Creative Chaos

blog Feb 29, 2024

By Sam Chand

Lions fascinate me. I’ve had the opportunity to see them in the wild in Africa, and if a nature program about the African savannah is on television, I can sit for hours watching “the king of beasts.” There is no doubt who is in charge—every animal is looking, listening and smelling the air to see if a lion is nearby. Lions aren’t the biggest animals on the savannah, but they have the biggest hearts. Wherever they step, things change.

To me, lions are the best metaphor for exemplary leadership—men and women who create chaos wherever they go, making a difference with their presence and shaking up the status quo. When they take a step, everyone shifts to make room. When they have a vision of a better future, nothing will stop them. (OK, OK, I know leaders don’t eat their people, but please stay with me a little bit longer.)

I’ve seen leaders who launched their careers as bold, roaring lions but became tame, overgrown house cats. Their vision, zeal and passion subsided—often gradually, but sometimes in an accel­erated way in critical moments of failure or unexpected opposition (or both). Sooner or later, they didn’t think like lions, they didn’t feel like lions and they didn’t act like lions. Their roar had become a meow.

They began as world-changers, but they became organi­zational tweakers. Certainly, they didn’t look in the mirror one morning and decide to be tame, to avoid making anyone uncom­fortable, or to redefine their vision to a bite-sized morsel . . . but it happened. If they have enough self-awareness, they wonder, What in the world happened to me?


Many people confuse managers and leaders. Both run meetings, both have important responsibilities, and both are expected to get the job done, but there’s a very important difference: managers try to relieve chaos by smoothing out the process, but leaders create healthy chaos to meet needs and move the organization forward.

I have a painting in my office about the fundamental nature of lead­ership. It shows a giraffe looking over the African savannah, and the banner along the bottom reads, “Leadership: Seeing further down the road than those around me can.” And seeing further down the road inevitably leads to a bigger vision and faith-stretching plans . . . which always create chaos throughout the organization.

Actually, leaders often sense needs before they visualize the future. They feel an urgency to meet the needs even though the people around them don’t feel it at all. Leaders answer the only two essential organizational questions: What? and Why? All the other questions—Who? When? Where? How? and How much?—are management questions.

Leaders must remain focused on the strategic questions. Managers fill in the tactical details. The apostle Paul never took his eyes off his God-given calling. In his second letter to the Christians in Corinth, he described the difficulties he faced day after day in all the cities he visited. He explained the enormous tension between his frailty and God’s power: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (4:7). And just a few verses later, he concluded that spiritual perception was what gave him the courage to keep moving forward:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is tem­porary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

In the church, however, many people can get confused when they sense healthy and necessary chaos. They wonder, Didn’t Jesus promise us peace? That doesn’t sound chaotic to me! On the night He was betrayed, Jesus spent time with His disciples. He explained more about His purpose, His Kingdom and the Holy Spirit’s role in their lives, and He told them that He grants peace in the midst of chaos—not by eliminating it: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). In other words, reaching the world, building the church, and “doing greater things” always produces internal and external disruption, which I’m calling chaos.

A bold vision inevitably creates chaos. If you think your people are “a bit slow on the uptake” when you communicate your vision, you’re in good company. Immediately after Jesus fed the four thou­sand, He and His disciples got in a boat to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. On the way, the men looked into their lunch sack and realized they had only one loaf of bread. They were worried about going hungry! Jesus asked them,

“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:17-21)

When Jesus fed the crowd just before this scene, it wasn’t like the disciples were asleep or were merely bystanders. They gave out the fish and bread with their own hands. If anybody should have had an idea of what had happened, they should have! But they still didn’t get it. My point is that leaders shouldn’t get too exasperated when their people are slow to get on board with a new vision and strategy. In fact, if they get on too easily, it may be a sign that the vision isn’t big enough.

Many people in our churches (and on our leadership teams) try to avoid chaos at all costs, and they feel confused (and maybe betrayed) when we lead in a way that shakes things up and makes them feel uncomfortable. They want to manage their slice of the organization and tie up all the loose ends, but leaders have a very different agenda: moving the church into the unknown to accom­plish a far bigger purpose—and that purpose is more important than maintaining comfort and certainty. I’ve written and spoken extensively on this subject. For instance, in Bigger, Faster Leader­ship, I commented:

Tension points are the places where opposite forces are at work, where flexibility is essential, and in animate objects, where growth happens. Every physical thing in the universe has ten­sion points, and organizations can only grow and thrive if we recognize them and use them appropriately. Trying to avoid them weakens the system and ultimately leads to a collapse—sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.1

Of course, chaos is malleable—it’s an instrument for good or ill, depending on its purpose. When leaders communicate a vision, strategy and plan to accomplish something noble and good, it summons the best efforts of everyone involved. However, many people are afraid of chaos because they’ve been around people who didn’t use it for good purposes. They felt used . . . and maybe unsafe. Or perhaps they’re afraid to risk any failure. Our job as leaders is to patiently and tenaciously communicate the vision, so people embrace it. Then, and only then, will they support leaders who know that a measure of chaos is absolutely essential for growth.

This means leaders need to recruit, hire, place and train team members who grasp the importance of productive chaos in the organization. Sometimes, leaders realize one or more of the people on their teams isn’t a good fit because they’re too resistant. More often, leaders need to retrain or relocate one or more people on the leadership team. They can’t settle, though, for anything less than thoughtful, eager support for the leader and the vision. In Who’s Holding Your Ladder, I included a synopsis of five qualities I need in people on my team:

Strength. They have to be people who can handle instruction and constructive criticism. up and makes them feel uncomfortable.

Attentiveness. They ought to be alert to what I’m saying and absorb it quickly. I don’t want to give them the same lessons repeatedly.

Faithfulness. They must have faith in me as their leader and be committed to our shared vision—if they aren’t committed to the same vision I am, they’ll abandon me.

Firmness. They must have backbone, so manipulative people won’t be able to exploit them.

Loyalty. They don’t always have to agree with me. It’s per­fectly fine to disagree with my head but not my heart; they may disagree with how I do things but not why I do them; and they may disagree with my methods but not my motivations.2

How do you know if someone on the team refuses to support you? Jesus gave a short parable about people who are too resistant: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).

He was saying that some people can’t or won’t see the value of the vision and strategy, the what and the why. They aren’t just slow to get it; they’re defiant and try to lead a revolt against you! They often cloak their resistance in more acceptable language, such as, “Let’s get a second opinion,” “We should form a task force to consider this idea,” or “There will be a better time for this. How about next month?”

Leaders know that at some point, it’s time to fish or cut bait. Delay, for any reason, is no longer an option. Yes, patience and persistence are important, but there’s a limit. Leaders want all of their people to understand and support the new vision, but some never will. If these leaders don’t have the wisdom and courage to make personnel decisions, resistant people will be anchors holding back the leader, the team, and the church.

I opened this article by saying that some leaders were lions who have become overgrown house cats. In other words, lions are convinced that a measure of chaos is essential to organizational health and growth. If they buckle under the pressure to manage and reduce chaos, they abdicate their God-given responsibility to lead with boldness, wisdom, and courage.


Countless books have been written on leading teams, and I’ve contributed to that list myself. There are many good principles to apply, but one is paramount: when trust is built, amazing things can happen; when it’s not present, even successes are a grind. When people on a team trust each other, they give the benefit of the doubt about the person’s ideas and motives. They can push back on sug­gestions and plans without being offensive or taking offense, and even their disagreements build more trust because they disagree agreeably.

My definition of trust is “a feeling based on repeated realities”; it is built over time with positive experiences, but it can be eroded over time with repeated negative experiences . . . or shat­tered in an instant by betrayal or abuse. Every interaction makes a difference; none are neutral. Every point of contact either adds to the trust account or becomes a trust tax that reduces the account.

Many pastors and other leaders believe meetings are the venue where they build trust, but that seldom happens. In meetings, we manage projects, people, and events. We build trust in the meeting before the meeting and the meeting after the meeting when we meet with people individually. We lead privately and manage pub­licly. In fact, the meeting before the meeting is the most important, the meeting after the meeting is second in importance, and the meeting itself is least important. If we’re not investing our time, energy, and heart in individual conversations before and after a meeting, we’re only disseminating information in the meeting—we’re not building trust.

The conversations before and after add to our trust account with those people, and we cash it in when we have the meeting with the team. Trust doesn’t eliminate challenges, but it oils the machinery, so relationships grow stronger in the midst of difficulties. In his excellent book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey comments:

I know it is possible not only to restore trust but to actually enhance it. The difficult things that we go through with the important people in our lives can become fertile ground for the growth of enduring trust—trust that is actually stronger because it’s been tested and proved through challenge.3

When the trust account is full, leaders can afford to take sig­nificant risks with a far bigger vision than ever before.

Every innovative idea creates chaos. A few people eagerly and immediately join us, but most want to probe, ask more questions, and be convinced before they take even a tentative step to get on board. Over the years, I’ve realized that it’s not so important that the people I lead get it, but it’s monumentally important that they get me—how I think, what I value, and how I make decisions. If trust thrives, a world of possibilities opens in front of us.

If you’re a leader, don’t let yourself become an overgrown house cat. Remain a lion. Stability may be the goal of a manager, but it’s not your friend! Don’t be afraid to create some chaos, but make sure it’s the good kind.

And if you’re a leader, do whatever it takes to build trust with your team, your board, and everyone else in your orbit. Even if they don’t yet grasp your vision and your strategy, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and support you along the way.



  1. Sam Chand, Bigger, Faster Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017), 153.
  2. Sam Chand, Who’s Holding Your Ladder? (Highland Park, IL: Mall Publishing, 2003), 34.
  3. Stephen Covey, The Speed of Trust (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 326.

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