I learned one of the most important leadership lessons of my life (so far) as a teenager in a youth worship band. For one, when I tried to join our youth band, someone should have suggested that I be tied up with bands rather than trying to join one. That is not my area of gifting. I can “make a joyful noise” (Ps. 98:4) from the crowd without feeling the need to lead in singing or playing of any kind. (It helps that I married a singer).

Nonetheless, there I was worshiping Jesus with a tribal-looking hand drum in a room full of sweaty teenagers. Not only was I bad, but I knew I was bad, which led me to a crisis point where I had to make a decision. See, the reason I was in that position in the first place is because our band didn’t have a drummer. So, I stepped in (because I have hyper-responsibility issues). However, when it came time to face the facts, and either throw myself into mastering this instrument or quit, I talked with my youth pastor about it, and he gave me a leadership principle that I have used to sift through issues ever since: letting the tension stand.

Letting the tension stand is when there is a role that is not being filled, and a person who is not qualified, trained, or gifted for that role enters it to fill the need instead of letting there be a season where that need is unfilled in order to find the right person.

This kind of situation is a tricky one, and it happens often in organizations (especially in the world of ministry). It’s dangerous because, once someone takes a role or gets into a position, it is hard to remove that person without resulting in some kind of hurt or stress. Even though it would cause tension to let the role go unfilled for a season, that season would be much less painful, and would have a much better outcome in the end, than if an unfit person runs to fulfill that role just because there is a need.

In my own life, I have used this principal to temper myself when I see opportunities to serve somewhere. Whenever I am presented with an opportunity, I almost always ask myself, “Is there a person (or a kind of person) who is better equipped to do this than I am?” If so, even if that person has not appeared yet, I will let the opportunity go, because I know that it is better to leave the spot open so when that person does come, it will be ready for them.

The converse of this can be very awkward. Have you ever been in an environment where there were people who were clearly better at something than the person currently doing it? Maybe it was an area of music or teaching or management or sports. The natural result is that the right people won’t get fit into the right spots because someone else is already there. And if those people have character, they won’t be about lobbying for the other person’s position. Usually, what happens in these circumstances, is the people with real potential leave the organization (church, team, etc.) and go start or join another one where they can be used in their areas of gifting. When that happens, the original place starts the declining process, because they are losing, rather than using, talented and gifted people.

In order to master this principle, we have to be mature enough to be okay with tension. We have to be okay with a type of “pruning,” where we go without something good for a season, so that we can have something great later on.

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