permission granted?

thumbs up 2I can remember once being told that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. It was said slightly tongue-in-cheek, but only slightly. The premise for that maxim is that getting permission from someone can be time-consuming, takes a degree of tact and diplomacy and you have to be good at patiently explaining yourself, so it is easier just to go ahead. If you get it right everyone will be happy. On the other hand, saying ‘sorry’ if you get something wrong is relatively easy.

While from an expediential point of view I have some sympathy with that perspective, it is not a very gracious or inclusive approach and probably only works in the short term, especially in a church context. You can only ask for forgiveness so many times before people start to question whether you are doing a good job.

We do need to trust those we have asked to lead us: for example there’s no point in electing a government and then insisting that they hold a referendum on every issue. But that trust needs to be earned, and it needs to be respected and not taken for granted. To forge ahead regardless without seeking to explain ourselves or to worry about what other people think on the understanding that we can always say ‘sorry’ if we get it wrong is not very honourable. It is often (imho) at the root of when a government starts to become unpopular – when people think that they have stopped listening to us or caring about what we think.

In a church context, especially one like ours which has a congregational approach to leadership where the gathered church makes the big decisions in the church, those in leadership should never allow ourselves to take other people for granted. Everyone’s opinions matter. In fact I think they matter more if they differ from mine as the interaction between differing opinions can refine one or the other, or both, just as pebbles on a beach smooth each other out as they are rubbed against each other by the waves on the shore.

It is worth taking the time and trouble to explain things when asked. It is worth offering the opportunity for people to seek clarification or suggest alternatives. It is worth asking for permission. Because God might have something important to say through those people and those in leadership are there to serve not to dominate or impose. It may take longer, but in my experience it is better when making important decisions to take that time (when the decision is not urgent) in order to make the decision well and to include as many people as possible in that process.

Of course there has to be a balance between leadership, consultation and group decision-making. Of course there has to be trust in the leadership and the tasks  delegated to them so that a large group is not micro-managing an organisation. Of course we need to discern which decisions need to be made by the larger group and which details need to be delegated.

But if we are genuinely seeking to do that we can attempt to do those tasks well with permission granted (and seek forgiveness if we make mistakes).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

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