Problem-Free

Mark Howell —  August 1, 2005

“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.

Mark Howell

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