“Everybody looks great on paper”
A statement spoken by countless hiring managers, HR experts, pastors, and business folks: everybody looks great on paper. In other words, resumes are rarely shining examples of everything wrong with a candidate for a job. It kinda defeats the purpose, right?
We can be poor judges of character because our first impressions tend to guide us for far longer than they should. We can see someone and form an opinion and rarely are they as good as we think or as bad as we first thought.
Scripture would seem to hint towards the same reality. In our ongoing study of 1 Timothy, we read in 1 Timothy 5:24-25:
24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
1 Timothy 5:24-25
New International Version
The appeal made here from one church leader to another is for discernment. I’ve heard this described as the “iceberg principle”: most of who people really are is hidden from view (like an iceberg). In time, however, who we are is going to come out. It’s why we should slow down and take time to properly evaluate someone who’s interested in church leadership.
Whether good or bad, who we really are is going to be seen eventually. At times, our deeds precede us; others are only known after some time. It’s better to take time and learn who someone really is before making a mistake we’ll have to fix down the road.
The advice of a mentor of mine comes to my mind: hire slow, fire fast. Short and to the point. Most of the time in congregations (and from what I’ve observed, most businesses do this, too), we do the exact opposite. We tend to hire really fast and put up with bad behavior long after we should have removed them.
While Paul may not be referring exclusively to paid church staff in the 21st century, we can’t overlook the principle here and the context of where Paul is when writing this.
We’ve examined the principle, so let’s recall the context: church leadership. It’s not about only who we hire, but also who we place in any level of church leadership—certainly, he’s talking about the highest levels of church leadership.
Why is this important? Because everyone looks great on paper. Everyone who is a potential leader for a congregation looks great upon first glance. We wouldn’t have even “glanced” at them if they didn’t!
But time is our friend. While we shouldn’t take years for what should only take weeks, we must spend the time to get to know people who will affect the course of a congregation. We have to share meals, prayers, Bible studies and do our due diligence to get past the “resume” of potential church leaders and see who they really are.
The “paper” is important, but it’s no substitute for the hard work of relationships.
Interested in more like this? Consider Joel’s book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, Joel walks readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life. The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.
Joel has a podcast! Addressing church leadership issues, Joel dissects what he’s been taught and experienced. Subscribe below.
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