Many church leaders have something in common with Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden, something that could lead to terrible results if they're not careful: They listen too closely to those who think just like they do.
When McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, he expected militia groups across the country to rally and charge against the U.S. government. As we all know, nothing happened. McVeigh was arrested on a quiet stretch of highway north of Oklahoma City because of an expired tag on his car.
Prior to his attack McVeigh didn't dream that police officers would have time to pay attention to car registrations. He thought America would be in revolutionary war and thousands of people like him would be fighting the battle. He was wrong. He didn't have a clear picture of the situation because he had only listened to people who thought like he did.
Likewise, when bin Laden saw what happened to the U.S. armed forces in Africa and the Middle East in recent years, he concluded that we were a paper tiger. He gathered a few advisers and foolishly decided to topple Western civilization. He thought that after September 11 Muslims around the world would rise up en masse and create havoc in the West. It hasn't happened, and I don't think it's going to happen.
Both McVeigh and bin Laden made some major miscalculations. They exclusively read the material produced by those who think like they do. They both thought their followings were greater than they really were. They only listened to people who tickled their ears. Now, McVeigh has been executed, and the Taliban is crumbling.
Christian leaders need to guard against the same kind of narrow analyses that led McVeigh and bin Laden to the wrong conclusions. Too often, we only listen to those who say the same things we do. It's important that we listen closely to our friends who are not fully in our camp and even our critics. We should consider the other side and ask for the opinions of those who are part of different streams.
Word of Faith people need to hear Spirit-filled evangelicals. Evangelicals need to listen to some charismatics. Old mainline denominational leaders need to spend quality time with up-and-coming megachurch leaders, and egalitarians and complimentarians need to listen to one another.
Often in my office, when our leadership team is trying to reach a major decision, we will intentionally bring in another perspective that challenges our view. Doing so has saved us from great heartache. When we understand the broadness of an issue, we can act in ways that will achieve our goals, and we can keep our expectations realistic.
Of course, critical thinking is crucial not only to gain the results we desire, but also to avoid unintended consequences. McVeigh and bin Laden both made our nation stronger, not weaker. Bin Laden has done more to increase church attendance, Christian public prayer, American patriotism and American international influence than any single source in 20 years. You can bet that if he had listened to someone who would have told him that this is how America would react, he would have chosen a different plan.
Simply put, if we want to produce the results we desire, we need to listen to those outside our natural affinity group. When we do, we will have a better, more informed perspective and will be able to have a greater impact on the kingdom of God.
Ted Haggard pastors New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the author of The Life-Giving Church (Regal).