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Leadership Secrets to Sailing Past Unintended Consequences

If you are a leader, no doubt you have made decisions that had results you did not anticipate. In the world of economics, this phenomenon is referred to as the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” The idea is fairly simple: The actions of people, and especially of governments, always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. A government (or business) establishes a regulation (or policy) anticipating one result, but the self-interest of those affected by the regulation (or policy) leads them to act in a way the government (or business) did not anticipate.

What, you may be wondering, does this have to do with being a church leader? Everything. The law of unintended consequences is not confined to the world of economics or government regulation, but is alive and well in the life of the local church. When church leaders are preparing to make decisions—even relatively minor decisions—we need to keep the law of unintended consequences in our minds.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • A worship pastor introduces new songs to the congregation resulting in the singing of hymns less frequently. The worship pastor’s goal is to enliven and enrich the worship of the people in the church by broadening their worship experience. The unintended consequence? A segment of the church feels their worship is now restricted as the songs they have grown to love are no longer sung as often.
  • Church leaders decide to scale back the children’s ministry worship experience. Their goal is to minimize the need for hard-to-find volunteers (especially at the regular worship hour) and to increase the discipleship effectiveness of the ministry by reducing the “entertainment” portion of the weekly event. The unintended consequence? Parents think that the children’s ministry is no longer important to the church.
  • The church installs new chairs in the worship center (or new pews, depending on the church) and decides that the coffee they serve in their café is no longer allowed in the sanctuary. Their rationale is to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to them by preventing spills and stains. The unintended consequence? People perceive the chairs are more important than them.