How Partiality Affects Ministry

There's been a post going around social media lately with a picture of an airplane that has specific areas on it with red dots. The idea behind the image and article is referencing something that came about in World War II. Specifically how to prevent damage to the planes from incoming gunfire. The planes that survived attacks by the enemy with artillery seemed to come back with the same gunfire patterns on their planes. Specific areas that consistently got hit on those planes coming back could be seen. The logic was that if the planes were reinforced in these areas, they would be safer in combat. At the time, the logic made sense but later, a mathematician realized it was incorrect. What they missed was addressing what was happening to the planes that didn't come back. The areas that needed to be reinforced were not the ones that were visibly seen on the planes that returned, but the ones that didn't.

The principle that was seem in the article are applicable in a lot of different areas. It is easy to assume that if we fix the external visible problem, things will improve. The reality is there are always deeper issues that are not being seen and in turn not being dealt with. There are different partialities that affect our ability to see things objectively and for what they truly are. As ministry leaders, we bring our own partialities into just about every situation and that has the potential to complicate our perspectives. In turn it affects how we lead people, how we observe reality, how we help others, and ultimately how we care for those we serve. The three types of partialities that are important for every ministry leader to be aware of.  Let's get them out in the open.

Self-Winning / Others Losing

This perspective or partiality is a way of controlling the ownership of a success or a failure. The simplest way to understand this concept is when something positive happens that you've had some connection to, you give yourself credit. If it goes poorly, you blame someone else. All people do this in some degree, but we may not realize how easy it is for us in ministry to do this ourselves. While we all could fall on our sword and accept responsibility, we often don’t.

Confirmation Bias

This happens when someone actively looks for information/results that prove their case. When making decisions, it’s easy to talk to others who agree with you. It’s much more difficult to talk to someone who doesn't. As convinced as we are in our opinions, we’re all afraid of being talked out of something and proven wrong. The desire to be right is strong but let your desire for the right choice be made stronger.

The Assumption of Why People Do What They Do

This is where someone draws conclusions about the motivations of another without the right data to support it. This can also manifest itself into preconceived judgments about a person. However, it can be avoided by simply asking someone to explain the reasoning behind their opinion or suggestion. When you assume the reasoning behind someone’s opinion, you tend to talk past people and put people in a defensive position. As a leader, we rarely can see all the different sides of any situation or any person for that matter. Our experiences tell us that if we observe behavior in an individual once, we will likely see that again in the future. But is important for us to remember that our partialities and perspectives are just that and we rarely have all the facts.

How do we guard ourselves against our partialities and be more objective about people and situations?

Here are three things to try that might help:

1. Ask for Someone Else's Perspective

Specifically, ask them what you're missing. Remember, that you must be discerning of yourself as someone could tell you only what you want to hear This won't add value.  If you haven't created an environment of honesty, you may want to start there.  There is great value in allowing people to give you their honest perspective, whether you agree or not. You want to know what you're missing. You want to know where your blind spots are. That will help you gain an objective opinion of how you see things.

2. Humility, Be Open to the Possibility that You Were Wrong

If you are wrong, own it. In working with and observing leaders for over two decades, I can tell you unequivocally that one of the greatest values of character we see in great leaders is the ability to admit when they are wrong. Nobody is right all the time and anyone who claims to be is being dishonest with themselves. Be open to the possibility that you WILL make mistakes along the way, then own it.

3. Create a Culture that Shares Honesty in a Caring Way

You’ve probably heard the statement truth in love. It is rarely used properly. But when used well, it gives great power to relationships, effectiveness, integrity, and growth. Building a culture like this can give you as a leader, a team that has a better understanding of your perspective as well as the perspectives of the whole team and beyond.