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Law of the Pencil and Stone

How in the world can you make plans, set strategies, or establish vision when the world around you changes every time you look at it?

How do you align yourself with and pursue robust goals without becoming driven? 

How does a godly leader keep their options open to follow the direction of the Spirit but, at the same time, set a course other people can follow? What does walking by faith actually look like from a leadership perspective?

Over the years, I developed a guiding philosophy of leadership that helps me address the ambiguity of these leadership tensions. I call it, "The law of the pencil and the stone." It provides a way to lead with a steady hand and a light touch. It offers an approach that is nimble without making people seasick from endless waves of change.

I would suggest this principle has universal application to individuals, families, organizations, churches, or businesses of any size. It works like this. 


In my entire life, all I will ever have to go on is my best understanding to date. I will never know every detail or nuance that could influence a decision. I cannot know what lurks around the corner. I do know that God might break in to disrupt, redirect, clarify, or re-interrupt my great plans and priorities at any time.


Therefore, I picture myself writing my goals and plans in pencil. (Preferrably one of those finger-thick brown elementary school pencils we used to write with on that extremely wide-lined school paper--the kind with chunks of wood and sawdust embedded in it.) When I see my plans this way, it is easy to hold them loosely. If and when they need to be adjusted, I am ready to relinquish them for another sheet of that elementary school paper.


However, at the same time, these goals and plans are indeed my best understanding of what obedience and focus is supposed to look like. At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, I imagine them being written by the finger of God on tablets of stone that come down from the mountain. Yes, they might change in the future, but until they do change, this is the best I know. These plans are the only ones I have to follow.

To say it succinctly. This means I hold onto my goals and plans with an open hand as if they are merely notes written in pencil on plain old paper. But, at the same time, I follow them as if they were written by God on a tablet of stone. When they need to change, I will do the same with the next iteration he provides.


There is a dark side of human behavior that surfaces when we start talking goals and plans. As a leader, you've tasted the resistance people demonstrate to the process of setting priorities that they might be held accountable to. Keeping our options open, frees us from making hard choices. We love the freedom of going with the flow because it means we don't actually have to do something specific today. And, by the way, we are really good at masking this personal resistance in some lofty philosophical or spiritual language. In the Christian community, we talk about being Spirit-led — as if the Spirit can only lead in the unplanned spontaneity of the moment.

Can I name that resistance for what it is? It is the desire to be in control, to be the the master of our own ship, to be held accountable to no one else. It flows out of our broken longing to be served rather than to serve. It is another example of our desire to be our own god. As a leader, you cannot placate your way around sin-based resistance. Recognize it for what it is and invite people to discover a new way by the way you lead.

A group of people cannot align themselves in unity unless there is a mission with specific plans to align themselves around. The law of the pencil and the stone create a healthy way to position plans that can help you unify your people around your mission without constraining your options.

I'd love to hear how you think the application of this principle could serve you and your organization.

— Gary

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