Manage the Moment or Build the Individual. You Choose.


There are two ways of influencing a situation that tend to dominate the leadership landscape. One is to manage the moment. This is when the person in authority recognizes the need for change and pursues a safer course toward transformation, putting into motion the manipulation of tasks or systems or behavior for an immediate effect. In general the burden of responsibility rests upon the authority figure, who, having managed the moment toward his or her goal by simply giving directives, can now pleasantly testify to having achieved the longed-for results. This, frankly, requires little vision on anyone’s part, and I have referenced it as a “safer course” because it is inherently risk-averse. The child or the spouse or the employee or the athlete or the student or the soldier just needs to do what was asked, manipulate the behavior or system, offer a hearty “Yes Sir,” and all is well. This is the scenario that can unfold when my wife says to me, “Would you load the dishwasher?” It is sort of a command, cloaked as a simple question, designed to achieve an immediate goal, in a context requiring little or no real thought or effort other than a polite “Yes Ma’am.”

But what if she invited me to envision a kitchen that sparkled, and empowered me to process what that could look like and then make it happen? And what if she added to such an invitation the strategic notion that a kitchen that regularly shined would be consistently inviting for our family, it would give us a quick and comfortable place to immediately accomodate any guest who happens along, it would inspire our family toward more general tidiness all the way around, and evoke for us the idea of shalom because we could enter it without the tension of, “Wow, this place is a disaster”? What might such processing do for me? It would be messier because then I am forced to come up with solutions. It might take longer because there is a huge difference between a tidy kitchen and a loaded dishwasher. It might look differently than she would actually prefer, which could set up awkwardness between us as we seek common ground.

Yet it might also condition me toward greater personal confidence and an expanded vision for what the physical nerve-center of our home could be. I could own more fully the strategic value of the kitchen, and cultivate a passion beyond a clean countertop toward margin for the souls of my children and guests and bride. I could learn something about risk and potential disagreement and disappointment because, for instance, where I would place the concrete-like fruit basket might be very different than where my bride would place it. The effect might be that the hands-on authority figure for our nest—my beautiful wife Christa—would have not merely managed a moment where systems and behavior are tackled for some immediate gain. The effect might be that she would have contributed to the development of . . . well . . . an idea, a culture, and ultimately, a man.

And therein is the contrast between two ways of influence. One manages the moment, focusing on systems and tasks for rather immediate results. The other makes a man (or a woman or a child), with the results coming much more slowly. The management approach is about pushing buttons. The empowerment approach is about building a person. This is why we do not do a blanket curfew for our girls, but take the time to evaluate every situation. “Be in a eleven” would be so much simpler. But “Let’s talk through the details of this evening,” though it takes more time, conditions our girls to think on their own and participate in a self-discovery process. They get to speak into the goal, and this empowers them to learn how to handle on their own and in community still greater goals. It is the same theory as the good coach who declares, “Winning games is great but it is not what I am ultimately about. I’m not here to merely develop a good player; I’m here to make a man who wins the game of life.”

Every leader, whether a mom or a coach or a business executive or a teacher or a union boss or a president, can manage a moment for some immediate result. The surface goal might be achieved and the leader can then declare victory. But at what cost? Perhaps that the people around him have not been empowered to own something, engage in self-discovery, and generally shape their future and the future of the community of which they are a vital part. Crafting a person, though more difficult and slower and often messier, is better for everyone.


  1. Matthew says:

    Beth Anne . . . . great question. There is a sense in which you just have to give yourself permission to not have this down precisely. One thing we’ve done is just say to our little ones when needed, “Mommy and Daddy are telling you this or making you do this thing or wanting you to avoid this thing (or whatever) not for us, not so you can just look good, but so you can make wise decisions for yourself.” We would use this kind of language, even very early. Clearly there are moments to be managed, and disciplines the kids need to learn, but we sought as much as we could to speak into the greater purpose behind the moment or the discipline process.

  2. Beth Ball says:

    So I’ve been wrestling with all this for the day…I hope you don’t mind me asking a redundant question?- but when you realize you’ve just managed the “moment” (and on more then one occasion)how do you…switch gears and start building a person? And this a real, sincere question..not to challenge your idea? And I know you and Christa are rather busy, so please no need to answer anytime..but prayer is always appreciated! Thank you! Really!

  3. Matthew R. St. John says:

    Beth Anne . . . . . thanks for the note. I have no doubt you’re a great mom. When our little ones were where Ayden is we simply had to structure our influence a bit differently than we do now; though we always sought to ensure we’re motivated by building future women then simply managing little girls. And then regularly Christa and I had to regroup because the girls would transition to a new level of maturity, requiring us to apply a new level of influence. Sometimes we regrouped very late. Other times we seemed to capture the opportunity just as they were moving to a new level. Sometimes we initiated a new kind of influence too early, and had to backtrack. But all the while the goal was what I shared a moment ago. But you know what? We made a lot of mistakes, still do, and often have to remind ourselves quite strongly, and now even the girls, that in the end we want to create a legacy that honors God and outlives our generation. It’s hard work. God is gracious. And he loves you very, very much!

  4. Beth Ball says:

    Thank you Pastor Matthew, for this! It’s like you’ve been in our home lately lol (which, via FB…I guess you could have)! I really needed to hear this. I struggle with how to graciously give Ayden responsibility without completely taking over because it’s not how I would do it…and how to also lovingly discipline without pushing buttons. I find myself trying so hard, and no matter how many people think or even say they like how I do things…I am not at peace with it and haven’t been able to pinpoint what it is..and why. I’ve been praying, and struggling…regretting, crying, hoping- and this blog SERIOUSLY is an answer to my prayers. It’s the piece I’m missing. I’m not trying to teach Ayden to be responsible for the right reasons- I’m not even really trying TO teach him that. I’m merely trying to manage a house and get some help because I get overwhelmed, and get sick of the complaining (which, ironically…he learns from me). Ugh. Thank you. Really. This was something I so desperately needed to hear. I also appreciate how candid you are in how you raise your kiddo’s- not coming from a Christian home I feel a bit lost…and LOVE when I get to be a fly on the wall to homes and families that honor God so I can THANK YOU.

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