The Stockdale Paradox

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[Jesus asked the Chief Priests and Elders] “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And [the Chief Priests and Elders] discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ [Jesus] will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd…”  Matthew 21:25-26a ESV

“[Great leaders] must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end —which you can never afford to lose —with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” James Stockdale, as quoted by Jim Collins, in Collins’ book “Good to Great”

Being a leader is a tough job. Any leader is constantly juggling two Big Picture ideas that must be held in constant tension. First, the recognition that the organization they lead has SO MANY PROBLEMS! There are people issues, revenue shortfalls, and competitive pressures. Investors want money now, but the market demands continued investments and technology changes underneath your feet.

Yes, problems galore. Despite these problems, the leader with greatness in his or her heart must always keep their long-term goals in mind while constantly staring at reality.  This bit of wisdom is known as the “Stockman Paradox” and was popularized by Jim Collins in his best-selling book “Good to Great”.

The Chief Priests and Elders of ancient Israel clearly couldn’t pass this test of great leadership in their encounters with Jesus. Instead, they came across as petty, power-hungry politicians. They were more concerned about holding onto their own power than they were about recognizing and dealing with the Reality. They juggled two Big Picture concepts in their heads, too. Unfortunately, the Big Problems they held in tension were “should we tell the truth” and “if we tell the truth, we’ll lose our power.” They consistently chose smallness, not greatness.

Perhaps you’ve been sensing this same tension in your life between what is expedient and what is wise. This weekend at Trinity Downtown, we’re continuing our sermon series titled “Parables: small stories…big ideas” and we’ll be discussing how ignoring the truth Jesus shows us (like the Chief Priests did) is the ultimate “epic fail.”  You can join us either in-person or online Saturday at 5:00 pm and Sunday at 9:00 am. Reservations are required to attend an in-person worship service; you can see the details at  You may also make a reservation by calling Stefanie at 713.224.0684 from 8:30-2:30 each weekday. If you are not comfortable attending an in-person service, you can watch the “live stream” of our Satellite Service at 5:00 pm on Saturday, or our traditional service on Sunday at 9:00 am by clicking here. And, of course, you may also participate by watching either of these services “on demand” by clicking here.

During this worrying time, come be encouraged. Come feel the warmth and joy of His Holy Spirit and hear songs that will bring peace to your heart. Come ready to digest His words of truth and be filled with the surprising love of Jesus so you can share that love and peace with everyone!

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