On the fundamentals of the faith, we should be bold as lions. We should not be timid and fearful, but dogmatic and certain. We have enough doubters and ditherers.

However, what about issues of guidance? What about discerning the Lord’s will for a new church building or a new outreach program? What about giving counsel to those in complicated relationships? What about areas where there is no clear biblical instruction, or there are strong and persuasive arguments on both sides? Must a pastor teach his millennial view with as much dogmatic certainty as he does justification by faith alone? Should a parent be as decisive in guiding their childrens’ choice of a wife or husband as they are in calling them to Christ? Should this seminary student be recommended to that congregation?

These questions seem to demand a combination of firm biblical wisdom together with a conscious awareness of, “I maybe wrong.” We don’t want to set ourselves up as infallible popes on every area of life, but neither do we want to present our answers and conclusions as mere guesses.

Robert Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Sanford University, proposes that great leaders should be “confident but not sure.” He says, “I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong.” Sutton recounts an interview with Intel’s then-Chairman, Andy Grove, who said:

None of us have a real understanding of where we are heading. I don’t. I have senses about it. But decisions don’t wait, investment decisions or personal decisions and prioritization don’t wait, for that picture to be clarified. You have to make them when you have to make them. So you take your shots and clean up the bad ones later. I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.

Sutton says “this balancing act between confidence and doubt is a hallmark of great bosses. The confidence inspires people to follow them and believe in them, but the doubt helps ensure they get things right. They are always listening and watching for evidence that they might be wrong, and inviting others to challenge their conclusions (albeit usually in private and in “backstage” conversations).”

Another way of putting this is that “the best leaders and the best organizations have strong opinions that are weakly held.” Film director Frank Hauser illustrated this:

As the director, you have three weapons: “Yes,” “No,” and “I don’t know.” Use them. Don’t dither; you can always change your mind later. Nobody minds that. What they do mind is the two-minute agonizing when all the actor has asked is “Do I get up now.”

This is one of the hardest balances to find in pastoral ministry, in parenting, and in the Christian life in general: to know when to be confident and sure, and to know when to be confident but not sure. Which areas are non-negotiable and which opinions can be “weakly held.”

Temperament plays a large part in how we find the sweet spot. But find it we must, by knowing the Word and walking in the Spirit. Congregations, families, and relationships have been sunk by doubting and equivocating over non-negotiables. They have also been blown apart by over-bearing over-confidence that cannot distinguish between a fundamental of the faith and the color of the new church carpet.