In the Consistently Wise series, I’ve attempted to lay out the characteristics of an environment in which consistently wise decisions can be made in a church. Here, I’ve put them all together in one place as action steps to give us a framework of reference for making sure we’re not violating those characteristics when we go to make decisions together.
Healthy group decision-making is hard; but especially so in a church that does life together. We bring all sorts of maturity levels, backgrounds, preferences, predispositions, personalities, and more to the table. But it’s even more difficult (and improbable) if we don’t get the environment right.
Hopefully, this can be a reference any time we’re sensing a breakdown in church decision-making processes.
Each of the characteristics outlined below is linked to the post that further explains the reasons those characteristics must be held for healthy decision-making processes to occur and consistently wise decisions to be made. Go to each of them for a more in-depth look at each one.
Establish circular (not hierarchical) relationships
Any given individual may be able to outperform a group once in a while. But they cannot do it consistently.
The church was designed to function by mutual edification through Kingdom principles within circular relationships. Church life was designed to be a group endeavor, and that applies to every aspect of its life; including decision-making.
Heads don’t deliver two different messages to two different body parts. It’s not going to tell a leg to go right and an arm to go left. The body would be perpetually injured. If the head wants the body to go right, it sends the same message to all of the parts and then they coordinate themselves to accomplish the task. So it is with Christ.
Since we know the problem isn’t with the message the Head is sending, we know it’s a breakdown in communication somewhere from the Head to the body parts and/or between the body parts. So we don’t want to move until we figure that out. Doing so injures the body, not because any particular decision by a certain part would be bad or wrong, but because it breaks oneness. It’s the breaking of oneness that causes the injuries.
It’s also the breaking of oneness that stunts people’s spiritual growth. You know those people that are immature and don’t hear the Lord as well as you do? The Lord’s desire is not that you would make the decisions because you’re wiser and more likely to be right about a situation, but that you would work together to lay hold of the one who is Wisdom in every situation. This is how the immature grow more and more into Wisdom most effectively.
Start at the lowest level of groups
Once you form a committee or special team to make specific decisions, you’ve already caused your church to be less wise.
If your church is too big to have open participatory discussions like a family, the basic units of your church are too big. You need to become multiple smaller churches that form a network together – like the first Christians.
Make sure there’s enough maturity
Although you can’t rely on the more intelligent or mature alone, you also can’t be a wise group without them. Individuals and churches that aren’t developed into mature Christians are vulnerable just like babies and children are vulnerable physically, mentally and emotionally. They are vulnerable to bad decision-making.
This is why Paul’s #1 goal when planting a church wasn’t to reach a whole city. It was to “present everyone fully mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28-29) He knew if he did that, THEY would reach the city.
Individuals in a group can provide checks and balances to one another, effectively erasing each other’s errors and directing one another toward truth. But, and this is important, there must be enough truth in the mix to cancel the errors out.
If you look closely at the biblical concept of elders, you’ll find that they were critical in the decision-making process of the church. They don’t make decisions FOR a church, as if their voices were the only ones that are important. But they offer guidance, protection, facilitation, encouragement, admonishing and equipping throughout the process. Without this, a church is highly vulnerable.
Don’t think you have enough maturity in your church to be able to have small groups with mature people in each? Then you’ve got an establishment problem. What you’re doing to bring people to maturity in Christ isn’t working. You need to take a step back and re-evaluate.
Include all maturity levels
While you can’t expect a bunch of immature Christians to be consistently wise, you also can’t expect a few of the smartest, most mature to be either. What you need is to assemble a group of people that possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight and entrust it with major decisions, rather than leaving them in the hands of a few people, no matter who they are.
While more mature people may make better decisions overall than immature people, they are still surprisingly bad at calibrating their judgments. This means they don’t have a great sense of how correct their judgments are; routinely overestimating the likelihood that they have the best solution. A commitment to making decisions as a church helps to circumvent this natural tendency.
Even if the additional people that are included in the group aren’t that mature, the important thing is that they’re bringing new information and a different perspective to the table that isn’t redundant to everyone else in the group.
Label people what you want them to become
A huge part (maybe the biggest) of what brings people to maturity in Christ is how they’re treated by other Christians. This psychological principle is called “labeling.”
For people to mature, the area of decision-making is one where they need to be treated like who they are…so they will grow into who they are.
Consider as many solutions as possible
Simply coming to an agreement on a decision doesn’t make a group wise. This is because if the group is made up of very similar people with very similar opinions, they will tend to resemble each other in their perspectives, and in turn, the possibilities they’ll be able to come up with.
Diversity of opinions causes a church to really inspect what they’re thinking. It causes them to work through issues; to communicate, to debate, to ponder. If you have a few, similar possibilities, they’re less likely to be inspected and challenged.
So you uncover as many alternatives as possible, and encourage the revealing of those alternatives no matter what the possibility of success is. The more possibilities you can extrapolate that are uniquely different from each other, the wiser your decisions will be.
To be confident of Christ’s perspective on a matter, you must forgo individual perspectives and work to form a collective perspective through circle dialogue.
Don’t “chase the expert”
Because even experts are imperfect, their performance with decision-making will vary wildly depending on the problem they’re asked to solve.
Watch out for breakdowns in healthy decision-making processes
Be aware of any processes that violate the conditions of diversity, independence, and decentralization; and correct them swiftly.
The more alike the members of a church are, the more isolated they become from alternative opinions and solutions. Groupthink is marked by a lack of dissent when making decisions; along with a lack of exploration of possibilities.
While groups do make wiser decisions than one or a few individuals (and it would therefore be rational to follow the group), the principle is violated as soon as too many people adopt the strategy. This phenomenon is called herding. Everyone’s just doing something because that’s what everyone does.
A group has to be careful not to blindly accept decisions made by people just because they respect them, or they have a more outgoing personality, or they are just more intense with their convictions or opinions. Remember, different people will have a tendency to be wiser in different situations than others.
When decisions are made sequentially by people instead of all at once, the problem that can occur is people can start to assume those that made decisions ahead of them somehow had better information than they did. This causes people to abandon their unique opinions and possibilities and just settle for what others have already decided. This is called an information cascade.
It’s not that people’s mindsets and thought processes can’t be influenced by those they interact with. The problem occurs when people start deferring to others and accepting their opinions as right by default without truly exploring and expressing what they might think and feel in a matter.
Resist the urge to centralize
Don’t buy into the idea that centralized organization is safer – a protection against the mistakes that disorganization and loss of control can result in.
It’s true. Decentralized groups are vulnerable to disorganization, making mistakes and having conflict because it takes a high level of intentional effort to communicate and aggregate information from all parts of the network well. But centralizing information, power and control saps the potential wisdom right out of a group.
By centralizing in a church, you’ll surely feel more organized and like things are under control, but you will sacrifice wisdom. Not only that, you will fundamentally violate each Christian’s identity in Christ.
More mature people shouldn’t be making decisions. They should be aggregating decisions.
Lay hold of God’s purpose and principles
So, if a healthy solution to keeping people coordinated is not having a central planner, what do we do? What keeps order and stability within a group of people if they’re not ordered to behave in a certain way?
Within a group of people that has to coordinate itself, what each person is willing to do depends on what they think every other person is willing to do and how it affects every other person in the group.
If not everyone holds to the same standards or principles, conflict and chaos ensue because the group won’t move together in the same direction.
We learn to operate by our instincts and those instincts establish a culture of standards or principles that regulate behavior. For the individual Christian and churches, the Bible calls this being “led by the Spirit” and staying “in step with the Spirit.”
A Christian is one who has received a new kind of life. They’ve received the divine life of God. Just like human life, divine life contains DNA with instructions. Those instructions determine how that kind of life expresses itself. These are the new instincts of the Holy Spirit.
This divine life that the church has been given is expressed when the people involved are learning what their new instincts are and practicing them together until they become 2nd nature.
When it’s observed from the outside, it will look like it’s operating with one mind that guides it as each individual member follows the instincts of its new divine life. Of course, that One Mind is a Person, the Lord Himself.
You form little groups of people that will live life together and make learning and practicing the new instincts the Spirit has given them their top priority. When groups of people do this, the Kingdom is displayed in greater and greater measure.
As the members of the group grow in learning and practicing those new instincts, they become more coordinated and they organize themselves with relative ease. They make better decisions together. Decisions the Spirit is making. Hearing the Lord and executing His will on the earth becomes instinctual throughout the group.
As a church does this, they’ll increasingly allow the Holy Spirit to order their lives together how He wishes and, in turn, make the decisions He wants to make.
The rest of the posts in the Consistently Wise series are here.