“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend fifty-five minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein was a man who made a living off the problem on the blackboard before him. I can picture him now, chalk in hand, the eraser hot from work, staring and mulling over all the letters and numbers. Einstein’s point is simple: Solving is important, but it was the problems themselves that brought him purpose. Without knowing the problem well, a solution would have never come.
When it comes to the church, we are always finding ourselves turning our attention and energy to the problems before us. We spend “fifty-five minutes” on the problem, too. A fair share of ministry blogs build their portfolios by identifying, exposing, and addressing the problems before us. In many church business meetings nationwide, it is the problems that take center stage. Our sermons are crafted to address problematic thinking. I would argue that it is in our day-to-day church ministry where we see the most “church problems” as they are brought before leadership. A volunteer’s Sunday school complaint here, a discipleship concern there. As a church body, pastor and new member alike, we spend a majority of our time thinking through and being affected by what’s going wrong.
As I have thought about how God designed His holy Church to work, I feel that, while I appreciate Einstein’s commitment to knowing problems well, it's pertinent that we spend significant time on solutions, too. In fact, I would argue, especially in ministry, that it is crucial to present problems with solutions, no matter your role in the church.
Here are a few reasons why I think becoming what I will call “solution-makers” can positively impact our ministry at multiple levels:
Becoming solution-makers protects us from professionalizing pastors.
This is one of the most important components of why we need “solution-makers” at every level of the church. When we schedule coffee with our pastors to give them our laundry list of concerns that are missing steps towards action and answers, we are communicating to the pastor that it is his job to fix it. This not only puts more weight on the pastor’s shoulders, but it creates the false notion that pastors are the ones who fix church problems, not the body of Christ. Certainly, many problems need a pastor’s input and guidance. But in a culture that already tends to treat pastors as the "experts,” we cannot contribute further to the epidemic. The solution here (I’m learning, see?) is to ask our pastors not how they’re going to “fix it,” but how we can be of help. The pastor’s goal is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:13), not bear the workload on his own.
Becoming solution-makers naturally grows our ownership and leadership.
Every pastor has to live in the tension of finding ways to empower a congregation that feels like their gifts and skills are under-valued. As laypeople, one of the most organic and natural ways to come alongside church leaders is to present solutions to problems. Ephesians 4:13 not only protects the pastor from perceived expertise, but also indicates that all the laymen should be striving to take ownership in some capacity of ministry, whether that’s a volunteer position on Sundays or discipling a neighbor on Thursday.
A great example of this is when a church is missing an area of ministry commonly offered by other churches. Maybe, for example, your church is lacking a ministry area such as a college ministry or a women’s ministry. Often, one feels compelled to address the church leadership by asking, “Are you guys going to start a college ministry?” This can breed impatience, even frustration, for both parties. Instead, we need solution-makers who are willing to take the risk of creating and forming what isn’t in place, and allowing the pastor to empower them for the task. Trust me, as pastors we should live for this opportunity.
Becoming solution-makers reduces the notion of personal attack.
Pastors and church leaders all know “those people” – the folks in our congregations who seem to hit our e-mail inbox early Monday morning with their weekly concerns. Whether we're on staff or serve as volunteer leaders, if we harp on the problems and never offer solutions, our approach can come across not as concern, but as a personal attack. Let’s face it: we are all human and feelings get hurt. Pastors have feelings, too, and when all we do is rail against their practices and methods, it affects them. Coming at a problem with a solution, however, will normally decrease these feelings. Unless, of course, your only solution is to fire the pastor!
Becoming solution-makers births humility when it doesn’t work.
This point is brief, but important. Humility is hands-down one of the most necessary qualities of the Christian life. If we aren’t careful, being driven by calling attention to problems can quickly move from calculated discernment to aggrandized pride. Presenting solutions to problems within the church not only helps us take ownership, but helps us embrace humility when our solutions don’t work. Nothing humbles you quite like watching one of your solutions not pan out. But don’t misunderstand: there is an opportunity for healthy growth in these moments, too.
Becoming solution-makers demonstrates our commitment to the church as body.
Ultimately, solution-makers are a fitting reflection of how God has designed His church. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul unfolds this body-like ecclesiology for us. Paul describes the parts of the body as “indispensable” to each other, or "totally necessary" (12:22). The truth is, we all need each other, and any threat to that – whether it be widening the divide between pastor and layperson, feeding the tremors of hurt feelings, or stepping away from humility – will cause division in the body, contrary to God’s good design (12:24-25). If we want to be a people who rightly call ourselves the “body of Christ,” or a “body of believers,” we must take this body mentality and apply it to how we approach the various problems that we face while doing ministry.
Fifty-five minutes spent thinking through the problem is okay, so long as we agree that the solution is of similar importance. If we want churches where pastors are normal people, where laypeople have a voice, and where transparency and humility take center-stage consistently, we cannot trivialize solutions. Practically, this affects so much. Pastor, before you have the tough conversation with your volunteer leader this week, consider what you’re leading them to, not just away from. Layman, before you e-mail your pastor expressing your frustration about the lack of a ministry area in your church, consider how you could offer help, and maybe even how you could take ownership of it. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:21).