In her book “Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands”, Nancy Ortberg talks about the need to differentiate between “a tension to be managed and a problem to be solved“.
One example for me is the constant tension between the administration/money side of ministry and the discipleship/hands on side of ministry. As pastor, I’m always going to have to balance tension between our business administrator working to conserve cash and our missions pastor finding legitimate ministry needs in which to spend it, for example. That’s a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved.
On the other hand, an employee who is taking advantage of a more casual organizational structure, which is a style of leadership I typically prefer, is a problem to be solved. Quickly. I prefer systems and structures which allow for freedom of individualized methods of execution, towards a more defined vision we are seeking to attain. When one person is disrupting that system – causing more harm than good to the organization – that’s a problem to be solved. And, solved now.
Many policies are written, because someone didn’t want to solve a problem.
This is especially prevalent in the church world. Churches, in my experience, are notorious for creating a new policy to attempt to manage the problem rather than doing the difficult work of solving it. Solving the problem often involves getting personal with people. It involves challenging people. It involves change. It involves holding people accountable to a higher standard. That’s messy. It’s never fun. Most churches like neat, clean and seemingly easy.
Using my illustration above, if the missions pastor has a perceived spending problem, rather than addressing the problem with him directly, many times a policy is created to “solve” the problem and curtail spending. Every other staff member may be performing satisfactorily, but the policy controls everyone.
Plus, the missions pastors may not even know the real problem. Without wise counsel, the missions pastor never learns principles of healthy budgeting or how to manage cash flow, for example. They never understand why overspending in the missions budget negatively impacts every other ministry. That person will likely continue to struggle handling finances the rest of their ministry – many times not even knowing why – just knowing they had they bumped up against a policy somewhere. And, they were truly trying to help people. (See the tension.)
Problem not solved.
Policies are easy. They are a piece of paper. They may involve some discussion, perhaps a committee meeting (maybe even a tense committee meeting), even a church vote, but they seldom specifically address the people who are causing the problem in the first place. They make people in leadership positions feel better about the problem, but they almost never solve real problems. In fact, they usually only create more problems, which later need to be solved!
I realize this problem is not limited to churches. Even the best organizations and corporations struggle to address problems as needed.
My advice: Manage the tensions, but solve the problems.
Do the hard work. It’s what leaders are supposed to do. Not always easiest. Always best.
Have you seen churches (or organizations) try to manage a problem that needed to be solved?
Bonus points if you give me an example.