This is the time of the year when predictions make headlines and are featured on talk shows. Prognosticators, psychics, soothsayers, and seers alike announce and discuss what they see coming on various fronts from the Super Bowl to the economy. These modern day stargazers always tell us who will and who will not be "hot" in the worlds of politics, sports, entertainment, and art.
Predicting the future is tricky business. Notre Dame, which will play in the BCS Championship game tonight, was ranked 25th in the ESPN pre-season poll. College football, like life itself, is so unpredictable. High hopes are often dashed by the cruel realities of life. Great expectations seldom equal great outcomes.
My wife made a statement just the other day that got me to thinking about all this. I don’t remember the exact conversation and what precipitated her comment, but she said laughingly “Hal, you’re so predictable!” She didn’t mean that in a mean way. In fact, she found it amusing, and, thinking about it, she’s so right. I am very predictable.
My wife knows me well. We’ve been married for 40 years, and she has a pretty good handle on the patterns and routines of my daily life. She finishes my sentences. She even makes a counterpoint to a point I haven’t yet made. I don’t stun her often, and she is seldom startled by the things I do. If I could be candid here: I’m probably too predictable, and, even though I am productive in my patterns and posture, I’m probably a little boring. It pains me to admit it.
Church leaders can be too predictable as well. Nevertheless, there is an upside to being predictable. It means you’re self-disciplined; it mean’s you’re consistent; and it means you’re “steady at the wheel.” Those are attributes of a good leader, which creates a level of comfort and a sense of calm among those he leads. People aren’t sitting on pins and needles wondering what their leader is going to do next. Predictability fosters trust in a leader. He is perceived as reliable, reasonable, and responsible. Those sentiments work in his favor.
Predictability is the fruit of character, personality, and leadership style. How a leader responds to a crisis or to criticism, for example, should be predictable based on the leader he is in Christ. It should not be a surprise to anyone that a leader responds to people and to situations in a Spirit-controlled way.
On the other hand, the most effective leaders are not quite so easily patterned. Our Lord is predictable because he is perfect in holiness and righteous in all his ways. He will never violate his eternal character. But who would suggest that how he leads us and where he leads us, and what he wants to do with our lives is predictable? Not me.
The Lord makes me comfortable and content in his faithfulness. Yet, he surprises me as he leads me in “the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake” because there is something new and challenging around the corner. He soothes my soul in his steadfast love, but he excites my spirit in the surprising newness of each day. I can never get too comfortable in the pursuit of his will and purposes for my life. He is a God of surprises and far from predictable. This keeps me on my toes, and I’d better be alert as he leads me.
As the Lord leads us, we should lead our people. When they become too comfortable and content where they are, it might be because we have become too predictable. When they can finish our sermons, anticipate our every move, and make counterpoints to points we haven’t even made, we are too predictable. As the Lord surprises us with the newness of his limitless creativity, we ought to challenge those we lead and serve with a few surprises of our own.
Hal West spent 33 years as a pastor with an emphasis on creating effective change and transition in a traditional church setting. He is the President of Compass Coach and Consulting (compasscoachandconsulting.com) whose mission is to assist pastors and churches find the road to success. He has authored 3 books. His latest is The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish: Boomer Pastors Bouncing Back (CrossBooks Publishing, 2011)
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