Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Solutions (You have to read it to see if I'm talking about chemistry or problem solving.)

The other day I was sitting with Patrick and Janice working on the worship schedule for June.  We had to wrestle with some pretty tough questions and complications, and the solutions weren't readily apparent.  A big part of the problem was that there are multiple factors and interests at play, and some of them seem to contradict each other.  Good news!  We were able to work it all out and came up with a really compelling way forward, which I'm very excited about.

You don't have to look very far to find this sort of conflict.  Jesus said, "Where 2 or 3 are gathered together, I will be in the midst of them."  Sometimes I think he meant to say, "Where 2 or 3 are gathered together, there will be disagreement and angst."  Maybe I should be a little more careful about putting words into Jesus' mouth (a lesson you might have thought I learned when we had the epic discussion about leggings).  I wrote once before about priorities, and I still think conflicting priorities are the fundamental source of conflict.  And because no two sets of priorities are alike, no two people can coexist without friction at some point.  But there's this moment that I love.  It's one of my favorite moments of all.  It happens when a group of folks struggle through disagreement and find a good solution that satisfies all the concerns--clearly the best way forward.

Ever since my meeting with Patrick and Janice, I've been doing some thinking on these solutions (including some thinking out loud with Robin).  Here's a snapshot of what I've come up with.

1. A group is capable of developing better solutions than an individual.
Multiple perspectives complicate the question at hand, and a solution that works beautifully for me is almost certain to miss the concerns of others.  That's why it's critical to have more voices at the table: more voices and perspectives can lead to a more comprehensive solution.  And while multiple perspectives generate multiple concerns, they also generate a greater variety of solutions.

2. The best solution will almost never look like one person imagined at the outset.
As multiple perspectives are taken into account, the best solution will change.  If any member of the group begins campaigning for their solution at the expense of engaging the other members, the final solution will suffer as a result.

3. Commitment to the relationship is key.
Sometimes things seem to grind to a halt.  It can begin to look like there is no solution at all that can possibly resolve all the issues.  That's when a lot of folks give up.  They take offense.  They take their toys and leave.  They insist on a vote to see which solution has majority support and go with that.  But it's almost always true that there is something more fundamentally important than the conversation at hand.  If you're in a group having a discussion in the first place, some relationship has drawn you together.  Commitment to that relationship first can help push past the deadlocks to new, better solutions.  It's true of relationships at home.  It's true of relationships in our community, our church, our country, and even our world.  As I think about it, the Gospel message to us is to value those relationships above all else.  What kind of world would we live in if we prioritized people over everything?  A world that is much better at solving the problems it faces.

4. Groups that work well seem leaderless.
They aren't.  Not at all.  Leaderless groups don't actually work.  But an effective leader becomes less visible when the good work is done precisely because the leader is listening to the concerns and ideas of others, working to synthesize them and help the group find its own solutions.  Don't misunderstand: a good leader always comes with a starting point in mind, but yields quickly to the other voices and accepts the value of their contribution.

5. Everyone just kinda knows when the right solution presents itself.
Usually the right solution doesn't work ideally for anyone.  But it is acceptable to everyone (assuming everyone is operating consistently with commitment to the relationship of the whole!).  Everyone at the table feels heard and valued, and everyone sees how the solution satisfies all the concerns and fits within all the constraints.

Some would say this is not possible.  There are times when there is no possible solution to meet all the challenges.  In my typically optimistic state, I disagree.  I believe there is always a solution--always a positive way forward to meet the challenges we face if we involve the right people and remain committed to the relationship.

At the same time, I accept that we may not always be able to find those solutions for one reason or another.  Reasons beyond our control.  Maybe there isn't enough time.  Maybe some people refuse to yield, insisting instead on their own opinions and refusing to compromise.  Maybe the group sitting at the table doesn't include the person who could come up with the solution.  All those things happen.  I would go so far as to say that all of us have, at one time or another, been the reason that a conversation broke down.  I know I have.

But over the past few years, time and time again I've been a part of conversations that have been truly remarkable because of their ability to find creative solutions to difficult problems.  I was on a future story writing team with Laura Rappold that reimagined the church from bottom to top, and even though that wasn't ultimately the solution the church selected, she and I both noted how that team managed internal conflict, valuing the contribution of each member and crafting a story that worked for everyone in the room.

It's funny, though.  It's actually plain and simple.

6. The root of effectively working together as a group is just acting like a Christian.
Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves.  He taught us to be committed to others.  He taught us to live that way regardless of who those others are and how they are different from us (even if that difference is that they are not Christian!).  He taught us to embrace each other first and put all other concerns second.  It's hard.  Especially when others aren't.  But then again, Jesus never said it'd be easy.


  1. Well said. Should you repost as "6 ways for Church leadership to be more effective"? I know how much you love lists!

    1. Yes. I'll publish it that way next time.

  2. Love this - spot on John (ryhyme intended)