Andy Stanley: Live (and Uncertain) at Catalyst West
A clear word for confusing times.

Ever faced a leadership decision, and didn't feel you had all the information you needed to decide? For instance, to hire or not to hire? To discipline or extend more grace?

Andy Stanley opened the Catalyst West conference with the best leadership talk I've ever heard from him. He clearly connected with the 3,200 attenders by describing the inescapable fact of life for leaders: you have to lead even when you don't know for certain what to do.

Or, as Andy reframed the issue: "uncertainty is why we need leaders." "God gets more out of chaos than out of wrinkle-free days." If every situation were clear, no leadership would be needed. "Uncertainty underscores the need for leadership. Uncertainty is the arena in which leadership is recognized." For leaders, "Uncertainty is job security!" The crowd laughed. Nervously.

Those of us who've followed Andy for a while recognize this theme as one that he first explored in 2003 in an article in Leadership ("The Uncertain Leader") and in his book The Next Generation Leader. But Andy has continued to develop his thoughts nicely since then. And with the current economy, the awareness of uncertainty has, uh, certainly been heightened.

When you're uncertain, Andy told the assembled leaders, focus on two elements:

Those elements are clarity and flexibility. Then he unpacked those concepts.

Clarity means focusing on your original calling. What's the essence of your ministry? That can and should remain crystal clear even amid confusing circumstances. Andy's biblical reference was Joshua clearly telling the Israelites to pack their provisions and organize themselves to approach the Jordan River even though he was uncertain exactyly what would happen when they got there.

Flexibility means knowing the difference between your vision and your plans. Don't mistake your plans for your vision. Your plans can and must change frequently. But the vision remains the same. Are you an evangelist? Keep presenting the gospel even as your methods change. Are you a disciple maker? Keep developing converts into well-grounded followers of Jesus even as the starting points and the pressing applications change.

"Be confident even in uncertainty," Andy said. "Admit that you don't know the future, but you can confidently follow what God has told you to do."

Andy was spot-on in reading the times, reading the audience, and reading the need of the moment.

Andy also provided a synopsis (and a great example or two) of clarity amid uncertainty in his article in the new digizine Catalyst Leadership which you can find at

And now, I'm not certain how to end this post, but it's clear I must.

April 24, 2009

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

j. j. shmoe

April 24, 2009  8:07pm

wow. it never occurred to me the words clarity and flexibility needed to be unpacked. now i know what i've been missing. deep.

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April 24, 2009  9:42am

Thanks for pointing out how Andy has developed this topic over the last six years. Clarity amid uncertainty is crucial, and it's good to see how his thoughts have matured and developed on that.

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April 24, 2009  9:35am

I was there and I also thought Andy's message was uncanny in its accuracy and relevance. The guys I was with said afterward, "How's he do that?" He really knows this crowd well.

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