Decision-making requires courage, and humility—both, and at the same time.
I don’t know about you, but this Coronavirus has had me thinking a lot. Watching whole countries try to manage their way through a mega-challenge. On the one hand there is the need to protect against a virus running wild and overwhelming medical staff and nursing homes, gutting workforces and threatening food supply chains. There are airplanes and hotel chains and restaurants and borders and businesses shut down. Governments trying to do the right things, the best things. Trying to walk a tightrope between the need to deal with surging death tolls, and surging needs of people who have no work, no food, and no money to pay bills.
There are questions: What is essential? What is permissible? Must we have one approach throughout the country or can we go state by state, city by city? When should borders reopen? And testing, how much testing is the right amount?
All kinds of questions. We are trying hard, as countries and societies, to manage this new threat. We are trying to manage something which is invisible to the naked eye, which spreads before symptoms are even present, which has us guessing as to when a crisis is past, and when it might strike again.
How do you make decisions, good decisions, when there is so much that is unknown? How do you make decisions for a group, be it a nation, a state, or a church family, when there are very different points of view? These are questions for everyone these days—not just for governments.
Church leaders are wrestling with immediate, practical questions, but also wondering about what lies ahead? It’s one thing to arrange for virtual worship, to arrange for pastoral care phone calls and such, short-term. But how long will physical distancing be required? How long before we are able to gather face-to-face for Sunday worship, or a funeral, or a wedding? How can we live into our life as a body? What will change? What must change? How can we helpfully, hopefully, lean into the future?
And the answer is: those are good questions.
It’s right and good to use our best thinking and best science, and best wisdom as humans to sort through the implications of this pandemic, in the broad arenas of governments and economies—as well as in the more focused arena of congregations. In fact, all of this is complicated, and there are disagreements.
It’s also essential for us to sit with this experience of unusual limitation and powerlessness, and absorb it deeply. We don’t have all the data that we would like. We don’t have all the information that would make decision-making precise, straight-forward and agreeable to all. This is a moment when the illusion of being able to fix all things and manage all things, is being exposed. “All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men, couldn’t….”
And yet, there are decisions to make.
It takes courage to make decisions, because decisions have consequences.
It takes humility to make decisions, because decisions have consequences.
Leadership is about having the courage to decide, based on best understanding. And leadership is about holding our decisions lightly enough to revisit them, to review them, and revise them if necessary.
What the apostle Paul said about the big picture once—"now we see through a glass darkly…”—is also true for our experience in the present. We don’t have all the information we would like. And we have all kinds of worries, wonderings, what-ifs and what-abouts, on our plates.
So whatever decisions we make in this interim period, not knowing how long it will last, or all of the impacts it will have, these decisions will require courage and humility both. At some point, (with credit to my fictional mentor, Inspector Gamache) we will need to be able to say things like: we were wrong, we are sorry, we don’t know, and we need help.
When we do well, thank God and credit His Spirit. When we get things wrong, or need to adjust, acknowledge it, receive God’s grace, and carry on!
I remember that Jacob did his wrestling with God at a time when he was literally “in the dark.” Sound familiar?
We may find, as churches, that there is a limp in our future. A badge of courage. And humility.