On the Leader Sharing Doubt

by Bill Easum

No one is ever totally beyond doubt. The issue with me is how much doubt can a leader share with the people and still be the leader. I have found it is easier to share doubt about issues than about one’s faith and still be able to effectively lead. I have also found it is easy to share doubt about faith once that doubt has lead to deeper faith. I think we need to distinguish again between struggle and doubt. When my wife had cancer some years ago, I shared over a year period the struggle we were going through and how it was testing our faith, but that it was our faith that brought us through it knowing that whatever happened it would be okay in the end.

Not long ago my wife and I watched a movie called U-152 or something like that. It was about the US stealing the submarine code during WWII. The Captain had been killed by a torpedo and the Ex-O is in command. There are but a few of the submariners left and they are standing around looking bewildered when one of them asked the new Captain what they are to do now. The new captain says, “I don’t have a clue.” Later that night the Chief Officer is having coffee with the new captain and he asks to speak freely. When given the go ahead, he says, Captain don’t ever speak to your men that way, not if you want to lead. Don’t ever tell them you don’t know. The captain always knows what to do.

I instantly thought of this conversation. Right or wrong, it has always been my position that if I want to lead, one of the luxuries I no longer have is to not have a clue. This is one of the reasons more and more churches will not follow the lead of their pastor — they know their pastor doesn’t have a clue.

There have been many times in my ministry when I didn’t have a clue as to what was next other than I felt it was God’s will for us to make disciples and to do whatever it took to expand our ability to do so. So when I was unsure, I would just speak more about making disciples and demonstrate more of my own doing just that until some light was shone into my darkness. But the people never knew I was clueless and they never, ever questioned my leadership.

I would share my doubts about issues, but never, ever about direction. I appeared to always know where Canaan was, even if I didn’t have a clue. I learned that from an earlier explorer centuries ago.

Only once in my ministry did I share with them that I was lost. And I was, absolutely lost. So lost I had a nervous breakdown in 1982. We just weren’t making enough disciples to be worth all the sacrifice so many were making. Something had to be wrong, but I didn’t have a clue. When I crashed, I had trained and equipped enough people to absolutely believe in clarity of leadership that all they saw was a man in need of a vacation. So I took it. On that three month sabbatical the way was made clear. It was during that, by myself, in my face, time with God that our permission giving, small group, team based approached became clear. Over the next four years our church exploded with growth.

But here is what I believe about that experience. Even though I was lost, they still believed in my leadership because they knew this was not normal for me. They sensed something more important was going on. They knew I crashed and burned, not because I was lost, but because the mission wasn’t getting accomplished. This is the key. I hope this helps.