“You can’t choose problem-free. It doesn’t exist. But you can choose the set of problems you’d rather deal with.” I remember where I was sitting when I first heard that phrase. Pastor’s Toolbox Seminar…left side…two thirds of the way back. Jim Dethmer, then a teaching pastor at Willow Creek, was talking about vision and out popped this gem. And it was like a light bulb popped on.
In The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership (the best book I read in 2004), Steven B. Sample summarizes this Machiavellian principle this way, “No policy is without its peril. A really talented leader first discerns the pitfalls of each option and then chooses the best among them, recognizing that there is no perfect of perfectly popular solution.”
A practical example: You want to increase the number of people in small groups in your church, but have a consistently difficult time finding small group leaders. Plenty of people signing up to join a group. But nowhere near enough “qualified” leaders to keep up with the demand. Then you hear about a newfangled way of lowering the bar in terms of who’s “qualified” by using a material that is DVD driven, kind of a “just add water” study and encouraging hosts to recruit their own groups.
Solution A, recruiting and training leaders the old-fashioned way, has a set of problems. (1) Never enough of them, (2) the ones you get off a sign-up have mixed motives, (3) willingness to volunteer guarantees nothing in terms of ability to gather and sustain a group. Upside: you can enforce higher standards. Downside: never enough to meet the demand.
Solution B, inviting people to simply open their home and invite their friends guarantees nothing in terms of their suitability. Upside: Demand met by lowering the bar in terms of who can lead. Downside: running the risk in terms of who may want to open their home.
Question: which set of problems looks better? Which set of problems have mitigating solutions? There is no problem-free. Many churches are choosing Solution B because they recognize the upside of meeting demand and realize that they can mitigate the inherent risks by requiring orientation, linking each host with a coach, providing feedback opportunities, etc.