In the middle 1800s Samuel Plimsoll was known as the friend of sailors. He was responsible for the painted lines we see on ships at the water level. Prior to Plimsoll, shipping companies would often overload their ships in order to make more profit per voyage – sometimes ending in disaster. You can see the red lines on the ships above. There is of course, one type of ship that doesn’t have a Plimsoll line… a submarine.
As a young sailor during the Viet Nam war I went through training on what to do when under attack at sea. The lessons for church leadership here are powerful. Plimsoll lines are of course right at the water level on a fully loaded ship. If enemy artillery hit you above the water line the crew scurried around to find materials to repair the hole. If it hit below the water line that would be another story. Today all ships have internal doors that make all compartments watertight. So if you are hit below the waterline only a few spaces might flood. But what of a ship without these watertight compartment doors. Think Titanic…
Every decision you make might be evaluated as either above or below the waterline.* If it blows up on you, will you be repairing a hole or swimming for your life? Adding a staff person; incurring a debt; changing locations; selecting a name; affiliating with a denomination… Nearly all decisions entail risk. The greater the risk the nearer the waterline you will be. The closer to the waterline you get the more sure you need to be that it is God’s desire for you. If it’s a “below the waterline” decision, you must be operating at the conviction level not just preference. You need surety. Although the list below begins with God’s Word for direction, many issues will not be directly addressed in the Scripture. If you have a preponderance of the sources for direction below you may find fair winds and smooth sailing. Obviously, number one is non-negotiable and I presuppose you are in prayer over it.
To consider before you make a decision “below the waterline…”
- The written Word. Psalm 119:147
Does the Scripture directly address your issue?
- Authority. Romans 13:1-7
Ask someone who has direct authority over you. If your father is living he would be a good source of direction.
- Many counselors. Proverbs 15:22
Seek out individuals who exhibit exceptional wisdom and ask for their counsel.
- Common sense. Titus 1:8, 2:2, 2:5
Dr. George Sweeting said, 95% of the will of God is common sense.
- Circumstance. Acts 16:13
A Pennsylvania church planter went against the obvious and launched in February. They had a twenty inch snow fall the Friday night before the Grand Opening. Four people showed up. He plugged away for a year then folded it.
- Consensus. 1 Chronicles 13:1-4
Sometimes everybody else is wrong. But I wouldn’t bet the store (or church) on it.
- Conscience. 1 Timothy 3:9
Nagging doubts are there for a reason. Listen carefully.
- Intuition. Proverbs 12:8
The Holy Spirit’s leading will only rarely disagree with numbers two through seven and NEVER with number one.
* I am grateful to Jim Collins in “How the Mighty Fall,” for the seed idea of a waterline decision.