My 4 year old son is incredibly verbal and articulate. From his earliest words, we’ve been shocked to listen to him speak in a way that is abnormal for children his age. His word choice and enunciation are phenomenal. It was funny over this past weekend, when he tried and failed to pronounce the word “decision.” We’ve been working with him to say it one syllable at a time, but it’s still tripping him up. We’re not sweating it. He’s four and it’s three syllables – it’s a good problem to have.
Decision is a big word around our house these days. Our family has just made a big one. This past Sunday, I announced to our church in Phoenix that I’m a candidate for the Lead Pastor position at Cornerstone Church in Prescott, Arizona. Prescott is about 90 minutes north of our current home in Phoenix. We were approached by a friend of the church in the first part of 2016 and have been talking and praying our way through this opportunity ever since the initial Twitter Direct Message. (It’s pretty ironic how many opportunities have come in my life this year because of Twitter DMs. God bless Twitter!)
It’s a big decision to leave a church where my wife, Dani, and I have so much history. I started attending in 2002 and began serving the next year. Dani began attending in 2005 and started serving right away. I went on staff in 2006 and met her shortly after. We got married in this church and I was ordained as a pastor here. We’ve had three children here and I’ve gone from a student ministry volunteer to Teaching Pastor. But we feel like this is the right move for our family in this season. If all goes according to plan, we’ll move to Prescott within the next couple months.
As I’ve been reflecting on the decision, I’ve been comparing our approach to this decision in light of other big decisions in my life. We’ve learned how to make decisions together and I think we’ve found what is involved in a healthy decision-making process (at least for us).
5 Essential Ingredients In Making a Big Decision
1. Clarify what’s most important.
One of the reasons big decisions are so hard is because we rarely become 100% sure beforehand. In my experience and those I’ve talked to, total clarity is a unicorn.
While we might not know everything we want, we can all build on the clarity we already have. We do know what matters most to our family. We do know how to research and ask questions to learn more. We do have non-negotiables where we will refuse to compromise. Even when a lot seems uncertain, we can clear some of the fog by going back to what’s most important.
2. Embrace silence and stillness.
As a follower of Jesus, I want to hear from God about a big decision. I’ve always resonated with the words of Henry Blackaby in his book, Experiencing God, where he writes, “God speaks to us in four ways – Bible, prayer, circumstances, other people.” In order to hear God speak through prayer, we have to be still and listen. To hear God through the Bible, we have to pause long enough to read and absorb. To interpret through the lens of my circumstances, we have to quiet the noise inside us in order to reflect on what’s happening.
In a noisy world, it’s hard to hear unless we disconnect and draw away. None of us can retreat from the world entirely without becoming a monk or a nun. However, we can develop the discipline of putting our phones away and disengaging social media. We can create space in our schedule to listen to our lives and what God is trying to say to us. I believe God wants to speak to us. The question is, “are we listening and ready to hear?”
3. Identify a circle of trusted friends
Proverbs 15:22 teaches us, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed.”
Dani and I have never made a big decision as a married couple by ourselves. We value the people we do life with and in this decision, we sought their input and prayers as soon as things developed. I spoke with mentors and got input from people who’ve known me for a long time. It’s not that we didn’t trust ourselves, we just know that we trusted people and knew God would speak through them.
I’ve read about a growing trend where people are importing a concept from the business world in their personal lives. I’ve seen figures I admire from afar mention that they have recruited a “personal board of directors” to help them navigate life. This board includes a group of people who are committed to you first and foremost and want to see you succeed. This group provides accountability and a sounding board for filtering decisions and opportunities.
However you choose to engage people, having a circle of trusted friends is a key component to making a decision you can be proud of for year to come.
4. Choose courage in the face of fear
If it’s a big decision, fear is going to be a huge factor. In his book, Leadership Pain, Samuel Chand writes, “Growth involves change and change produces pain…Your growth capacity is directly related to your pain capacity.” We’re afraid of pain and many times we sabotage ourselves by making fear-based decisions.
To make big decisions, we must be courageous. We have to find something which is greater than our fear. Yesterday, my son was swimming with me in the pool. He is still navigating some fear of the water and I talked with him about the fact that he could jump into the water even though he was scared. I told him how I do things when I’m scared all of the time.
My friend Leeana wrote a beautiful blog recently about this same subject and I love what she wrote. “Here is the only thing I kept hearing from God: ‘Leeana, do not make a decision based on fear. Don’t let fear be the impetus. Don’t let fear be your guiding principle. Instead, what decision would you make, Leeana, if you felt perfect freedom?'”
5. Leave room for faith.
At a certain point, we have to make decisions and move forward. We rarely have 100% certitude of what we should do. In my experience, I get mostly certain (more than 50% but less than 90%) and then I have to make a call and move forward. In his book, Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley writes about a certainty quotient. He’s identified 80% certain as the point he reaches before he makes a decision. After that, he has to trust God and himself with the decision that was made. “Waiting for greater certainty may cause you to miss an opportunity,” Stanley writes.
Every decision is a faith-based decision. We don’t have all the answers and we don’t know for sure how things will work out which have not occurred yet. Some decisions we make will not turn out the way we hoped and that’s the reality of human life.
I’m constantly reminding myself that even if I make a decision I see differently in the future, God’s work in my life is bigger than that. My mom once taught me a really important lesson about how God works using the principles of physics. She said that each of us is filled with potential energy – there is a lot we could do but it’s all potential until we take action. It takes a great force to convert a static object into a moving one. But once it starts moving, the object translates the potential energy into kinetic energy. And as the item begins moving, it takes less force to redirect the moving object than it did to get it moving in the first place. When I was really sweating a decision years ago, my mom said, “Scott, God is bigger than any decision you make. And it is a lot easier for God to change your direction that it is for Him to get you moving in the first place. Pick a direction and trust God.” Those words helped me then and I hope they help you now.
You can do this!
I’m not sure what your next big decision is, but if you’re wrestling with one, I’ve got a ton of empathy for you. I’d love to encourage you if I could. Please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Making big decisions is never easy, but you can do it. These ingredients can help. I know they did for me!