It was a stupid thing to do. Returning to my hotel room at the end of the first day of a conference, I could not find the keys to my Honda. My husband, Gary, and I drove separately to the event. We looked everywhere, dumping out the contents of both suitcases and computer bags and checking the pockets of our clothes, all to no avail. We scoured every square inch of the parking lot and yard, peered under cars and checked at the front desk to see if anyone turned in the keys. No luck. Stupid, especially since I didn’t have a spare set of keys with me, and there was no Honda dealership within many miles. I was reminded that I live in Detroit country now!
Go ahead and do stupid things, for risk at times invites stupidity, and if we don’t risk, we don’t grow.
That same day I read an article from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership that recalled an address R. Kevin LaGree gave to the graduates of Candler School of Theology of Emory University some years ago. [See Commencement Season Lessons for All Leaders,Leading Ideas, May 6, 2015.] One of the bits of wisdom LaGree offered was, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
How can I have made it through so many years of ministry and still do stupid things? My gaffes and mistakes are legendary, at least in my own mind. A month into my first appointment, I preached what was evidently a controversial sermon about peace-making to a rural congregation. The district superintendent was called, and I learned a lesson about trust and pastoral sensitivity.
In another church, we initiated a building program to remodel the sanctuary and construct a new fellowship hall and accessible restrooms. Despite our hard work, the Building Committee was a bit too far ahead of the congregation. They voted against the project, and I felt foolish. Fortunately, we kept the lines of communication open, the proposal passed handily the next year, and we easily raised all of the necessary funds.
Don’t do anything stupid. It really is good advice, but stupid things don’t always have to be bad. In fact, failure is one of the best learning laboratories around. Failure not only keeps us humble, but when we are willing to learn from the stupid things we do, we gain confidence, acquire courage, and are not afraid to risk again. So I say to new leaders, go ahead and do stupid things, for risk at times invites stupidity, and if we don’t risk, we don’t grow. We don’t grow personally and professionally, and we don’t grow the Kingdom of God. Be bold in your mistakes, but minimize the pitfalls by following these tips.
- Be proactive rather than reactive. People will forgive almost anything if you admit your mistakes, apologize, and ask for forgiveness rather than react defensively or blame others.
- Think before you speak or act. Rash decisions, impulsive actions, or losing your temper can come back to haunt you.
- Practice what you preach.
- Remember, the church is not about you. Get yourself out of the way and focus on the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives.
- Take the high road no matter what. When you listen carefully and are unfailingly gracious to those who hurt or criticize you, you model the love of Christ.
- Rely on a few trusted friends to be a reality check and gently hold you accountable.
- Pay attention to your spirit, and take care of yourself. Undue stress can lead to irritability and poor decision-making.
Rather than pay $400 to have my Honda towed back home, Gary drove two hours home and two hours back to get the extra set of keys. I am thankful for the gift of the simple yet profound wisdom for all of us in “Don’t do anything stupid.” But I’ve had to tweak this bit of advice to “Learn from the stupid things you do.”
- The Failure-Tolerant Leader by Robert Schnase
- Leaders Learn from Their Failures by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- Learning to Fail Fast by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.