Edwards: Many Who Mean Well Actually, Through Lack of Knowledge, Do Great Harm

A good exhortation from Edwards on the importance of learning about the practical dimension of life and our vocations:

Many who mean well, and are full of a good spirit, yet for want of prudence, conduct themselves so as to wound religion. Many have a zeal for God, which doth more hurt than good, because it is not according to knowledge, Rom 10: 2. The reason why many good men behave no better in many instances, is not so much that they want grace, as they want knowledge. (From “Christian Knowledge: The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth,” p. 162 in volume 2 of the Banner edition of his works.)

In other words: Good intentions are admirable. But we should not think that they are enough. If we have good intentions but do not understand how to do things right, we will end up doing harm — and this, in turn, not only hurts people, but casts a bad reflection on the gospel.

It’s easy to leave this in the realm of the abstract and think it applies mostly to people other than ourselves. So, to make this a bit more concrete, here’s what this means.

If you are in a position of leadership, you need to learn how to lead. You should not think that your natural inclinations are sufficient to make you a good leader. Some people do have better instincts than others, but in both cases we need to actually apply ourselves to learning from others — including through reading books — about what it means to lead well.

If you are a manager and responsible for the more detailed planning and coordinating of things, you need to know how to manage. For some people, this comes more naturally. But for others, they have a lot to learn. But, once again, in both cases it is important to learn from the best people outside of yourself. This can mean, as with leadership, reading some books and articles, being intentional to learn from other managers in your organization, and going to some of the one-day seminars that you probably get fliers for in the mail every so often. (They’re not perfect, but some of them can be pretty helpful.)

If you are a pastor, learn about preaching. If you are a missionary, don’t just wing it, but make sure you have a strategy. And, be diligent to learn about the culture you are in so you can properly contextualize.

If you are in marketing, subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog and read some of his books. If you are in finance or run an organization, make sure not to let financial considerations be the main thing in how your business is run, don’t let the short-term be the primary consideration, and realize that cost-cutting often backfires (also this). (And, be ruthlessly ethical.)

If you are in IT, don’t be ultra conservative and controlling in how you allow your people to use their computers.

If you are in construction, don’t cut corners or allow your business model to be based upon giving people as little as possible for their money (which is, according to Proverbs 18:9, actually a form of vandalism).

If you work at a fast food restaurant, give people quick service. If you are a truck driver, be extra safe by trying to be always asking “what if” questions about things the other drivers around you could do that would cause problems (that’s actually one of the core skills of the best truck drivers, according to Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently).

And this list could go on and on. The point is: see the vocations God has given you in your life as important and see people as important. And therefore be diligent in fulfilling your vocations and upgrading your skills so that you are actually doing good, and not thinking it is sufficient to merely intend to do good.