By Brian Dodridge
President Truman had a now famous sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here!”
It’s highly unlikely my readership includes a current or past U.S. President, but that doesn’t mean you and I don’t know what the “buck” feels like on our desk.
The weight of the proverbial buck is heavy.
I’m sure it’s heaviest for the President and those whose decisions impact millions. But leaders, whether at the top of their org chart or not, have a certain weightiness related to their decisions. Those decisions have spiritual ramifications because they don’t only impact the people inside the church, but must also reflect the identity of the “Church” (the bride of Christ) to the people outside it.
When you’re faced with these decisions, having a decision making process can help. Here are helpful decision-making filters:
1. Don’t feel pressure to make immediate decisions
Unless necessary, take some time and think gray (back away, give yourself time for clarity to be established). Time often weeds out non-essential decisions, or if nothing else, provides valuable perspective on the essential ones.
2. Involve others
You may be the sole decision maker, but you don’t have to reach your decision in a vacuum. Whenever possible, get input from others. Ask those you consider to be subject-matter experts, or people with a proven track record of good judgments. When you do involve others, be fair with them by making sure they know what their role is and isn’t in the decision making process. Unilateral decisions are over-rated…involve others.
3. Have a theology informing your decisions
I’ve been taught that I need to form a theological or philosophical stance on subjects effecting major decisions. Although this can be difficult and take time, many, if not most major ministry decisions should have a theology informing them. In other words, check Scripture. God has chosen to share truth through it, and understanding what He says about a particular subject (ex. church discipline) will often help you make a better decision. Not too many years ago, I was the point-person for dealing with a really difficult person in the church. This person was harming the church’s vitality, and I needed to decide whether to deny them from being at our church. The gravity of the decision hit me, and I realized I didn’t need to be making a one-off decision informed by own thinking. I couldn’t just look at one scripture verse and say I grasped all its implications. The decision demanded a deep understanding of God related to the situation.
4. Be equipped with God’s presence
The good news is God is always present. But when making heavy decisions, there’s something very settling about spending intentional time with God in preparation. If you haven’t recently spent time before God in prayer and reading, you’re not ready to make your best decision. Your decision should come as overflow from God’s guidance received through prayer and in your Bible reading.
Recently, I was asked to give an answer to a question. Not just any question, but one that required my highest spiritual maturity. Although I’d spent time in prayer that day, I hadn’t prayed much regarding the topic I was asked about. And I thought my response (and ultimately, my decision on the matter) needed more. So I replied by admitting, “I haven’t spent enough time in prayer about this, so I can’t weigh in at this point.” Maybe not every decision, but especially the weighty ones require recent and substantive guidance from God and His Word.
For those times when you had no idea the decision point was coming, and it demands you make a decision quickly… trust God. Trust what you’ve learned from God previously. Dip into the reservoir you’ve built up. Many times, this is a moment you realize “His power is made perfect in our weakness.”
5. Make sure the buck belongs on your desk
There are times when you don’t have to be the decision maker, because the buck shouldn’t have made it to your desk. Abdication of a decision doesn’t always mean passing the buck. Sometimes, you’re not the best person to make the decision. Sometimes others don’t want the pressure, so they send the issue to you. Slow down and evaluate if the buck belongs on your desk, and then act accordingly.
6. Become friends with policy and precedent
Relying on these two things will not only save you time, but will often help you reach the right decision. Policies are developed to avoid making the same decision over and over. If I’ve developed a policy, I took time and thought through the impact of the policy, considering it from multiple angles. So if a similar decision comes up, I refer to the policy. Why use personal power when you can use already established institutional power? Don’t spend time considering a decision again when a thoughtful decision has already been made via a policy.
A policy makes it less about the personality and power of the person making the decision, and more about the predetermined course of action the group (church) has already made.
As for precedent – it’s not perfect, but it’s a good guide. Precedent can always be overruled when changing circumstances dictate, but a good decision maker knows what’s been done in the past and what happened as a result. When I took my current job, things were in a really good place. Good decisions had been made by my predecessor. So when I was presented with decision points, my first question back to the person was, “What have we done in the past, and is there any reason that course of action wouldn’t suffice again?”
Next time you’re faced with a heavy buck, revisit this post, and consider these filters for making the decision that’s reached your desk. My next post will deal with coping with decision-making pressures and outcomes.
Brian Dodridge serves as executive pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville, TN.