In 2002, psychologists William Gehring and Adrian Willoughby published a fascinating study in Science magazine. Volunteers engaged in a computer-simulated betting game wore electrode caps that recorded changes in brain electrical activity after winning or losing. With each bet, the medial frontal cortex showed an increase in activity. But what intrigued researchers was how medial frontal negativity showed a larger dip after a loss than the rise in medial frontal positivity after a win. They concluded that, neurologically speaking, losses loom larger than gains. Stated another way, the aversion to loss of a certain magnitude is greater than the attraction to a gain of the same magnitude.
Gehring and Willoughby’s neurological study has huge ramifications when it comes to leadership in the church. Could this aversion to loss explain why we fixate on sins of commission—don’t do this and don’t do that—or why many of us take a “better safe than sorry” approach to the will of God? I wonder if it’s also why so many of us play defense instead of playing offense for the kingdom. We need a paradigm shift—one that’s modeled in the Bible by Jonathan.
Acting on Our Behalf
In 1 Samuel 14, the Israelites and Philistines were engaged in one of their epic conflicts. This time the Philistines had the upper hand—they controlled the pass at Micmash. While his father, King Saul, sat on the outskirts of Gibeah, Jonathan came up with a daring plan. He decided to climb the cliff and engage the enemy. The end result? That single act of courage was a tipping point that changed the balance of power and ended with Israel’s victory.
We don’t know all the circumstances surrounding this story, but one verse reveals Jonathan’s gestalt. In 1 Samuel 14:6, the king’s son says to his armorbearer: “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf” (NIV).
I love that modus operandi. Unfortunately, many Christians function with the opposite mindset: Perhaps the Lord won’t act in my behalf. We let fear dictate our decisions. We live as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.
So here’s the question we’ve got to figure out as leaders: How can we overcome our natural aversion to loss and cultivate a visionary culture that inspires people to take God-ordained risks? I think Jonathan can teach us a few lessons when it comes to vision casting.
No. 1: Get a Vision
I love how Jonathan didn’t even tell his father what he was going to do. That speaks volumes to me. This wasn’t about impressing his dad, the king. This was about being obedient to what God had put in his own heart.
I can’t tell you exactly how to get a vision. They aren’t linear or logical in nature. Many of my visions have come at random times in random places. The church where I serve, National Community Church (NCC) in Washington, D.C., is currently one church with eight services in four locations. But it all traces back to the corner of Fifth and F streets, Northeast. While walking home from the office one day I had a vision of NCC meeting in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the D.C. area. There was no hallelujah chorus, no writing on the wall. But it was undoubtedly a “perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf” moment. I knew it wasn’t just a good idea. I knew it was a God idea.
Lots of pastors have faux visions. Their vision isn’t really their vision; it’s someone else’s vision. It’s a knockoff. And that doesn’t cut it. If you want to cast a vision, you’ve got to first get a vision—and it better be your own.