As a young pastor I listened a lot. I listened to the many voices of leaders who went before me. There were times in those early years when I would ask a simple question and receive a profound answer. In my first year of pastoring I asked Jerry Cook one of those simple questions and his profound answer changed my understanding of leadership, but more importantly, it radically changed how I viewed God.
Jerry Cook was the Senior Pastor of East Hill Church in Gresham, Oregon for many years. East Hill grew to become a large and influential ministry under Jerry’s leadership. Beyond the size, what made East Hill so unique was the voice released through its leadership to the larger Church. Jerry gave us the ability to see a model of leadership in operation that was unique on the Spirit-filled landscape. Jerry taught us to become thinking Pentecostals and not live in the fear that our thinking would somehow chase the Holy Spirit away.
In my first year of ministry, I sat in a gathering of pastors and asked Jerry, “How do you make decisions?” He replied, “When we have a decision to make we look at all our options. We then choose the one we think sounds the most like God. Then we begin walking down that road.” I asked another question, “What if you made the wrong decision?” Jerry replied, “God has always been faithful to pick us up from the wrong road and put us on the right road, if our hearts were right.”
As Jerry’s answers to my questions circled within my mind I realized I had been given one of those life-truths I would be unpacking for years to come. Jerry not only gave me insight into his leadership style, but I learned even more about the heart of God.
Jerry’s answer deposited several insights into my life:
Decision-making should be collegial. Jerry used the word, “we”, five times to describe how he made decisions that affected the ministry of East Hill. He did not lead from a solitary position. Jerry invited his team to make decisions with him. The “we” word was an invitation that said decision-making can be a shared experience.
Decision-making involves risk. When we entertain all the options before us there is an element of risk when we try our best to choose the God-route. This is what faith is all about. Faith is risky. You risk your reputation. You risk your pride. You risk your self-image. You risk your money and the money of those who entrusted their money to your leadership. Without risk we will never take those first steps of obedience. If there is no risk in our decision-making faith will be absent from the process.
Decision-making repositions our trust. Many times those of us who lead try to project self-confidence in our decision-making ability when our confidence is better placed in the Lord. His decision-making is infallible, ours is not. Paul told the church in Corinth in his second letter, “We have placed our confidence in Him, and he will continue to rescue us.” The repositioning of our trust births a confidence that if things go wrong on the journey God will be there for us.
Decision-making is a process that reveals our image of God. Of all the things I learned that day with Jerry Cook – this one was the most significant. I learned that God is not afraid of my wrong decisions. God was big enough to pick me up off the wrong road and put me down on the right road if my heart was right. If in the journey I discovered personal sin, I always had the option of confession and repentance and that made my heart right once again.
This was a revelation that taught me something new and different. I had always thought God let us ride out our innocent wrong decisions to a catastrophic end as some form of punishment and discipline and that was how we learned about his heart. I was wrong.
I could now trust God who would always be there for me even when I picked the wrong road and got a few miles down that wrong road before realizing my mistake. This has allowed me to grow in the most important element in decision–making, learning about and trusting in, the heart of God.