By Mark A. Taylor
If there’s one thing too many Christians avoid, especially with other Christians in church settings, it’s conflict. Bad situations fester because leaders fail to confront. Inferior ideas get implemented, and sometimes enshrined, because someone in charge is afraid to say no. A better way goes undiscovered because those discussing the future are too willing to follow the first plan proposed. A minority voice sways a decision because others in the group will not stand up and say, “Brother, you’re wrong.”
Yet the greatest progress is often the product of freewheeling dialogue where dissent is welcome. Bob Pittman, chairman and chief executive of Clear Channel Communications, told The New York Times he encourages dissent. In fact, he’s not satisfied if his leadership team tells him no one objects to an idea they’re discussing. “There’s always another point of view,” he said. Dissenters “may intend to tell you why we can’t do something, but if you listen hard, what they’re really telling you is what you must do to get something done.”
Pittman made another point that could revolutionize how many congregations operate. He encourages mistakes. “If you get it right 50 percent of the time, you’re close to genius,” he said. “So you’ve got to be prepared to be wrong many times or most of the time.”
But what happens to many of our preachers when they try something that doesn’t work? Too often we crucify them. The result? They do their ministry afraid of making a mistake. They lead tentatively, refuse to admit something isn’t working, or try to pass the buck when challenged about a miscalculation or outright blunder.
Pittman proposed a hypothetical but very possible situation: Suppose only two ideas out of 10 are clear winners and two more of them are obvious losers. Most organizations keep everything except the clear losers, he said. But over time, the just-OK ideas distract from the organization’s core mission and greatest opportunity.
So he advocates what he calls “weeding.” That is, keep the two clear winners and don’t devote resources to the “gunk.”
In other words, be willing to admit that some ideas were mistakes and to confront those who don’t see the situation that way. (And do this quickly. “You need to have a bias toward very quick decision-making. If you make the wrong move, then quickly change it until you get it right.”) Give new energy to new initiatives—and new mistakes. Keep trying till you see what works.
The church is not a business, of course. Local congregations exist to reach loftier and more complicated goals than increasing revenue and returning a profit. But Pittman’s attitude toward his enterprise—encourage mistakes, make quick corrections, keep testing new ways—could revolutionize how many ministries approach theirs.
Read the Times interview with Pittman here.