This is a guest post by Bill Blankschaen. Bill Blankschaen is a proven non-profit leader, writer, speaker, and ministry consultant who equips Christians to think, live, and lead with abundant faith. He blogs at FaithWalkers at Patheos and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
Silence is not always golden. Ministry leaders especially know how easily people can be offended even when they don’t say anything at all. Often it’s more Spirit-led art than science to know when to speak and when to be silent.
But what about when we intentionally choose to not speak up when engaging fellow leaders in our organization? I suspect we’ve all done it at times. We choose to tuck our head in and go silent during the weekly staff meeting. We shut our mouth and stir our coffee when our boss makes a statement we think may be inaccurate. Or we just sit on information that we’re pretty sure someone else should know about.
I confess that I’ve chosen to not speak up more times than I care to remember. To my surprise, I often discovered — sometimes weeks or months later — that I had been right. I should have said something. My silence didn’t help my fellow leaders — in fact, it crippled their efforts. Perspectives that I thought must have been obvious to them, apparently were not. Consequently, my silence didn’t help the organization, and it limited my own growth in the process.
So why do we so often choose to not speak up when that little voice within says we should?
5 Reasons We Choose to Not Speak Up
Here are 5 reasons I have found to be pretty common for our choosing to be silent:
We Fear Sounding like a Fool. I confess that this reason is my worst offender. It even sounds Biblical. “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; When he closes his lips he is deemed intelligent.” (Prov. 17:28) But, truth be known, our silence in those circumstances often has more to do with pride than wisdom. Admittedly, getting humbled by stumbling over our words might not be fun. I seem to recall Moses having the same issue. But God often brings humility to us so he can do great things through us.
We Fear Getting Hurt. Let’s face it. When we speak up and put our thoughts out there, we make ourselves vulnerable. We might be wrong. Worse, people might laugh. But leading from a place of weakness may be just what your organization needs. Dick Savidge, President of Ministry Coaching International says, “Leading from strengths invites comparison. Leading from our weaknesses invites community.” The Apostle Paul even noted that he led the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” Might be worth a try.
We Fear Hurting Others. As Christ-followers, we know we’re supposed to be kind, loving, gentle, tender-hearted and all that. Especially with today’s cultural emphasis on tolerance, it’s all too easy to convince ourselves that we’re being kind by not saying something that might rock the boat. But we’re also called to speak the truth in love because it “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph. 4:15-17) So the truly loving thing is often not silence but truth — delivered in love and for love.
We Fear Consequences. We’ve all been there before. We chose to speak up and got our hand slapped — or our head taken off. So we’re reluctant to go there again. Understandable. Not excuseable, but understandable. Jacob chose to leave Laban in the middle of the night for that very reason. He’d been burned before by his father-in-law and thought silence would be the best option. Yet when Jesus knew full well the consequences for calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers, he did it anyways. Best to fear God more than we fear the people He created.
We Fear Conflict. Abraham kept silent twice when other guys thought his wife was a hot commodity. Twice. Before we deride him too much for his failure to speak up, think about how many times you’ve taken the path of least resistance to avoid a conflict. Harold Kohn wisely noted, “Brooks become crooked from taking the path of least resistance. So do people.” Instead of seeing potential conflicts as negative, choose to see them as opportunities for positive growth in the Kingdom. Don’t fear tension. Embrace it as the evidence of life that it is.
Which of these reason have you struggled with the most as a leader? What other excuses would you add for choosing to not speak up?