Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Counter-Intuitive Conversation

Written by: on October 22, 2015

Years ago, a friend of mine was laying cement for a new driveway on a cul de sac where he and his family lived. In addition to their family, nearly 20 neighborhood kids played outside every Saturday, in particular a band of young boys who loved to ride their bicycles up and down the street. On this particular Saturday, Gordon knew that if he put out a sign, “Stay off Driveway” or even merely hinted that he didn’t want anyone riding on the wet cement, he was asking for trouble. Who doesn’t want to make an imprint in wet cement to see how it dries? After laying the cement, he looked down the street where the boys on bicycles were waiting. Rather than wave them off with a scolding hand gesture, he waved to them with a welcome that suggested that they should ride down as fast as possible to go through the cement. The boys were so baffled that they rode off in the opposite direction.


In many ways, Charlene Li suggests something similar with social technology for businesses/organizations in her book Open Leadership. Run towards social media rather than away from it. Instead of holding onto more control when it comes to what employees/customers/shareholders/executives share on social media, she encourages them to open up to the possibilities of transparency, openness to learning, and creativity through social media.[1] This seemingly counter-intuitive approach actually brings about buy-in, commitment, and faster responses from employees and customers.[2]

However, the key to the value of the social technology comes with a needed “guardrail.”[3] By having covenants with what is expected, allowed, and a “be smart” mentality[4] for being open on social media, the environment can thrive through the communication and support that comes alive in social technology. With Gordon’s hand wave of welcome, he knew what he was doing by providing a way for the kids to express their youthful delight. He was suggesting a run towards what seemed inappropriate, yet this counter-intuitive move actually demonstrated a greater wisdom by relinquishing control. Working through a covenant of agreement on what is “open” for that particular organization/business, there is an element of control that as Li suggests is the “control for openness.”[5]

How does “control for openness” work in the church? Years ago, when I first read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, I experienced a paradigm shift in understanding the term “All Truth is God’s Truth (Justin Martyr).” Prior to this season, I held onto God’s truth is the only truth. Semantics? Or a whole other way of thinking? In Miller’s book and others to which I was exposed, I experienced the same feeling as those young boys on bicycles. I was being shown a driveway with fresh cement…drawn in curiosity and excitement yet not sure if I could. I desperately wanted to explore this new kind of thinking and understanding of God. Could it be that in my everyday world, the truth I encountered was actually God’s truth? Books like Li’s, laws of physics, principles of leadership – these truths were part of God’s truth. And pushing it even further, what about tenets in Hinduism? Buddhism? What about those truths? Or is it heretical to even suggest that another religion would have any truth?

As a leader, I feared what others would think should I express these thoughts in my church. As a result, I read many of the books clandestinely. Is it heresy to consider another way of thinking? Part of me longed for conversation; the other part wanted to run the other way in my confusion. This “open” idea disoriented me with something I had never considered before. Fearing the idea of leading someone astray in what he/she would believe about God, I didn’t know how to lead anymore. I closed down.

Now, with a few years of experience (and in light of Li’s encouragement), I hear these words for leadership: “Allow for the conversation; don’t be afraid of it; you may not agree, but you can listen; create a sandbox of what can be shared publically versus privately, and above all, make sure you’ve been developing relationships, not proclamations.”[6] To provide a safe place to share thoughts, ideas, questions, doubts, and mysteries can be one of the church’s greatest gifts. At the same time, there is great wisdom in knowing what needs to be said and when to say it.

Reflecting on Li’s research, my personal experience, and Gordon’s call for welcoming the risk of what could happen, I see the church’s role in a new perspective. What if the bride of Christ provides a conversation around discernment to determine God’s truth in the midst of a pluralistic world? Rather than proclaiming “truth” that comes contextualized from a particular culture, could the strength of the church be in allowing the conversation to take place, even with conflict, disagreement, and frustration? There’s a risk. People make actually make imprints in the cement. People may go astray. Yet, for “control of openness” within a church, conversation around both the ideas and how to live it out offer a safe place to live into God’s truth.

For “open-driven” objectives, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree. If there is graciousness in conversation, we can welcome one another, even when it seems counter-intuitive. For me, I try to listen to those who aren’t on my A-list (even though I think he may be on some of your lists), because he/she may actually have something wise to say, such as:

Alongside “All truth is God’s truth,” we need to say, “All truth exists to display more of God and awaken more love for God.” This means that knowing truth and knowing it as God’s truth is not a virtue until it awakens desire and delight in us for the God of truth. (John Piper)[7]

[1] Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 52-53.

[2] Ibid, 77.

[3] Ibid, 110.

[4] Ibid, 109.

[5] Ibid, 110.

[6] Ibid, 131.

[7] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/all-truth-is-gods-truth-admits-the-devil

About the Author

Mary Pandiani

Spiritual Director, educator/facilitator, follower of Jesus, a cultivator of sacred space for those who want to encounter God

10 responses to “Counter-Intuitive Conversation”

  1. Dave Young says:

    Mary, Thanks for another thought provoking read. Openness seems to be a great concept for the church, that might be till what we see floating up is totally out of step with sound doctrine. Yet, that to me would also be it’s great value. Creating an environment to see what people really believe, as opposed to assuming everyone is on the same page. They most certainly are not on the same page and the current church systems don’t provide a means to hear that. When I did the theology small group, and the paradoxology group that was the first time I’d experienced so much doctrinal thinking that seemed inconsistent with scripture. It was a wonderfully challenging experience and I’d recommend creating such open space with the church community… Just be prepared to wrestle.

    • Mary Pandiani says:

      Agree about the wrestling.
      I have a wise friend who once said, “you need to have people in your life with whom you disagree. Otherwise, you’ll begin to think everyone is just like you.” So while I won’t have to necessary agree or change my mind in conversations with people, I need to presume welcome. In our cohort, I think I’ve learned that and received the other side of welcome with one another. It’s a gift to be able to share our common places and our differences.

    • Brian Yost says:

      The disconnect between sound doctrine and people’s real beliefs can be staggering. It baffles me that there are pastors who never take the time to really listen to what their congregation believes. Kudos on your openness to hear your people.

      • Jon Spellman says:

        Brian and Dave. If we don’t listen to them, we assume that they just believe what we believe. When the truth comes out, we are often shocked and alarmed at what they think about certain matters of faith… like for example, gay marriage… We do NOT all think the same things and the divergence of thought is stark generationally.


  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Mary, Great wisdom in your post. I love the idea of running towards what is feared instead of ending up paralyzed by what could be. The church could be such an incredible “sandbox” to collaborate in if we could see more of our pastors and elders let go and become open. I have not equated Jesus’ ministry with open leadership before now but it is amazing how much latitude he allowed to his followers and truly invited them into a sandbox for discipleship. Great post … definitely contributing to my learning-leadership:)!

  3. Brian Yost says:

    “Allow for the conversation; don’t be afraid of it; you may not agree, but you can listen”
    I love that quote. I think we learn more and endear ourselves to more people by being willing to listen to things that we don’t agree with or are uncomfortable with.

    By the way, I used to do cement work in Jackson, MI. We did a lot of city sidewalks and frequently saw kids riding past several times just waiting for us to finish. I never thought of inviting them into the cement. We usually left to prep a job for the following morning, and later returned to remove the tire marks, handprints, footprints, and names. I always wanted to stick around to see the disappointment when they returned later and found only hard, smooth cement. Perhaps a little devious, but it was effective.

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” a quote the Apostle Paul used from Greek Philosophers but it was true. I think that it is not heretical to understand that other religions have truth in them and not be afraid to acknowledge it if it is truth. Where are border line comes is the total truth in bodily form was Jesus. Jesus said he is the “Truth” not trying to find it or relate but the wisdom of God that reveals all truth! Blessings

  5. Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Mary…I remember well my Youth Minister handing my Blue Like Jazz and then inviting me to ask all the questions I could about my faith. It was an incredibly formative time in my life that I still carry with me today. Your Jazz comparison is spot on with Open Leadership and helped me in understandng. Thanks for the illustration.

  6. Jon Spellman says:

    Mary, you asked: “what about tenets in Hinduism? Buddhism? What about those truths? Or is it heretical to even suggest that another religion would have any truth?”

    In my opinion, not wrong at all but depending on which church tradition you ask, it may very well be heretical! I think truth is truth matter where it is discovered. There real question is where does that truth point you? Where do you end up at the end of your inquiry?

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