Willfulness: "Not Your Will Be Done, but We Insist That Ours Be Done."


At a recent symposium, “Speaking Truth in Love: A Forum on Human Sexuality,” convened by the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), one of the speakers, Karla Wubbenhorst surmised that at the root of some of the current debates that are occurring within that denomination, willfulness might be at work. [http://psalt.info/video-resources/ ]. In this short treatment, we will explore the definitions and detriments of willfulness.

Although Wubbenhorst did not define willfulness at any length, suffice it to say, she conveyed the fact that certain interest groups within the PCC were using it to get their way — and one might add — at any cost. And then again, likely there were other groups who also were digging in their heels and exerting willfulness to avoid any change at any cost. So just what is willfulness?

Israel Galindo hosts a blog for academic deans and one of his articles was entitled "The Dean and Change: Willfulness or Necessity?" http://wabashcenter.typepad.com/wabash_center_deans_blog/2012/10/the-dea...

In this helpful piece on change in an institution he provides the following characteristics of willfulness in a leader:

  • A stance of power or an appeal to authority when pushing for change
  • An unwillingness to accept opposing viewpoints
  • An uncritical dismissal of the validity of other viewpoints
  • A lack of appreciation of the impact of a decision on others
  • An insistence on conformity
  • Pushing for a decision through ultimatums or unnecessary deadlines
  • Insisting on only one way to do things
  • Seeking ways to silence opposing viewpoints 
  • Withholding information
  • Exaggerating consequences of a decision
  • Engaging in seduction tactics to win over people
  • Triangling others into the issue not involved in the matter
  • Politicizing the change and creating coalitions 
  • Making claims based on wishful thinking, anecdotes, or personal experience rather than study.

Galindo, suggests that forcing change by sheer willfulness will never result in lasting good, and instead suggests that a more helpful model of what he calls "necessary change" is as follows:

  • The decision is for the welfare of the institution, its advancement and health
  • The decision benefits the majority of persons in the institution, not just a few
  • The decision advances the mission of the institution
  • The decision is ethical and does not violate standards or regulations
  • The decision is informed by study and responsible interpretation of data
  • The decision is given to the persons or group that must take responsibility for its implementation.  


In two rather different settings, Karla Wubbenhorst and Israel Galindo speak about willfulness. What is common to both of them, is that they are noting that within organizations change occurs, and this can be done under better or worse circumstances, with willfulness being an example of a worse circumstance. Anyone in leadership, whether at a congregational level or at a denominational or institutional level, knows the challenge of navigating through the reality that 'constant change is here to stay. Just how an individual or group of them assert their will within that dynamic could well be an indicator of the presence or lack of the fruits of the Spirit, as Galindo's list well demonstrates.


  1. In your leadership capacity, do any of the traits of willfulness show up? Can you think about how they are helping or hindering necessary change?
  2. In the context of the CRCNA, can we identify areas where willfulness might be at work? Is it helping or hindering the cause of healthy and necessary change?
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