We’re trying to fill several key staff roles at Willow right now, and recently one of my associates came into my office to give me a progress report. He got to one of the positions on his list and said, “You know, I was thinking about going after so-and-so for this role, but there’s no way he would come. It’s really too bad. He’d be perfect for this!”
It’s an odd tendency I see in even the most discerning and faithful leaders: when they’re trying to add a great board member or an elder or a small group leader or other key leader, they ask God who would be the very best person on planet Earth to fill the position. Upon receiving the answer, they proceed to pursue everyone but that individual. In almost every case, the “very best one” is a fantastic leader who is already busy doing extraordinary work somewhere else. “That” person might have to agree to a pay cut to join our team. “That” person might have to relocate from some balmy utopia to the Midwest … and surely they won’t do all that just to come serve alongside us.
For these reasons and many more, we take them off our wish list. Then, realizing we can’t have our top pick, we drop down a few levels and begin to consider the folks we can have. Sure, they don’t have the skills and competence of our number one choice, but hey, at least they’re available. This is a problem.
It takes a lot of discipline to approach wish-list people, but some of the most exceptional employees we’ve known are people who sat across the table from me one time when I said, “I know this is a long shot, and this may be a very short conversation, but would you pray about joining Willow’s team? I think you are the absolute best person for a critical position we are trying to fill. I know you have some exciting things going on already. And frankly, I was tempted to say no for you, but then I realized that maybe it’s something God would have you pursue. At a minimum, I wanted you to know of the opportunity. Please pray about whether or not it’s for you.”
On more than one occasion I have been shocked and delighted when extremely talented people called me and said, “Count me in!” I was so glad I hadn’t said their no for them.
We had a big transition at the top of a ministry department one time, and the perfect person to fill the slot was right in our own backyard. He attended Willow and was a faithful, high-capacity volunteer, but the guy had just started a business and was pulling in more than two hundred grand a year. Our salary offer would be just a tad bit less than that. Still, I met with him and cast my most passionate vision for the role he would play.
Several days later, he called and said, “Bill, by human standards, this is the stupidest decision I could ever make. But it’s a yes. God spoke to me. I’m in. I’m going to sell my part of the business and give you and Willow five years of my very best efforts.” He did just that and left behind a strong legacy that remains to this day. Things don’t always pan out like this, but in my experience, nothing is ever lost by leaving room for the surprising and supernatural emergence of a yes.
Hybels, B. (2008). Axiom: powerful leadership proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.