The problem with specks and logs

I saw this post by my friend Dave Williams yesterday. In it, he echoes a question from somebody in his church. Could Matthew 7:1-6 apply more broadly to a whole community, church or institution?

I think, along with Dave, it is an insightful question. I think the short answer is, ‘yes’. I also think we can go further still and apply it to whole cultures. There are no fully sanctified cultures and so there will be good and bad in all of them. Whether that is regional, national or supra-national cultures (eg ‘the East’ or ‘the West’), there will be good and bad in all.

The challenge Dave lands on at the end of his post is valid. He asks, ‘what is the log that your church needs to deal with?’ There may well be more than one.

The problem, of course, is that it is far easier to see other people’s logs than your own. I’m not talking about the specks that Jesus asks us to leave alone until we get our own eye-logs in order. I am talking about actual logs in the eyes of others, that genuinely need addressing and aren’t an issue we face personally, despite other logs we may have in our own eyes.

Your church will almost certainly face problems that mine doesn’t (and vice versa). But is is far easier for me to point out your monoethnicity in the midst of your multicultural area, from the lofty perch of my multiethnic church, whilst failing to reckon with the serious problems in my own church that are much harder to see from where we are sitting.

Some immediately want to answer, that is the value of diverse leadership teams. And it is certainly true, the more diverse your leadership, the more likely you are to catch some of these things that you might otherwise miss. But it isn’t a silver bullet. Why not? The main reason, as soon as you bring somebody into your leadership team, it doesn’t matter how diverse you are, they immediately suffer from the same problem the rest of you do: self justification.

If you have a diverse team around you, and you are all jointly responsible for decision making in the church, every decision you ultimately take will then come with a side-order of wanting to be proven right. Whatever is ultimately decided, we are all going to want to defend our decision-making as right under the circumstances. And if we’re all involved, diversity alone doesn’t resolve the issue. It may just give us a stronger ground (in our own mind) to confirm what we had already decided because, if it were so obviously wrong, one of our diverse team would surely have picked it up!

This is ultimately why trying to sort out the logs in our own eyes is so difficult. Lack of diversity may not help us in certain respects, but it may make us more alive to the possibility that we haven’t got all the bases covered. A diverse team is more likely to pick up certain issues, but it also runs the risk of allowing us to be more complacent about our own biases because we assume our diversity will protect us. Of course, in some cases our lack of diversity means we fail to pick up certain issues and our confirmation bias stops us from acknowledging that we might have done so too – which is doubly wrong. Both these things are suboptimal.

If we are going to address the logs in our eyes, we first need to recognise our propensity to self-justify. Only with a commitment not to be seen to be right will we be able to honestly address our shortcomings. A diverse leadership team may well keep us from certain problems – and is certainly helpful in its own way – but we shouldn’t mistake it for a silver bullet to the glaring log problem. For a resolution to that problem, our hearts need to change too – which is significantly harder problem to handle.