How to Make Big Decisions Wisely | Book Review


We make decisions every day. Most of them are small and inconsequential. Others are big and momentous. The crucial issue is how to make decisions well.

Alan Ehler answers that question in his new book, appropriately titled How to Make Big Decisions Wisely. Ehler is a professor and dean of Barnett College of Ministry and Theology at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, as well as an ordained Assemblies of God minister. His answer combines biblical and theological reflection with insights gained from decision science.

To make big decisions wisely, Ehler argues, you need to know what constitutes a big decision in the first place. Part 1 answers that question. “Big decisions shape the course of life,” he writes. Drawing on Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Ehler proposes a grid for decision making based on four considerations: Is your experience limited? Is your level of clarity or certainty about the decision low? Is there disagreement among those involved with making the decision? And are there many seemingly good options to choose between?

If your answers to those questions are “no,” you can make a fast, intuitive decision. If it’s “yes,” however, you need to slow down and be intentional, because your decision is a big one.

The heart of How to Make Big Decisions Wisely is Part 2, which outlines an intentional decision-making model Ehler calls Story Shaping. The model consists of four steps:

  1. Read the backstory.
  2. Catch God’s story.
  3. Craft a new story.
  4. Tell the new story.

The first step requires decision makers to understand what is happening and why, as well as the outcome you desire from the decision-making process. “Whatever dilemma you may face,” writes Ehler, “you are more likely to make a better decision if you understand the real story, rather than just seeing what’s on the surface.” This is true whether the decision is personal or organizational in nature.

Catching God’s story is the second step. “The goal of Story Shaping is to collaborate with God in shaping your story,” Ehler writes. This is the book’s most theological chapter, focused on how to discern God’s will for our lives. We hear God’s voice most perfectly in Scripture, “which is God-inspired and uniquely trustworthy and authoritative,” as Ehler puts it. And yet, Scripture itself points to two other sources where we might discern God’s will: our perception of the Holy Spirit’s voice and the counsel of Christian community. While these sources can reveal God’s story, they remain subject to the controlling authority of Scripture.

The third step in Story Shaping is to craft a new story, which draws heavily on the secular discipline of decision science. Some readers may wonder why such a chapter is necessary. Isn’t catching God’s story sufficient? The answer to that question is obviously “yes,” but we need to ask ourselves, Sufficient for what? Scripture, the Spirit and Christian community always set the parameters for permissible decisions, but they do not always make the decisions for us. Typically, we have to choose among several good options.

Decision science helps us make good choices by showing us how to sift our options. “The goal is simple: generate as many solutions as possible, narrow them to a manageable list, evaluate each option, and then make the best possible decision,” Ehler writes. Ehler’s chapter on this third step contains detailed suggestions about how to do each thing.

Once a decision has been made, it needs to be communicated to stakeholders. This is the fourth step of Story Shaping: Tell the new story. When you communicate a leadership decision, Ehler recommends keeping things simple. Your communications should explain the necessity and benefits of making the recommended change, as well as how it will happen. Additionally, you need to address people’s fear of change by showing how it will improve their situation. Finally, you need to clarify what part the stakeholders themselves will play in making the change.

Part 3 concludes How to Make Big Decisions Wisely by demonstrating how it applies to personal and organization decisions, as well as conflict resolution. The four steps of Story Shaping may strike some readers as simplistic, but this section of the book shows how a simple model has tremendous power both to explain a problem and to craft a solution.

Alan Ehler wrote How to Make Big Decisions Wisely for a broad readership. It has obvious applications for both personal and organizational decisions, as well as for both ministry and business contexts. If you’re a minister, consider reading it for personal growth, but also consider using it as a leadership development tool with board members, pastoral staff and leading volunteers.

Book Reviewed
Alan Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely: A Biblical and Scientific Guide to Healthier Habits, Less Stress, a Better Career, and Much More (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P,.S. This review is cross-posted with InfluenceMagazine.com by permission.

Recommended Reading for Leaders | Influence Magazine


I write the Read Like a Leader section of each issue of Influence magazine. In the January-February 2019 issue, I recommended these three leadership books. My recommendations first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com, and they are posted here with permission.

FIX IT!
Rob Ketterling (River Valley Resources)

When your church faces a problem, who is responsible to fix it? Pastors often say, “I am,” but taking responsibility for every problem results in burned-out pastors and underutilized church members. Rob Ketterling suggests a better way forward in Fix It!, one that revolves around three simple words: you, them, and God. “Define what you’re responsible to do, delegate to others who will share the load, and expect God to do what only He can do, including a change in direction from time to time.” This book is filled with biblical insight, practical suggestions, and real-life examples.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

HELP! I’M IN CHARGE
Rod Loy (Influence Resources)

Help! I’m in Chargeexamines “stuff leadership excerpts didn’t tell you,” in the words of the subtitle. Most church leadership experts discuss mission, vision, and values from a 30,000-foot level. In this book, Rod Loy gets into the weeds, talking about the nitty-gritty of leadership on the ground. Chapter 5, “Your Ability Won’t Get You Far if People Don’t Like You,” and chapter 9, “Everyone Wants to Be Treated with Respect,” alone are worth the price of the book. Help! I’m in Chargeis biblically grounded, personally authentic, and seasoned advice for pastors and other church leaders.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page, where I’ve posted a longer review. 

LEADERS: MYTH AND REALITY
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone (Portfolio/Penguin)

John Maxwell famously defined leadership as “influence.” That’s true to an extent, but it’s also too simple because it’s leader-centric, as if influence flowed only one way. In Leaders, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone profile 13 leaders from diverse backgrounds and fields of endeavor. Based on those profiles, they identify three myths people believe about leaders, then offer a new definition of leadership. It is “a complex system of relationships between leaders and followers, in a particular context, that provides meaning to its members.” This is a fascinating book, biographically informative and analytically shrewd.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page, where I’ve posted a longer review.

Leading from Your Gut | Book Reviewi


“I have a bad feeling about this” is not just a well-worn linefrom the Star Wars movie franchise. It’s also a gut-level experience many leaders have when making important decisions. It can be a positive experience too: “I have a good feeling about this.”

Leaders often ignore their gut when making decisions. They believe it’s best to base decisions solely on external data, not internal feelings. Dr. John Townsend thinks that’s only half right: The premise of Leading from Your Gut is this: “Great leaders succeed by harnessing the power of both the external world and the internal world.”

Townsend is a New York Timesbestselling author, leadership and organizational consultant, and psychologist. He is founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and offers counsel from a Christian perspective. Most of the examples in the book come from the business world, but Townsend also shows the relevance of his advice to ministry and other non-profit forms of leadership.

Leading from your gut is leading by intuition. Our intuition is not always right, of course, but it’s not always wrong either. Every leader can recall specific instances when the data pointed one way and their gut another, so they followed the data, only to have the negative results prove their gut right. I certainly can.

Why does this happen? Because leaders have developed an intuitive feel for things based on long experience that they can’t always provide reasons for. The gut is nonrational, in other words, but not irrational. Along with developing the ability to interpret data correctly, leaders need to hone their intuition. To help them do that, Leading from Your Gut outlines thefive aspects that shape a leader’s internal world — values, thoughts, emotions, relationships and transformation.

In my opinion, the chapters on emotions alone are worth the price of the book. “Your emotions have a function, a purpose, a role. When you understand this role, you can harness your emotions to lead others well,” Townsend writes. They “exist as a signal to you. They alert you that something is going on, something you need to pay attention to and deal with. That somethingmay be an event outside of you or one inside.” He then goes on to describe the signal function of both negative and positive emotions, and how recognizing the signals can change the way you lead.

Leading from Your Gutdoesn’t absolve leaders from their responsibility to lead from the data. To be successful, leaders should know their “business,” whether it is making widgets or making disciples of all nations. But they should also know themselves.

Book Reviewed
John Townsend, Leading from Your Gut: How You Can Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Your Values, Feelings, and Intuition(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is crossposted here with permission.

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