Friday, December 21, 2007


The longest way around is often the shortest way home. Sometimes a leader needs to take a more indirect approach, particularly with delicate or emotional issues. Directness and honesty may give you a feeling of relief, but they also stir up antagonism. You have to ask yourself, "What is the point of being direct, if it has the result of causing others to become more entrenched in their own ideas?" Military leaders have long understand that a frontal attack may be the least successful of all approaches, because it causes the enemy to "dig in." Julius Ceasar even said "a new way of conquering (is) to strengthen one's position by kindness and generosity." The flank is the path to power. In church leadership, as well, almost every obstacle can be overcome if approached from the right angle and the proper disposition.

In his book Stragegy, B.H. Liddell Hart expands on the power of the indirect approach:

"When, in the course of studying a long series of military campaigns, I first came to perceive the superiority of the indirect over the direct approach, I was looking merely for light upon strategy. With deepened reflection, however, I began to realize that the indirect approach had a much wider application - that it was a law of life in all spheres: a truth of philosophy. Its fulfillment was seen to be the key to practical achievement in dealing with any problem where the human factor predominates, and a conflict of wills tends to spring from an underlying concern for all interests. In all such cases, the direct assault of new ideas provokes stubborn resistance, thus intensifying the difficulty of producing a change of outlook. Conversion is achieved more easily and rapidly by unsuspected infiltration of a different idea or by an argument that turns the flank of instinctive opposition. The indirect approach is as fundamental to the realm of politics as to the realm of sex. In commerce, the suggestion that there is a bargain to be secured is far more important than any direct appeal to buy. And in any sphere, it is proverbial that the surest way of gaining a superior's acceptance of a new idea is to weaken resistance before attempting to overcome it; and the effect is best attained by drawing the other party out of his defenses."

I wish every Christian leader would study Hart's words carefully. There is truth here that will save us all a lot of ammo in battle, and make for a much happier experience for our followers, as well as us. There is one pastor (not at CTK) that I've watched over the last few years, who I don't believe has learned this principle. He is a bulldog in his approach to most issues. He is very direct in what he says and how he says it. He is left scratching his head as people eventually pull away from him, but I believe he creates a "fight or flight" climate in his ministry. I believe his ministry would be around 200 people right now if he would use more indirection in his approach. Instead it is around 50. It is difficult for someone who is very direct to see how an indirect approach could be better. The direct approach seems on the surface to be more moral and honest. But I would suggest that the truth of indirection is best modeled in Jesus. He was full of truth. But he was also full of grace. The grace caused him to approach issues indirectly through riddle, humor, kindness and generosity. He was even downright cryptic in some of his dealings (writing on the ground, answering a question with a question, etc.). I think we have a lot to learn here.


When you are a follower of Christ, you give up your rights to embrace your responsibilities. One of the rights we give up is the "right to be right." As Christian leaders who are well-versed in the Bible, this is a particular sacrifice for some of us. Have you put your ego on the altar lately? If not, it might be particularly difficult for you to take the indirect approach, because you'll know too much, and have far too much to say.

No comments: