer, take a leap of faith, and watch God win!