Last week we talked about getting real with our current reality. Jim Collins in his business book, Good to Great* illustrates this idea with Admiral Jim Stockdale’s story. Stockdale was the highest ranking US military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton,” a POW camp during the Vietnam War. He was there from 1965 – 1973 undergoing torture and not knowing if he and his fellow prisoners would ever get out. In a conversation with Stockdale, Collins asked him, “Who didn’t get out?”
His answer: the optimists.
Stockdale went on to explain to a confused Collins that these men created hopeful, but unfounded expectations – “We’ll be out by Christmas.” When that didn’t happen, it was then Easter. Then Thanksgiving. Stockdale said these guys “died of broken hearts.”
Collins calls this the Stockdale Paradox: “Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. And, at the same time, confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
I remember when I first grasped the idea of “current reality.” It was before Good to Great, and I don’t remember now if I read it in a book or someone told me about it. But when I got it, I got it. I was in my second church serving as a “youth and worship guy.” I couldn’t find enough musicians. The ones I had, I considered subpar. The sound system stunk. The drums were too loud for the room. On and on and on.
This is a good place to stop and note: Complaining about your current situation is NOT confronting your current reality. It’s just whining.
Before grasping this notion of current reality, when I wasn’t whining, I was dreaming. Dreaming of what life was like outside of my proverbial POW camp. Fantasizing about that glorious day when all the planets, stars and sound systems would align, and I would be showered with an overflow of talent and fine equipment. And all the people that had previously just looked mean as I led them in worship would rise up and call me “blessed.” Cue French horns and releasing of doves.
Stockdale’s advice to the dreamers and optimists? “We’re not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!”
When the current reality light bulb switched on, nothing changed. Except me. I still had the same band, same singers and same sound system. But I began to see it differently. It was a stewardship – I was given this team, this ministry, etc. What will I do with it?
And through the journey that started back then, I’ve come to realize an important truth about stewardship. Oscillation between complaining and fantasizing is just using one hand or the other to give God the finger.
And that’s one reality I don’t want to live in anymore.
Next post we’ll talk about how to assess the specific areas of our current reality. In the meantime:
What are some of the brutal facts that you’ve had to confront in your ministry?
When you’ve look at your role in worship ministry as a stewardship of God’s delegated wealth, what kind of changes did you make?
Do you agree with the idea that optimists are the ones who “don’t get out.” Why or why not?
*Info and quotes about the Stockdale Paradox come from Good to Great**, Collins, pp. 83-87.
**Full disclosure – affiliate link.