Highlands Blog

Wise Guys Know They Don’t Know Everything

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Posted in Highlands Blog under Character, Church, Leadership & Structure

Hipster man with glasses on making notes on a notepad.

Wisdom for Difficult Pastoral Issues

In recent weeks, I have seen a lot of internet energy being spent on what could charitably be called “difficult pastoral issues.” To be more specific, the energy is being focused on the relative correctness of pastoral decisions, and whether wisdom was properly applied. I have no desire to get into the specifics of any particular situation, because it really isn’t necessary to get to my main point which is the slippery nature of wisdom.

In James 1:5, it says that if we are lacking in wisdom, that we should ask God for it. Furthermore, it tells us that He gives it liberally, and without reproach. He is not miserly in giving wisdom to those who ask. If that is the case, then why are there so many difficult cases?

I know that in my limited pastoral experience, I have personally come across a number of very difficult situations, where the answers are simply not cut and dried. You try with all your might to apply Scripture to the situation, but there often seems to be a twist that tangles the logical rope. I say this, not as some sort of pastoral cop-out, but to attest to the reality of difficult situations.

When these situations arise, there is usually a lot of banter from the cheap seats. In church situations—just like as in football—there are those who observe from afar, with limited information in the present, or with the additional benefit of hindsight. They are quick to question the action or inaction of the pastor, session, parent, or coach, and chalk it up to ineptitude, negligence, or outright sin. It is not always the case, but I am astounded at how often the rock throwing comes either from the relatively young and inexperienced, or from folks with limited, secondhand, or distorted information. As a youth, I remember a high school coach in my town being fired because of the perception that he had wasted enormous talent available to him. It turns out, the perception was being fostered in editorials written by the father of one of the athletes who also happened to own the local newspaper. His child was not being played the way that he thought, so he worked to corrupt the town against the coach. This sadly happens as well in the church.

The Greatest Part of Wisdom

Let me stress, I am not defending the decisions, actions, or inaction of any pastor, session, or coach. I am trying to make a different point, which is this: the greatest part of wisdom is often grounded in the sober awareness that you don’t know everything.

This principle plays itself out in multiple ways. First, the wisest pastor is the one who, after consulting the Word of God first, considers the counsel of others, his session of elders, or other trusted pastors. He knows that he doesn’t always have all the answers, and that there is safety in a multitude of counselors.

Second, if you are in the midst of a problem yourself, don’t trust your own insight above all others. You have other things pulling at you that you aren’t even fully aware of yourself. It can skew your judgment. So, be slow to act, and quick to seek counsel from wiser and more experienced souls.

Lastly, if you are up in the cheap seats looking down at the action, be careful and cautious in passing judgment on everything you see. Time has taught me, particularly in the age of the internet, that everything is not always as it seems after the first look. There is always more to the picture than you might actually see. You might have information now that was not available to the players during the game. Or, there might be information that was available to the players that you still don’t have. Or, your perspective might be unwittingly corrupted by someone with an axe to grind that you don’t know about.

Please, please, don’t be so quick to launch bombs of judgment on people who are often working in very fluid or stress-filled situations, humbly trying to do the best they can. Besides, you might actually be saving yourself from eating a truck-sized helping of crow in the future.

Have you found ways to resist making quick judgments? Talk to us in the comments below.

  • Amen to that. I have seen much of the cheap banter in the past weeks as well and it really bothers me. Thank you for your wisdom on this topic.

    • Jay Barfield

      You’re welcome, Jennifer.

  • Sam

    I have been so guilty of this cheap seat chatter in the not-so-distant past. And yes, it was as one of those inexperienced young men who thought everything was cut and dried. Not long ago, I would’ve looked down on a pastor who struggled to correctly apply Scripture to these “difficult situations” people get into, as you admitted in this column. I’m now an inexperienced, slightly older young man who has just awakened to the reality that I don’t know nearly what I thought I knew. I now cringe at some of the things I used to do, things I used to take upon myself to say to others. Man, I thought I was the junk.

    It’s really a struggle, because I’m at the point where I can see it from both angles: my current wiser self and my former brash self, which isn’t all that distant. My former self, evidently still with me, makes me feel very uncomfortable sometimes in my being slower to speak and slower to come to judgment. I feel as though I’ve gotten squishy, that I’ve lost my nerve, that I’m becoming one of those blasted postmodernists who can’t make up his mind what truth is. I suppose I’ll always have that internal struggle.

    But I’m still a work in progress, of course. I still get duped into believing I know more than I really do. I can still be hasty to speak in the presence of the older and wiser. Which is why I still need posts like this one. Thanks, Jay.

    • Jay Barfield

      It is a struggle for most of us. Thanks for your feedback, Sam.

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