What’s the Problem?

I recently read a fantastic article at the Alban Institute by Susan Beaumont. Her article begins by telling a fable about a church with a “traditional worship problem.” Before I write anything else, let me ask you: given that description of the problem, what comes to mind?

The “traditional worship problem” could be the color of the carpet, or declining attendance, or not enough seats because of the growing attendance, or the organ needing repair, or almost anything in between.

To look at it from another angle, how much help could you give me if I asked you to help me with my “marriage problem?” Now what if I asked you to help me with “not having enough energy to plan weekly date nights?”

Without knowing anything about me or my wife, you could probably give me a few helpful pointers to address “not having enough energy to plan weekly date nights.” That, my friends, is the power of a problem that is defined, articulated, and agreed upon. Or in the words of John Dewey:

“A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.”

Leadership Lesson: unless you’ve agreed upon the problem, everyone is trying to solve something different

I think Jesus ran into this about fourteen million times in his ministry (according to back-of-the-napkin mathematics). It seems like everyone around Jesus is missing the point. For example, Mark 3:1-6 (NRSV):

1Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Pharisees: “the problem is that people aren’t following our interpretation of God’s Law”

Jesus: “the problem is that people are separated from God”

This *minor* difference in defining the problem led the Pharisees to seek Jesus’ death even while Jesus is making us all children of God.

Do you have a problem? Before trying to solve it, state it well. Then you’ll at least be half-way there.

As G.I. Joe used to say, “Knowing is Half the Battle!”

Putting it into Practice

  • Have I stated the problem well enough that a random stranger could understand what’s going on?
  • Has my team of problem-solvers agreed on the definition of the problem together?
  • Could I use this insight in my family, not just my work?