How people respond to what would qualify as “special knowledge” really reveals a lot about their character.
There are people in this world that have special knowledge. By “special knowledge” I mean knowledge or insight into reality that is not generally accessible by the average member of the community. That is a truth. It’s a truth that other people get really bothered by and react to more often than not. Leaders can especially react when said special knowledge doesn’t serve them and undermines their control.
In an honest moment, everyone would have to recognize that there are a lot of forms of “special knowledge” out there that can be drawn on or sought out that may exceed our own intellectual, emotional, or spiritual capacity. Christians celebrate the spiritual gifts. Several of those gifts are essentially the expression of God uniquely blessing individuals with the ability to access some knowledge or aspects of reality that others are not able to see or at least not as quick to see. People with gifts of prophecy, wisdom, or even intercession to name a few sometimes (not all the time) have special knowledge that puts the leaders of a community in an interesting position.
How do you lead when you are not the sole authority on what is true and what is real for a community? For God never designed you to be.
But special knowledge isn’t just spiritual gifts. It’s sometimes in the area of culture or cross-cultural wisdom or reality. Some people have special knowledge because they belong to a different community than you. Some have special knowledge sometimes because they have lived between two communities. Some have special knowledge because they have experienced specific trauma or pain that has been transformed into wisdom over time. When you think about it – many different folks at different points and for different reasons have been blessed or entrusted with “special knowledge.”
It doesn’t mean they are more awesome. It doesn’t mean they are always right.
It does mean that if we want to be ethical and serving leaders we should not deny such a common sense reality and truth.
It does mean that if we’re being humble and honest – at any given time there are likely several people in our world that see reality more clearly than us in one or more respects.
So what is a leader to do?
Well – the common sense approach would be to learn who has different types of special knowledge and stay connected in humility with those folks so that you as a leader are getting the broadest possible perspectives from trustworthy sources as you can prior to decision making and strategic efforts.
But this doesn’t happen usually.
Frequently those with special knowledge are ignored or silenced while that knowledge is an inconvenience to the leader or the current agenda. But when there’s desperation to get yourself out of a jam and there’s no other solution, those with special knowledge are all of a sudden seen and utilized to solve a problem. And then they get to go back to being ignored.
Some leaders don’t recognize those in their world who have the knowledge they don’t because they are too busy too stop, recognize, and involve gifted people in what they are doing. Just too busy checking boxes or executing one’s agenda. This is self-centered and pragmatic leadership, but not wise.
Some leaders don’t recognize those in their world who have the knowledge because they deep down believe that they, by nature of their mighty title and position, must have the only special knowledge that counts – the special knowledge of spiritual authority to lead. These are leaders who believe they are more important and have a better handle on reality than others in the community by nature of their title. This is arrogant and prideful leadership that is self-serving and controlling.
Leaders are often threatened by special knowledge. It’s why leadership is no place for insecure and overly fearful or paranoid people. It’s a reminder that in God’s economy, love is more important than power. It’s a reminder that we are a body – that people were blessed with different contributions and gifts and that these have been bestowed with great honor by the Creator and the head of that body, Jesus Christ.
Leaders who silence special knowledge rob other members of that body of the honor assigned to them and they seek to hijack the glory due God for how he wants His people to function.
Leaders who ironically judge people with special knowledge, whether it be wisdom, words of truth, or discernment, as being arrogant for claiming to offer God-given gifts and perspectives in humility are essentially boldly proclaiming to all who experience them that they in fact are the only ones allowed to have special knowledge by virtue of the power they hold. And that’s demonic.
Special knowledge is around us by virtue of our relationships. We all have probably some contribution of special knowledge that in God’s wisdom He’s given us to humbly contribute to the leadership of our communities. Yet out of power, envy, and contempt, some leaders are tempted to preserve their own power, status, and privilege. They are jealous when other people may be able to provide insight that for good reason moves a community a direction in which they are fearful to go or that might reduce their level of control and power.
Toxic cultures are easy to spot. They have a few people who claim special knowledge and act like they know what’s best and there’s no mechanism to serve as a check against them. They punish those that have special knowledge that would bring words of truth, warning, or admonishment to the present abuses. There’s always an abuse of the concept of spiritual authority believing it somehow gives the leader the final and authoritative perception of reality. These are people and cultures to avoid if you have any interest in being faithful to a higher power and higher calling without great and unnecessary cost.
So if there are people around you that have special knowledge in terms of matters of ethnicity and culture, listen to them and build trust with them. If there are people around you that have special knowledge as it relates to relationships and interpersonal heart issues – same thing. Same goes for people who have special knowledge as it relates to the ethical ramifications of the status quo or proposed changes – listen to them.
I believe God puts around leaders gifted people – to either serve as wise counsel or prophetic voices. The heart and character of the leader will dictate which ministry they get to experience from these voices.
What a leader should not do – is just “follow your heart” as a leader. Because you’re just following your own claim to special knowledge in isolation and rejecting the wisdom of the community. This is how leaders indict themselves as self-serving and power-oriented. There are times when you have to trust yourself, but that is balanced by trusting the right people in community as well.
Many leaders don’t have to pay attention to special knowledge because they have the power to do what they want no matter what, no matter the counsel or resistance. Those are the leaders I don’t particularly enjoy relating to. This is the difference between power and servant leadership. Are you using your power to execute your agendas out of your own self-confidence or are you accessing the broader reality by serving and empowering the gifts and voices of your community, teams, or organizations?
Leaders typically do not need to worry about silencing special knowledge because they often already are. Leaders need to be in the business of freeing the Spirit-given special knowledge that only the community at large has been entrusted as individuals live out their unique callings in community.
I don’t ever want to cause leadership damage because I was too self-absorbed or arrogant to recognize those that could have contributed to a more redemptive solution. I don’t ever want to withhold the honor due to specific people that God meant for many of these gifts and contributions.
“Special knowledge” is not to be written off as a wild claim by back alley crack-pot prophets. The Lord uses the body to pull back the veil on what is true and what is wise and what is just.
Are we leading in ways that let the body do its work in these important ways?