The Unreasonable Leader
Not long ago I was having a conversation with Jerry Hurley, one our key staff members. I was asking Jerry if he could pull off something that, although extremely challenging, could potentially make a huge difference in our church. Knowing I was asking a lot, I apologized. “I’m sorry if I’m being unreasonable.”
“Don’t apologize!” he said, practically interrupting me. Grinning ear to ear, he said, “I love it when you’re unreasonable. That’s what makes our church great!”
Obviously no one wants to work for a leader who is always unreasonable. But the best leaders know when to push limits, dream bigger dreams, demand more, and pursue results most people believe aren’t possible.
There’s a time to be an unreasonable leader.
Think about these words of Jesus:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26–27).
That’s a pretty unreasonable demand.
Jesus told the rich young ruler, “One thing you lack… Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).
That seems a bit unreasonable.
Jesus told a guy with a withered hand to stretch it out. He ordered a lame man to get up and walk. He invited Peter to walk on water. From the beginning of his ministry until now, Jesus asks us to have unreasonable faith and to obey fully, even when we don’t understand completely.
Why Be Unreasonable?
Why should you consider occasionally being unreasonable as a leader? Because reasonable leaders produce reasonable results. And unreasonable leaders produce unreasonable results. If you ask people for what you think they can do, you’ll get what you asked for—and usually no more. But if you ask people to do more than they think they can, you’re likely to get more than most leaders.
Why does being reasonable have such a strong gravitational pull? It’s not because being reasonable is bad; it’s because it’s easy. Think about it. Reasonable is not controversial. It doesn’t require risk. It never rocks the boat. People rarely criticize a reasonable leader. Reasonable is the path of least resistance.
When it comes to making a big difference, being reasonable is what stops many people. Reasonable people don’t attempt unreasonable things.
“It can’t be done.”
“Nobody’s ever tried that before.”
“It will probably fail.”
But unreasonable leaders know that extraordinary accomplishments begin with extraordinary ideas.
For example, when our leaders realized that our generation is the generation least engaged in the Bible, we figured somebody needed to do something. Being a little unreasonable, we figured it might as well be us. Literally weeks before Apple opened the App Store, we decided to try to create and release the first Bible app. We didn’t know anything about building an app (nobody did), much less how to do it in just a few short weeks’ time. But with unreasonable faith, and not knowing what we couldn’t do, we asked a 19-year-old, staff member to give it his best shot. When the App Store opened, just weeks later, we launched the Bible App …and saw 81,000 downloads in that first day. The following Monday, we assigned that 19-year-old to the Bible App full-time, and now, six years later, with more than 150 million downloads, our church is honored to do what reasonable people never believed any church could do.
How can you move from a reasonable mindset to leading with unreasonable faith? If you want to change what you do, you have to change how you think. Here are four different mindsets I’m learning to adopt:
- Think what first. Think how later. When leading, I try to focus on what we want to accomplish. Too many people jump straight to the how. When the how seems difficult, it makes the what sound unachievable. But when we commit to the what, then we’re more likely to figure out the how. For example, so much of the technology we enjoy today wasn’t even considered possible just five years ago. Commit to the what, and you’re more likely to figure out the how.
- Embrace limitations as a blessing. Most people can quickly figure out all the reasons something can’t be done. This usually starts with some version of this statement: “We can’t do it because we don’t have_______ (fill-in-the-blank). I’m training myself to never say, “We can’t because we don’t…” but instead to say, “We can because we don’t….” The most innovative ideas are born out of constraints. When people don’t have what they think they need to do what they want to do, they get creative. In fact, the more resources you have, the more difficult it is to innovate.
- Action brings more progress than thinking. I’m not saying you shouldn’t think. I’m just suggesting that you start acting earlier. I prefer a bias toward active mistakes rather than passive mistakes. Andy Stanley says, “It’s easier to educate a doer than to motivate a thinker.” Be a doer. You will likely make mistakes. But you can learn from mistakes. You will never know what’s possible until you try.
- Prayer power is better than people power. You wouldn’t think I’d need to remind ministry leaders of this. But we can often be the worst at depending on ourselves and forgetting God. Dream big. Then pray bigger. If prayer isn’t necessary to accomplish your vision, then you’re not dreaming big enough!
So what are you waiting for? Do you see an opportunity? Someone needs to do something about it. It might as well be you. Dream unreasonable dreams. Attempt unreasonable things. Live with unreasonable faith. And watch God do more through you than you ever thought possible.