The roots of doubt run deep in the Christian story. Thomas is the most renowned doubter in Christian history, touching the wounds of Christ to prove (to himself) the truth of the resurrection. But Peter nearly drowned from his own doubt when walking on water with Jesus.  

Peter walking on the water

Doubt is rooted in reason, emotion, and our deepest spiritual yearnings. It can cause confusion, embarrassment, shame, pride, and resistance. Doubt emerges across all aspects of our lives, whether we admit it or not.  

In our theological schools, we experience doubt on many levels. We question the strategic  directions of our organizations; our interpretations of the marketplaces in which our schools operate; and the abilities of our staff, faculty, administration, and board. And when we second-guess certain aspects of our corporate life, we often act like either Thomas or Peter.  

  • Doubting like Thomas. In many cases, we try to alleviate our doubt by seeking more evidence about a situation or a pending decision. While usually well intentioned, an excess of evidence can hinder timely decision-making, resulting in "paralysis by analysis." And evidence isn't what it used to be: we know today that "proof" is always open to interpretation. That means we make decisions based on incomplete evidence -- decisions that account for but do not eradicate our doubts.  
  • Doubting like Peter. Like Peter, we sometimes lose faith in our institutions and begin to sink into the darkness of our emotional and spiritual waters. In these cases, it is natural to reach out to those in authority -- presidents, rectors, deans or board chairs -- for stability and reassurance. Ronald Heifetz calls this the "flight to authority," which usually prevents progress toward organizational learning and adaptive change. The wisdom in leadership is knowing when to offer a helping hand and when to let others work through their own doubt.

The theologian Paul Tillich famously wrote, "Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith." With Tillich, we must recognize that doubt is part of our organizational lives. We must learn to recognize it -- at times, to embrace it -- and deal with it appropriately.

 

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