• Debbie Byrd

Sniffing it Out

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

In this summer’s issue of Leadership Journal (,Mark Buchanan of Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta, shares his thoughts as to how to select leadership and, for that matter, make decisions.

He thinks back to viewing The Fellowship of the Rings – Gandalf admits to his little following deep in the tunnels beneath the mountains of Moria that he doesn’t remember the place, and they are, of course, terrified. Then he points them towards one of the tunnels and says, “Oh, it’s that way.” He hadn’t remembered it, but he tells them that “the air doesn’t smell so foul down there.”

Buchanan suggests “that sometimes that’s all a leader has to go on: a whiff, a whim, a glint, a gut feeling. We really don’t know which way is ahead. We have no memory of the place, no vision of the future. We’re left to our hunches and guesses.

“We just know that, at some point, we must decide. A bad decision is sometimes better than none at all. We know that impasse creates fear, and fear breeds blame and division. And division, once opened, is hard to close. So we decide, sometimes on no better grounds than air that smells less foul.”

He says he “wishes it were more scientific than that, anchored in hard facts and algorithms…or more mystical, derived from dreams and visions. But most of the time a leader decides, and acts, on sheer faith rooted in well-honed instincts…”

It’s easy to fall back into a secular perspective and refer to our hunches, our gut instincts. But a Christian needs to hone his ability to know that the voice within is actually the voice of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate between the instinct of our flesh and the knowledge of His voice. This is where our disciplined prayer comes into play.

Buchanan suggests that leadership has no ironclad teachable rules. It’s “messy, murky, quirky,” he says. “(Choosing leaders) is one of the most important decisions we make. We have biblical, historical and practical guidelines for choosing leaders. But these only take us so far. All of us have been on a team with someone who meets all the biblical criteria for leadership but is still a nightmare.”

He provides the following from his background in teaching and ministry:

DON’T PUSH PAST RED FLAGS (don’t ignore a deep check in your gut).

ASK HARD, UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS OF YOURSELF (what attracts me to this person, or tempts me to dismiss them? What need or fear in myself am I indulging by pursing or dismissing this person?)


OVERCOME THE FEAR OF BEING THE ONE CONTRARY VOICE FOR OR AGAINST SOMEONE (is it worth it to bring someone on board, or leave them behind, because you didn’t want to be the one that caused the group to not be in one accord?).

Is it the Holy Spirit prompting a positive or negative reaction or direction – or is it just you? Personal motivations are suspect and need to be set aside to allow God’s purposes to fully operate. Gregarious, charismatic people most often catch our attention; but there may be a quieter, shyer one that is waiting for the opportunity to serve. Consider one’s gifts. Perhaps the hardest of all is overcoming the fear of speaking what’s on your heart. Often people get a bad rap within a community, a false rap. But you know the truth. Are you willing to go out on a limb to speak up for someone, or just go along with the crowd? Conversely, maybe someone has a glowing (but false positive) reputation. Within the confines of these discussions, confidentiality is critical but you may be the only one that knows what you know. Be sure of yourself; don’t fall into rumor mentality. Such a situation may only require sharing that you know something that you’d rather not disclose, but you don’t think this would be a good choice for the organization.

Pray. Seek the the Lord. Obedience trumps knowledge.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

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