I worked with a pastor on a leadership issue once, which was causing harm to the church. The pastor wanted me to help him think through how to address the issue. It was a personnel issue, which is always the hardest.

He was a fairly new pastor. One of the staff members was considered a lousy team player by the rest of the staff. He was lazy, divisive, and disrespectful to the senior pastor. He really didn’t add a lot of value to the team – mostly because he had checked out years earlier. He had been counseled many times, but refused to improve. The fact was he wasn’t happy, but too comfortable in his position (and pay) to go elsewhere.

(I wish I could say this was the first time I have heard this kind of story. Churches notoriously keep bad people – often in the disguise of grace, but that’s another article.)

The pastor and key leadership realized a change needs to occur. He had been counseled and threatened with his job with other pastors also over a course of years, but he knew he was popular. He knew there could be huge ramifications by dismissing him and, therefore, he refused to change. He was, according to the pastor, even arrogant about his job security at times. The pastor, who had been at the church less time than the other staff member – and very much still gaining the trust of the church – felt he may never recover from letting him go.

I was asked to help the church find a solution to the dilemma.

Just based on what you know so far it seems like an easy decision to make. If I were simply encouraging them to do the right thing he needs to go. If for no other reason because of the flippancy he has shown towards his work and leadership.

But life and leadership are seldom this easy. Are they?

Of course, you could almost see this complicating part of the story coming if you have ever served on a church staff. He was extremely popular with the people in the church. They loved him. They loved his family. They had watched his children grow up and now the children were also very popular in the church. There was hardly a family not connected to them in some way. (In many smaller churches he would likely be related to a portion of the church.) On Sundays – and Wednesdays – there was not a more well known or more respected staff member.

(Again, churches notoriously struggle with this type personnel issue.)

The problem was there are 7 days in a week and not just two.

It was a reminder of an important principle in leadership.

Making a decision is often easy, but the solution can often be hard to find.

As I analyzed the situation, I saw three options on the table.

One, the senior pastor could fire this staff member and live with the consequences.

Two, the pastor could quit. After all, life is short. This situation was making his life miserable. He could simply begin again elsewhere.

Or, three, the pastor could simply learn to live with the problem as other pastors had in the past. Perhaps, in time, the pastor will have enough trust developed to do something about the problem.

There – easy enough, isn’t it? I had done my job. I provided a clear path for a decision to be made. Pastor, choose the one which seems best to you. Make a decision. You could even draw numbers out of a hat for one if you can’t decide. (One for fire, two for quit, and three for live with it.)

But, again, finding the solution to a problem is much more difficult than picking numbers out of a hat. Answers may appear easy, but finding a solution is a more delicate process.

Finding the solution involves making hard decisions and dealing with hard consequences. It could be either of the three easy answers, but a solution is bigger than making a decision. To be a solution it would involve the follow through, clean-up, and the working of the situation for the ultimate good of the church. This is the hard, messy, difficult work of leadership.

Sometimes we hope if we talk to enough people there will be some easy answer out there, which can also be the solution. This is seldom the case.

There really were only three options, in my opinion, towards finding a solution – the three I mentioned. Oh, there are tons of scenarios within each one, but ultimately it will come to one of these three. And I didn’t feel I could make the decision for this pastor. He would have to live with the consequences. So the solution would have to be his to own.

I think the pastor already knew what he had to do. The question was – would he make a decision (and doing nothing is making a decision) – or would he solve the problem.

Great leaders don’t simply make decisions they find solutions.

(To close the story, he eventually found the solution by letting the staff member go. It was hard. Very hard. It crippled him a little bit in his leadership with the church, but it gained him tremendous favor with his staff. In time, he overcame the negativity of the decision and the church grew healthier as a result.)

Making decisions – Easy
Finding solutions – Much more difficult.


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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 21 Comments

  • Me says:

    So what did the pastor decide to do?

  • Lynn McIntosh says:

    Thank you for this article. I’ve personally, managed to not make decisions strong enough that they would help me, and as I feel guilt about it, I know the road is hard for all of us in regards to making these hard ones. I’ve decided to get back into my Bible more and surround myself with the people you mentioned in the next article (about inexpensive leadership) to build my confidence. So many hard decisions at once are hard, and although I know my Bible well, I’ve gone away from reading it daily. Thank you Ron.

  • Ron! Some days back I read about an interesting incident.

    In Memphis, Tennessee, one of the biggest re-sellers was Macadvantage. And with the announcement more than two weeks away for New Ipad, the owner, Mignonne Wright, did a really unusual but awesomely good thing. Any customer who wanted to buy a new computer from her store was asked to wait.

    Why would she turn down literally thousands of dollars and risk losing clients who could simply drive down the street to the local Best Buy? Because Mignonne didn’t just want to make the decision for the customers but she wanted to find the solution for them. So, she did not want them to spend their money on a model that possibly could be outdated in two weeks, and she told them so. A newer, faster computer might be introduced for the same price.

    When she provided the solution to them, it yielded her exponential results. The result was that she turned ordinary customers into die-hard fans.

    I feel this is the power of providing solutions.

  • Eric Barron says:

    This is a great post, and unfortunately, a more common problem than we'd like to believe. This is one of those situations that no staff member enjoys, and will likely result in some degree of discomfort in the church. However, in my opinion, the lead Pastor and key leadership need to reach agreement on the solution to let this staff member go. Then, from a position of strength and unity, the Pastor can approach the staff member (assuming Matthew 18 is already in effect) and give him the final plan. If the staff member is still unrepentant, the pastor and key leaders must have the courage to stand before the people and lovingly, but firmly, tell the people what has transpired to make this action necessary. Hopefully the patience, firmness, and unity of key leadership will not only save the Pastor's job, but can very possibly improve his position in leadership by taking the hard road and doing what is best for the church.

    Just my .02!

    • ronedmondson says:

      I like your two cents! 🙂

    • Jon says:

      I agree with Eric. We are of course assuming some things.

      1. is the divisiveness bad enough to override any good that this pastor brings?
      2. Assuming that it is not, then the senior pastor needs to be at a consensus with the other voting members; they need to have his back.
      3. The associate pastor needs to be approached with the ultimatum and offers to help him resole whatever issues he has.
      4. If he still pushes back, then he needs to be let go and the senior pastor and his supporters need to present that to the body in a loving manner; that this is the situation, here is what we have offered ands tried and we are of one accord that since he rejected this he is rejecting his duties to the body and can no longer serve within the body.

    • Keith says:

      My 5 cents (inflation ya know) is that why is this a decision of only the Lead Pastor and not including the Board of Elders? A series of meetings with the Assoc Pastor and the Board, with graduated disciplinary action including termination is presented and if the inappropriate behavior isn't rectified than termination is made. At the next Sun or Wed gathering the head of the Board makes a brief presentation to those attending officially stating the termination has occurred and out of privacy will not discuss specifics (except possibly that it wasn't a "moral failure" given the current environment).

      • ronedmondson says:

        I didn't make this clear, but there were multiple people involved in this discussion. Elders, personnel committee – but they were waiting on the pastor to pull the final trigger.

  • Bryankr

    With respect to the people involved, making a decision would take very little of the person doing it and therefore easier. Finding the solution is far more involving; requiring more of a personal investment. That may be the reason they got to that place. Of course, I am acting the “Monday Morning Quarterback”, too!

  • Great post Ron – and agreed Kari.

    Applying solutions is by far the most difficult in any work type scenario. However, 'doing the right thing' at the end of the day for your organization (Church), ultimately will have much better social and philosophical implications.

    Thanks again for the post,

  • Kari Scare

    Finding solutions is usually the best approach. I say usually because sometimes, when life is busy, simply making a decision is a way to get through something to a point where solutions can be sought. But that is definitely not the way to operate all the time. When it comes to health issues, find a solution. When it comes to relationship challenges, find a solution. When it comes to work problems, find a solution. Sometimes, the solution is a change of heart within you that means finding a way to glorify God even in situations over which you have little or no control. I tell my boys all the time that the easy way is not always the best way and that often and usually, the hard way is the best way. So often, that means asking God to renew and refresh our minds and spirits. The situation may not change, but we change our perspective of the situation. That can make all the difference and can even be the solution.

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