We all know there are plenty of situations in which good people differ. But why do good people differ? And how can we understand and benefit from these differences?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but below are five areas which can easily account for many of the differences godly leaders may have with one another—as well as five ways we can benefit and work through these differences.
Terrie and I now have six grandchildren—two sets of which are siblings. Even at their young ages, it is amazing to me to watch the temperamental and personality differences already beginning to show. In both of these families, there are two children with the same two parents and surroundings—who each have absolutely different preferences, tastes, and approaches to life.
The reality is that we do all have different personalities and temperaments. Even within the twelve apostles, we see this clearly. To mention just a few: There were James and John who Jesus called “the sons of thunder.” Apparently they had strong personalities. There was Peter who was impetuous. There was Andrew who seemed to have an ability to relate to others. And there was Philip who apparently had organizational capabilities. And yet, they were all chosen—and used—by Jesus.
Benefiting from temperamental differences: The key to managing temperamental differences is to let the Holy Spirit temper your natural inclinations—including those inclinations that tend to feel rubbed the wrong way by differing temperaments.
But the fruit of the Spirit is…temperance: against such there is no law—Galatians 5:22–23
…be filled with the Spirit;—Ephesians 5:18
Spiritual Giftedness Differences
Beyond differences in temperament, we all have different interests and abilities spiritually. If we expect others to have the same level of passion for the same areas of ministry or the same abilities for the same areas of ministry as we do, we will be constantly frustrated.
Where one leader may be gifted in administration and see the organizational needs required for growth, another leader serving alongside him may have the spiritual gift of prophecy and see the preaching needs required for growth. Put these two gifts—as well as the gifts of mercy, exhortation, teaching, and others— together, and you can see how there could easily be different approaches to the same needs.
Benefiting from spiritual giftedness differences: Learn to recognize and appreciate the spiritual gifts of those around you, and you will be more likely to appreciate their differences in how they approach a given situation as well as their contributions for which they are uniquely suited.
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.—1 Corinthians 12:17–20
I am grateful for my mentors, and I am grateful for the generation coming behind me. From those who have gone before me, I’ve learned doctrinal truths and biblical ministry philosophy. From those coming behind me, I’ve learned fresh perspectives.
Some people ignore generational differences, insisting that younger men should just follow older men. I do believe we should learn from the wisdom of older, godly men. But to pretend that generational differences don’t exist, is simply ignorant.
These differences shouldn’t (and don’t have to) make a rift, but they are real. And sometimes—rather than pressing an issue—it’s better to acknowledge that there is a difference in generational perspective with solid, biblical reasoning on both sides.
Benefiting from generational differences: The key to understanding generational differences is to recognize that every generation needs the one preceding and following.
Where would Timothy have been without Paul? And for that matter, where would Paul have been without Timothy? Timothy needed a mentor, and Paul needed to train a trustworthy leader to whom he could pass the baton.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.—2 Timothy 2:1–2
Spiritual Walk Differences
We tend to place all differences in this category (generally assuming ourselves to be the one with the stronger spiritual walk), but as we’ve seen, this isn’t always the reason for difference. However, it sometimes is.
The reality is that although we are all being conformed to the image of Christ, we all grow at a different rate. Sometimes friction between two people is simply a matter of spiritual immaturity on one or both sides. (And it’s usually safe to assume it is on our own side.)
Benefiting from spiritual walk differences: The key to overcoming the differences between varying levels of spiritual maturity is charity—especially its aspect of patience. Growth takes time. And sometimes we just need to be kind enough to allow one another to grow.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,—1 Corinthians 13:4
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.—1 Peter 4:8
In spiritual growth differences, an immature position is likely to be strengthened over time. But in interpretational differences, two godly, doctrinally-sound, spiritually-fruitful leaders may hold a difference of opinion or practice their entire lives—with neither necessarily being right or wrong.
The obvious biblical example of this is that of eating meat offered to idols. Paul said that as a leader, he would choose to limit his liberty so as not to offend, but he made it clear that neither position was necessarily more spiritual than the other. It was a difference of opinion.
Benefiting from interpretational differences: There are two words that will answer almost every interpretational difference—give grace. Grace, of course, is easier to receive than to give, but we are commanded to give it. (I dealt with this topic more thoroughly in the book The Road Ahead, specifically in Chapter 7.)
Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.—Romans 14:3
When it comes to areas that are not biblically mandated one way or another, there is a simple key to minimizing differences: An immature Christian will take a small matter and make it large, while a spiritual Christian will take a large matter and make it small.
Truthfully, differences always look larger when our focus is not on Christ. Our primary attentiveness should be to the Lord, the Word of God, and (in the context of a local church) the ministry of our own pastor and to our church family.
We should never be following any personality—regardless of how godly or fruitful they may be—to the point of holding other godly leaders in derision. (This is what the church in Corinth did—pitting sides around the names of Paul and Apollos.)
May we love and learn from those who have gone before us and from one another—while keeping our focus on Christ!