In my first and second church plant, we experienced successful growth. Because of this, on two memorable occasions, my arrogance displayed itself like the fanned tale of a peacock. It’s embarrassing to know how silly I must have looked. In my late twenties, a man twice my age came to me—a seasoned saint—looking for a church home. I vaguely remember our conversation other than I discerned he was interviewing my capacity as a pastor he could respect. In my vanity, I assured him I could teach him some things. He didn’t return.
The other occasion was even more disgusting. In my late thirties, our second church grew rapidly. We had a solid couple in the congregation in their mid-forties. The wife’s father and mother had moved into town, and visited our church. I was invited over to meet them. Her father had been a Christian most of his life and served as an elder in the church they attended. During my conversation with him I offered to add to his knowledge and learning. He decided not to join our church and his daughter and her family went with them to another. The daughter later informed me as to why. I tried to be a big dog to a bigger dog.
This is what happens to any leader trying to impress their peers, elders and seniors with the notion they know more about things they know nothing about. In some cases, that may be true, but it won’t be received by those who’ve lived and experienced more of life than yourself. In my folly and pride, I assumed my success gave me the right to teach those two men who weren’t asking me to be their teacher. They were looking to see if I was humble enough to receive from their life’s experience, should that day come. I was not. When you’re a small dog trying to be a big dog around the big dogs, you look silly. You might as well be holding the plumage of a peacock behind your back.
I’ve had my own share of young twenties and thirties trying to impress me with their achievements and school me in my fifties and sixties. They looked just as proud as I did once when I tried it. It reminds me of the young man, Elihu, in Job. He had waited to hear the three friends analyze and dissect Job’s predicament by their accumulative wisdom. To Job, his friends were small dogs trying to teach him—the biggest dog of his day. Then Elihu spoke up to rebuke them, claiming they were all wrong. He listened, yes. He deferred to his elders and let them all air their opinions. And though he sounded as wise as they in his argument to justify God in the matter, God stepped in and set them all straight—including Job.
Young leaders need to be slow to speak and quick to listen to those who are older, more seasoned, and skilled in their work. Instead of airing your opinions, ask questions about their lessons from life, their skills, their knowledge in the areas of their strength. They’ve been at it longer. What can you add to them from the limitations of your youthful life’s experience? Why spend precious time listening to your expressed opinions when you could be receiving more knowledge from them?
There’s a time to speak and a time to keep silent. Ask questions and learn. Refrain from offering your opinion unless the bigger dogs ask. And when you’re asked, offer it humbly as your best understanding—not the absolute gospel. Be prepared to receive their response with an open mind. If you disagree with their response, humbly request more information to help you understand how they came around to their conclusions. You may need more information they hadn’t offered yet. To answer a matter before all the facts are in is folly to a small dog. You can’t know how to respond with limited information in any matter.
A good leader is first and foremost a good listener—perpetually. A good leader doesn’t assume everyone wants to hear their opinion. Proverbs teaches that a prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, whereas a small dog—trying to be a big dog—blurts out folly. Let the big dogs be the first to ask for your opinion. Then respond humbly.
“Humbly” means to assess first if you have something meaningful enough to build upon the conversation at hand. If you’ve nothing to share from your limited experience or knowledge, then say that. You don’t have to fake an opinion on something you know little about. It will be readily noticed.
If, however, you have some meaningful insight from your life’s experience and study, share it. But as you share, allow the big dogs to either disagree, discard, or embrace your opinion. Don’t own what you share with them. Freely offer it—without strings. It’s up to them to own it or not. If you offer your opinion with an open hand, you won’t be offended if they leave it there.
Finally, no matter how old, experienced, or wise a leader you may become, there’ll always be someone who knows more about something than you. If you take the position of being a perpetual student of life, you’ll be the wiser for it. You’ll always ask questions and listen to the big dogs who are beyond your measure of knowledge and experience.