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Develop Problem-Solvers — Leading Healthy Change Part 8

We’re talking about leading healthy change.

In Part One we discussed discerning “good change” and “bad change.”

In Part Two we discussed the starting point of appreciating “what is,” and managing the tension between “what is” and “what could be.”

In Part Three we began discussing the first two of six steps in the process—building healthy relationships and communicating effectively.

In Part Four we revisited and developed the ideas of building strong relationships.

In Part Five we dug a bit deeper into effective communication and examined why it is so vital.

In Part Six we discussed enlisting a team of spiritually mature leaders.

In Part Seven we examined how effective leaders solve problems.

Today, we break into problem-solving a little deeper—that is, how and why to develop teams of problem-solvers.

What is one of the primary functions of a team of leaders in a church ministry?

Problem-solving.

If ministries never had problems, there would be no need for leadership. If you are a leader, you were enlisted (or hired) primarily to solve problems—perhaps the very problems that you wish someone else would solve! If you aren’t solving problems, you aren’t leading. If you are blame-shifting, playing the victim, bemoaning the problems, then you are not necessary—and are, in fact, a part of the problem.

You exist in leadership to bring viable solutions and strategies to the table—to seek God’s heart and pursue His answers. You are called a “leader” because it is your responsibility to cultivate solutions that lead toward organizational health.

You can’t afford to bury your head in the sand of denial. You can’t afford to waste time mourning the problems. You don’t have the luxury of blame-shifting or avoiding the burden of the problems. Buck up, take a deep breath, and be courageous to face the problems that God has called you to begin solving. “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9)

Looking for Problem-Free Ministry? Dream On…

There is no such thing as a problem-free leadership position. Dream on. No pastor, no ministry leader has it “easy.” There is no place in the world where a leader shows up and organizational growth and health just smoothly, seamlessly fall into place like spreading icing on a cake. That place doesn’t exist—though the metaphor does make me hungry for cake!

Every healthy church culture is the product of diligent, devoted leadership laboring faithfully behind the scenes to cultivate and nourish a biblical model of problem-solving on behalf of the whole church family. When the church family has these leaders, God’s people are free to flourish in gospel-ministry—not perfect ministry, but healthy ministry.

Here’s the catch: If you get courageous, if you grow in the grace of conflict resolution, and if you devote yourself to cultivating this kind of health—it is exhausting! This kind of labor is the hardest, most depleting kind of service.

Problem-solving leadership is depleting at the soul-level—at your core. Nothing can leave you more emaciated spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. Nothing can devour your hunger for spiritual life more thoroughly. Nothing can bring you to the point of resentment and resignation more irreversibly.

Problem-solving leadership that isn’t paced and made intentionally sustainable will eventually bring you to a point of abandonment. It will make you run from ministry as fast as you can, never to go back.

I would guess more leaders resign for this reason than any other. The problem-solving demand simply ate them alive. They couldn’t sustain the spiritual and emotional energy level necessary to continually, compassionately, and courageously respond to problems.

How to Keep Problems from Consuming the Leader 

So what’s the key? How does a leader lead healthy change and develop a “problem-solving” culture without self-destructing? How do you maintain your own sanity, while remaining engaged in such depleting ministry work?

The problem-solving must be shared. The leader cannot be the only problem-solver. He may be the lead problem-solver, and ultimately there are problems that only he can solve. Yet, as a leader, you must make the development of problem-solvers a huge part of your personal agenda. The enlistment of other leaders and the sharing of leadership with them is a critical component to your own sustainability in leadership.

Nobody wants to nose-dive in personal burnout—so don’t make the journey alone!

You must enlist, train, develop, empower, and rely upon a well-placed team of problem-solvers. One of the most critical aspects of your leadership team is simply teaching them how to handle and resolve problems of all kinds—or, in many cases, letting them teach you the same. This has been the case in my life the last five years on numerous occasions. I’m surrounded by some really great leaders, and God has used them immensely the last five years to help me grow in many areas where my own problem-solving skills were immature or under-developed.

The more leaders you have that will compassionately engage with ministry challenges, the healthier the whole church culture will become.

The local church is like a garden—it is an organic place of growth that is also threatened by the weeds of problems and the devouring influence of predators and bugs. This garden of grace requires constant tending, and by that I mean the environment, the church culture. Without the continual cultivation of God’s word and problem-solving leadership, the culture of the church deteriorates into a judgmental, pharisaical, competitive, comparative culture—it’s the pattern of sin in all of us. Health is fragile, and there is always a spiritual warfare being waged against the health of God’s local assembly.

The team of leaders called to and called by a church are called to tend the garden. They are the ones who must address anything that threatens the culture, the spirit, the doctrine, or the health of the whole. They must protect against predators, guard against disease, and be ever watchful to quickly pull up the weeds that consume valuable nutrients. This is why a primary responsibility of a team of leaders is to solve problems.

Developing a Team of Problem-Solvers

Every enlisted leader needs to see himself or herself as a problem-solver. As a team, they need to expect problems. They need to be ready for them. They need to be courageous and compassionate enough to go to them for the purpose of resolving them. They need the skills, tools, and resources that equip them for problem-solving.

Leader—it’s your job to develop those problem-solvers. It’s your job to help them grow the relational skills, the emotional maturity, the gospel-health, and the biblical wisdom to run to and resolve problems.

Unhealthy churches have precious few problem-solvers, and the church family suffers immensely for it. They descend into murmuring states of discontent and disunity—everybody “wishing” someone would do something to “fix this place!” They miss the healthy days. They look around and despair over the state of things. They need a leader (or leaders) who will confront the problems in a spirit of grace, faith, and gospel-maturity.

Healthy churches, on the other hand, are intentional about problems. They aren’t surprised by them; they don’t avoid them—they expect them; they address them; they truly resolve them. Granted, problems are intimidating—terrifying at times; but faith calls us forward with courage, confident that Jesus will protect His church and lead us toward the right solutions. “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

In healthy churches, problem-solving is a continual part of the daily process of ministry. There’s never a moment when problems aren’t being resolved. “Many problem-solvers” makes for lighter work. “Many problem-solvers” avoids many more problems. “Many problem-solvers” protects any one problem-solver from being eaten alive and languishing alone. Wise church leadership surrounds a key leader or pastor with other leaders who can share the problem-solving load.

The joy of leading and pastoring is wonderfully protected when others share in the resolving of problems.

What a good problem-solving team looks like:

Christians who are spiritually and emotionally mature—This is a person who is not easily riled, not easily angered—but temperate, long-fused, and able to be gracious in the face of potentially volatile situations. This is a person who can be objective, pleasant, and biblically grounded in circumstances that are sensitive. This is not a person who is intrigued by conflict or drawn to contention. This is not a gossip, grumbler, or someone generally antagonistic by nature.

“That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” (Titus 2:2)

Christians who are faithful to the biblical model of church—This is someone who the whole church knows to be faithful and leading an honorable life. This is someone whose conversation is obviously “becoming of the gospel.” This is not someone who has to be “talked into” being faithful, but who already is devoted to Jesus and His church.

“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Christians who are passionate for the spiritual health of others—This is someone who truly enjoys facilitating spiritual vitality in the heart of another Christian. This person sees a struggling individual through eyes of mercy—sees them as someone in bondage—and hopes to help set them free to flourish. The motive of problem solving should always be the spiritual health of other Christians. They minister and nurture hearts through the emotional minefields of spiritual growth. This means these leaders are personable—they aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and to truly care. 

“Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” (Philippians 2:17)

Christians who are sacrificial for the strength of the church—This is someone with the time and personal margin to absorb some of the problem-solving toll. For instance, someone who is barely surviving a high-stress job or life is probably not a candidate for this roll. This is a leader who is cultivating such personal, soul-health as to be able to engage in the high-stakes, high-intensity world of local church cultivation. To put it better, someone who is able to enter spiritual warfare for the souls and lives of people Jesus loves.

“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Christians who understand the grace of the gospel—This is a person who can appropriately, theologically apply the work of the Jesus in the gospel to any situation, relational or strategic. They think through a gospel-lens; they see people through the gospel. They work through problems with a gospel-view. They apply the gospel to contentious circumstances. They are grounded in the gospel personally, and desire for others to be as well.

“Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:4-6)

Christians who are well-trained in relational or strategic thinking—Broadly speaking, there are two types of problems in ministry: people problems and administrative problems. Pretty much every problem will either be a personal problem or an administrative problem. Your problem-solvers will be spiritually gifted in one of these areas. Some of your problem-solvers will be gifted in people-skills—settling and ministering to disrupted hearts, working through emotions, and resolving personal conflict. Other problem solvers will be gifted in analysis—they can see through an administrative, financial, or strategic issue and chart it. They graph solutions. They work out problems on spreadsheets and with flow charts. Both kinds of problem-solvers are God’s gifts to His church, but a wise leader will align problem-solvers with their best gifts!

“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Peter 4:10)

A Personal Story

In closing, I want to give a personal testimony. Nearly five years ago God thrust our family into leadership in a church that was facing a lot of problems. In fact, these problems were so far beyond me and so perplexing that they often paralyzed me emotionally. They seemed insurmountable, and I spent many mornings sitting alone in a corner of Dunkin’ Donuts, discouraged and wondering “what in the world should I do?” My skills and talents fell woefully short, and my inadequacies were glaring against such mountainous challenges.

Five years later, only by God’s power and providence, the same church is healthy, thriving, and moving forward in dynamic faith and vision. Gladly, I confess that the power of the gospel and the protecting hand of God superseded all of my inabilities and insecurities. He loves His church, and He sustained His church one day at a time. Why?

I believe He did so because we recommitted ourselves to simply preaching the gospel—to winning, baptizing, discipling, and engaging unbelievers. We devoted ourselves to proclaiming the good news that God’s word proclaims on every page! We fell back in love with Jesus, the beauty of salvation, and the “amaze” of grace.

We not only found a massive number of hungry hearts in New England, but we also found that the gospel is the greatest problem-solver!

God’s grace overcame all of the problems. Our personal discouragement gave way to hope. Our history of church decline gave way to forward momentum. Our personal conflicts melted away in the mission of reaching those without Jesus. Our potential for murmuring and grumbling was replaced by speaking the truth of the gospel and sharing our stories of redemption with one another. Our financial challenges became opportunities for prayer and the subsequent answers—thousands of them! Our weakness became the platform for His strength to be revealed. Our massive problems were the catalyst for His massive presence.

The gospel truly solves all of the church’s greatest problems! Understanding it, applying it, and living in it puts the church right where it always should be—on mission with unity in humility.

One more post-script: 

God has led to our team some wonderful problem-solvers. Both deacons and staff of EBC share a unified heart of sharing the burden of problem-solving. My loving team of deacons often warn me of living in balance. They expect me to limit my work hours to between 50-55. They expect me to take time off. They remind me that I am not in this alone, and they see themselves as sharing the problem-solving load.

Our pastoral team grows every day in the art of solving problems. They are gifted in leading, loving, engaging, and sharing the load of both personal and administrative problems. They handle countless problems that would only destroy me if I tried to handle alone.

The church family is becoming more and more devoted to being a redemptive, reconciling body in action. In other words, they too know that the spirit of the church is fragile and dependent upon all of us sharing the commitment to unity, forgiveness, and gospel fellowship.

This is a team effort on every level.

This is why, five years later, I sit in this same Dunkin’ Donuts, writing these words, having retained my spiritual health, my family health, and my personal joy. Some would argue that my sanity is questionable—but whatever is left of it, I know I owe a deep gratitude to a joyful team of co-laborers and a devoted church family who get it! They value and protect God’s fruitful garden of grace that we all love at Emmanuel.

Few things are more miserable than a struggling church family where no one is faithfully serving to solve problems. 

Leader—you need a team of problem solvers. God will surely give you one. For the flourishing of God’s flock, take courage to solve problems and build a team that can help you do the same!

Thanks for reading! If you thought this post was helpful, I hope you will pass it along to someone else. Stay tuned for Part 9!

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