Your Opinion Matters
We’ve all received an email after visiting a retail or eating establishment titled something along the lines of Your Opinion Matters inviting us to give our feedback. Similar emails and text messages request our all-important answers for special surveys where our opinions are espoused to be desperately needed. I’ve even noticed this phenomenon at the beginning of a simple phone call. They ask right from the beginning if you’d be willing to stick around after the call for a brief survey—again, giving the illusion of an actual dependency on our opinions. In the latter case, I’ve been told by involved sources that those phone surveys don’t particularly care about our specific feedback as they claim. But companies know that if we’ve had a frustrating phone experience, we’re wired to feel better after complaining in a short survey, which means that we’re less likely to express our anger in some public way that might put the company in a bad light. In other words, we’re so prone to giving our opinion that we’ve become predictably naive and manipulatable. That’s one side of the equation.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed an ongoing social media trope declaring: People need your love more than your opinion. That statement may or may not be correct, depending on the circumstances. There are situations where I’d prefer my doctor to have valid opinions far more than lovingly offered incorrect opinions. Still, there are times I need a correct loving opinion. But who expects nuance in social media wisdom these days? However, let’s not let the irony pass us by that the statement, “People need your love more than your opinion,” is an opinionated opinion about having opinions. Perhaps it would be more correct to say make sure when giving your opinion you do so with love. But that doesn’t fit as easily in Instagram’s square box.
The Opinion that Cried Wolf
There’s a tug of war in our nature that does need reconciling. We do love to give our opinion. Even introverts can’t resist hinting at their firmly held opinions, even if they do so passive-aggressively or in coded language. Sometimes we are so loose with our opinions that we lose influence because people learn to tune us out. Sort of like the little boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf and when a wolf really did show up, no one believed the little boy’s warning. Similarly, many people waste their influence by spouting their opinion over myopic subjects that matter very little in the grand scheme of life. When their opinion really could make a difference, no one is listening.
The Facts Don’t Care About Your Opinion
To complicate things even more, we naturally enjoy giving our opinion much more than hearing the opinions of others. And that includes hearing the opinions of people who know more than we know about the topic at hand. No one likes a know-it-all, and no one wants to appear ignorant. It’s a conundrum that creates all kinds of problems. We like to feel as though we secretly or overtly know more than others. Of course, this is exacerbated by social media and the internet because we all have access to information that may or may not be correct. Let alone helpful. If you need an example, mess around on a medical self-diagnosing website for a few minutes. You’ll be convinced you have some rare condition you previously did not know existed.
Wisdom & Opinion
Because of my ministerial calling, the subject of opinions intrigues me deeply. The word alone is complicated to unpack because the question of how to separate opinion from fact (or truth) becomes paramount to this whole discussion. It’s easier to dismiss something as an “opinion” than to face it as an inconvenient fact we just don’t want to hear. Even the word opinion comes weighted with the “your truth” versus “my truth” connotation. Frequently we dump unwanted truth in the it’s-just-their-opinion basket. While other times, opinion givers package their unnecessary bias as a fact when it would be better to frame that thought as a personal opinion. Or better yet, leave the thought unstated altogether. That’s where wisdom comes into play. Oh, and humility too.
It would be misleading for me to infer I’ve perfected the art of knowing when and how to give my opinion. I’m certainly a work in progress. But I am slowly learning and struggling to grow in wisdom and humility. A case could be made that ministry and all forms of leadership revolve around the perfecting of opinions. Hopefully, those opinions are grounded in timeless biblical truths, Spirit-led wisdom, and intentional humility. Nonetheless, leadership in all its various forms is steeped in the wellspring of opinion. Indeed, preaching is divinely designed to shape, change, and rearrange fleshly views. Much of ministry encompasses the dispensing of opinion or offering wisdom to others.
The Difference Between Sacred & Secular Opinion
Ministry is dramatically unique from almost every secular leadership environment. Every opinion turned policy must be followed in the corporate leadership world, or you lose your job. That’s even more true in military leadership structures. All federal and local government jobs are that way too. There are typically immediate consequences for ignoring leaders’ opinions in secular leadership structures. But although ministers have God-given authority (and we could argue another time about how absolute that authority should be according to Scripture), that authority cannot and should not be imposed forcefully. The Bible is clear; shepherds must not lord over the flock (1 Peter 5:3). In this instance, I prefer the English Standard Version’s translation, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).”
Influence: The Currency of the Ministry
The harsh reality of ministry is that you spend more time counseling and comforting people after they discarded your opinion (wise counsel) than just about anything else. And after a couple of hundred hours of those sad sessions where you bite your tongue half off to keep from saying I-told-you-so, authoritarianism seems awfully appealing. Or, you might be tempted never to offer a wise opinion and just live and let live. Countless burned-out ministers have expressed that very feeling to me in private. I understand and relate to their emotions. The currency of ministry is influence, and that’s challenging to maintain ethically, especially when staying true to complex yet fundamental principles. Everything in this world is striving to gain influence over the people under a shepherd’s care. Most of those opinionated influences seek to undermine spiritual guidance, and a shepherd can’t use his staff to beat sheep into submission. That sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s less obvious when a shepherd sees one of his sheep following a wolf into the wilderness. So, let me offer my opinionated opinions about dispensing opinions, most of which are things I’ve learned through trial and error.
More Listening and Less Speaking
James 1:19 instructs us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:7 reminds us there is a time for silence and a time to speak. And Proverbs 17:27 in the English Standard Version says, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Again, in the English Standard Version, Proverbs 18:13 declares, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” These, along with many other relevant Scriptures, underscore an important implied lesson about how every Christian should approach offering their opinions. Mainly, we should do less speaking and more listening.
There’s more wisdom in this little principle than we might recognize immediately. First, less speaking gives us more time to gather our thoughts and offer a well-worded opinion. Second, it allows us to hear all the relevant information before jumping to the wrong conclusion or getting ahead of the facts. Third, it enables us to maintain a calm demeanor that projects wisdom and understanding rather than impatience and impetuousness. There is a time to speak our opinion but learning to listen long enough is a discipline many leaders lack. I’ve found that many people will tell things they didn’t intend to reveal if I let them speak long enough, allowing me to understand what I’m really dealing with under the surface. If I’d spoken sooner, my advice would not have been helpful because I lacked awareness.
More Building Up and Less Tearing Down
Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Similarly, Ephesians 4:29 in the English Standard Version says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
It’s easy to focus on other people’s failures, negatives, and downright stupidity when offering opinions—that mindset results in an offensive, critical, condescending, and prideful demeanor. That doesn’t mean constructive criticism or outright correction is never warranted. Warnings and disapproval must be seasoned with grace and should fit the occasion. Don’t do a disapproval dump of the, and-while-I’m-at-it-let-me-say-this, variety. Most people can only handle so much constructive criticism at one time. If they feel like you’ve been waiting to pounce, it can be crushing to the heartiest of spirits. A good rule of thumb is to temper each negative statement with at least one or two positive comments. Never tear down without building up at the same time. Never lance an infection without applying ointment and bandaging it with care.
More Praying Before Answering
Numbers 9:1-14 recounts a fascinating leadership lesson from the early days of Moses’ ministry. The Israelites had been in the wilderness for one year after leaving Egypt, and God gave specific instructions on what day to celebrate the Passover. Moses dutifully passed the instructions along to the people, and preparations seemed to be going smoothly until a few men approached Moses with a problem. They had come into contact with a dead body rendering them ceremonially unclean which meant they were technically disqualified from celebrating the Passover at the God-ordained time. This might sound silly to our New Testament way of thinking, but this was a big deal with no obvious solution. And the way Moses responded to these men is an example for us all. He said, “Wait here until I have received instructions for you from the Lord (Numbers 9:8).” If we all prayed more before giving opinions, everyone would be in better shape. We’d likely throw our opinions out less often but with better results. Why? Because prayer forces us to make sure our opinion is actually God’s opinion, which makes all the difference.
More Replying and Less Coercing
One day King Zedekiah called for the prophet Jeremiah to come and speak with him. “I want to ask you something,” he said firmly. “And don’t try to hide the truth,” he demanded. Jeremiah’s response contains a lesson for us about when and how to handle knowledge. The prophet’s response is found in Jeremiah 38:15, and I’m using the English Standard Version, “If I tell you the truth, you will kill me. And if I give you advice, you won’t listen to me anyway.” Most people can’t wait to give their opinion, and they would be beside themselves if a king wanted their advice. Yet, Jeremiah knew opinions are a dime a dozen, and wasting advice on people who won’t receive it can produce more damage than good. After some back and forth, Jeremiah eventually did offer his opinion, but only after ensuring the king was sincerely ready to receive it.
Proverbs 1:5 in the English Standard Version declares, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Again, in the English Standard Version, Proverbs 15:12 asserts, “A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.” Here’s the harsh point, if you have to chase people down to give them your opinion (or advice), you’re wasting your time. The moment you find yourself trying to coerce people into enduring your opinion, the struggle for influence has already been lost. That doesn’t mean you can’t regain it, but the timing is off. People ready to receive counsel will come to you. And those who never seek wise opinions would do well to consider Ecclesiastes 4:13 (English Standard Version), “Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.”
More Love and Less of Everything Else
I know it gets taken out of context quite a bit, but it would be foolish to have this discussion without referencing the admonition of Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth with love. The old saying is true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Beyond that, some people will never care how much you care or how much you know. Love them anyway, but save your breath for those willing to listen. But remember, even people willing to listen will reject your opinion if you give it without love. Let’s commit ourselves to the hard work of loving more than spouting off opinions. Cold-hearted leaders harm the truth with their actions despite their correct words—cloak hard facts in the softness of love. If they reject your wisdom and leadership, you can stand before the Lord with a blameless heart.
More Wisdom and Less Foolishness
Let’s switch gears from the subject of giving opinions to the importance of receiving correct views from others. Regardless of status, we all need wise counsel, or we will descend into foolishness. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the legendary author of Crime & Punishment, once said, “The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.” President John F. Kennedy is noted as saying, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Those two quotes are self-deprecating ways of articulating that even the wisest among us still need the wisdom of those more discerning. Intelligent people know their weaknesses and acknowledge their blind spots. Foolish people insist on trusting their insufficiencies to their detriment.
The psalmist promised, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1:1).” And Proverbs 13:20 warned, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed (Proverbs 13:20).” The apostle Paul cautioned the church in Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” It’s not enough to know you need the opinions of others. Having the prudence to find good godly counsel is the key that unlocks the door to sagacity. Astute people seek advice from wise people, and silly people glean from the opinions of foolish people.
More Peace and Less Drama
James 3:17-18 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture (I’m quoting from the English Standard Version):
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
If you’re wondering how to decipher the difference between righteous opinions and fleshly opinions, the above passage should be circled and boldly highlighted in your Bible. Pious opinions are always seeking peace. That doesn’t mean they’re weak or watered down. It simply means they’re working hard to be peaceful, merciful, sincere, and impartial. Each one of those four things takes courage, effort, and intentionality. Things like contentiousness, cantankerousness, condescension, and downright divisiveness don’t require much exertion because they’re baked into our sinful nature. Look for leaders who strive to keep peace and attempt to be that kind of leader yourself. And if you do, you will reap a harvest of righteousness.