By Matt Proctor
(From our series “The Best or Worst Advice I’ve Ever Received.”)
I worked for a time at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and in a talk with church staff, senior minister Bob Russell once described the inevitability of conflict, “We’re not always going to get along. Someone said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name . . . there’s going to be an argument.’” He then pointed out the human tendency, in the midst of conflict, to suspect the worst about the other person. We assume their motives are malicious, or at least less-than-trustworthy. So Bob gave the staff a simple guideline for maintaining a healthy relational culture: “Trust good intentions.”
This advice has served me well in Christian leadership. When someone’s behavior is frustrating, I try to remember not to “mind read” their motives. If an employee critiques a decision I’ve made, I’ll be wise if I avoid labeling him “negative,” and instead believe he spoke because he cares about the college’s effectiveness. If a Christian brother disagrees strongly with my understanding of Scripture, I try not to brand him a “legalist,” but to instead appreciate what I assume is a desire to honor God’s Word. When my wife points out my faults, I’m learning to trust she’s not intentionally trying to hurt me, but instead trying to make me a better man. (Good luck with that, Katie.)
I’ve led long enough to know that, on occasion, a few people don’t have good intentions. But on the whole, “trusting good intentions” has kept me from interpreting people through my pain or frustration, from seeing their actions through an unfairly negative lens, and from responding out of fear or anger. In the midst of conflict, it has helped me to listen better, understand people more accurately, practice kindness more often, and learn more from what others have to say—however hard it may be to hear.
Where two or three are gathered in my name . . . trust good intentions.
Matt Proctor serves as president of Ozark Christian College.