What does the fox say? – and the hedgehog know

“The fox is a cunning creature able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog’s den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek and beautiful, fleet of foot and crafty p-the fox looks like the sure winner. The hedgehog on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch ad taking care of his home.”[1]

But every time the Fox shows up with a clever strategy to get the hedgehog, the hedgehog simply rolls up into a ball.  It is safe.  The world is divided into foxes and hedgehogs argues Jim Collins in Good to Great. Foxes are those who look at the world and see lots of complexity and have lots of ideas and strategies. Hedgehogs are those who simplify the complexity. [2] Or to quote Isaiah Berlin, “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” [3]

From this, Collins developed his Hedgehog principle. This is the idea that great leaders keep the main thing the main thing. They focus on one important thing and don’t get distracted. For Collins this is based on three factors

“What you can be best in the world at”

“What you are deeply passionate about”

“What drives your economic engine” -or in the world of business, what is it that your customers come specifically to you for. So, in voluntary organisations like churches it is specifically about why do people come to you.[4]

Now this is really helpful stuff but there is a risk that we only take it so far. We end up thinking that this is primarily about finding the one thing we like doing and want to do, especially if we mainly remember the first two points, what we are good at and what we are passionate about. However, the third factor should push us a bit further.

You see, the Hedgehog principle does not come in isolation. It is a life strategy in relation to the existence and the threat of the Fox.

Leaders need to ask “what is my hedgehog” -what is the big thing they know but to do this they also need to ask “What is my fox?” -where is the danger coming from.

Let’s get back to church life.  We may decide that as a church we are very good at music. We love it and passionate about it. We may also discover that because we are good at music and love it that people come to church for the “praise.” You can build a large church around a “worship ministry.”

We are then tempted to think that we have found our hedgehog. But we haven’t because we haven’t considered the fox.

We have an enemy. He is cunning like a fox. He is always thinking up strategies to attack, harm and destroy God’s people. Our enemy is the devil.  How does he attack?

He attacks by telling lies about God -he seeks to separate us from God’s Word. He will get us to doubt that it is true – intellectual attack. He will try to get us to believe that it doesn’t help – experiential attack.

He will attack by dividing us from each other causing division and despair.

He will attack by dividing us from the mission we have been called to. We will either be too comfortable or too afraid to share the good news.

The devil has lots of games and strategies. He will try to use persecution and suffering to cause despair. He will try to use comfort to cause complacency. He will use division, heresy or moral sin.

So, what is the one thing we know that protects against that? I want to suggest that the clue is in what we looked at for the commissioning service, a few weeks back. Matthew 28:18-20 say:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Here is the one big thing we should know. It’s that we are called to make disciples.  We do this by baptising them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus taught.  Now, this means that we have an effective remedy to the devil’s attacks. We keep going back to the Gospel and we keep going back to Scripture.

When the devil tries to rob us of zeal, we keep making disciples. Day in day out we teach them God’s Word -which means we also need to be learning and hearing what God has to say to us through his Word.

When the devil tempts with sin, our protection is that we are disciples who know God’s Word and are able to refute the tempter’s lies.

When the devil attempts to divide us, we find our unity not in shared preferences or because we like each other but because we are all in Christ.

When the devil attempts to mislead with false teaching, we will be able to respond and to recognise truth and error because we have been taught and continue to teach God’s Word.

This is why, when I came to Bearwood and was asked what I would do here as a pastor, I gave a very simple answer. I did not promise any clever strategies or tactics. I said very simply that I would teach God’s Word and share the Gospel. That should be our primary focus as leaders and that should be the primary focus of the church.  Do this and you have found your hedgehog.

[1] Jim Collins, Good to Great, 90.

[2] Collins, Good to Great, 91.  He is in fact quoting Isaiah Berlin.

[3] Collins, Good to Great, 90

[4] Colllins, Good to Great,96.

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