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Some policies are written for all the wrong reasons.

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. I have to continually balance a tension between our business administrator conserving cash and our missions pastor meeting legitimate ministry needs. That’s a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved.

However, an employee taking advantage of a casual organizational structure is a problem to be solved. Quickly. When one person is disrupting that system – causing more harm than good to the organization – that’s a problem to be solved.

Many policies are written, because someone didn’t want to solve a problem.

Churches, in my experience, notoriously create a policy to attempt to manage the problem rather than doing the difficult work of solving it. Solving the problem often involves challenging people. It involves change and holding people accountable to a higher standard. That’s messy and never fun.

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. 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 may involve a committee (maybe even a tense committee meeting), perhaps a church vote, but they seldom address the people who are causing the problem. Policies make people in leadership positions feel better, but they seldom solve real problems. In fact, they usually only create more problems, which later need to be solved!

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.

Check out my leadership podcast where we discuss leadership nuggets in a practical way. Plus, check out the other Lifeway Leadership Podcasts.

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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