Bad Medicine

Over the years, I’ve seen churches adopt terrible policies because they misdiagnose and then overprescribe a solution to the wrong problem. It’s the “bad medicine” dilemma. It’s tempting to overcompensate when something goes wrong or isn’t going well. After all, we want to fix it. We can overprescribe a solution that hurts the church even more than what initially ails her. Why does this happen? Because leadership is anxious and reactive. Reactivity is a constant and formidable enemy of leadership.

Let’s say on a Sunday morning some children’s classrooms have once again been left messy by a pre-school that meets there during the week—inconveniencing the church’s Sunday School teachers. Leadership can deal with the issue in, more or less, three ways: 1) Ignore it, 2) Say, “no more pre-schools” or 3) Make sure the rooms get cleaned.

In the above scenario the situation can’t be ignored. It’s become a true inconvenience for those serving, and morale is important to ministry. The reactive solution is to say, “no more pre-schools.” This decision creates a policy disproportionate to the problem that will limit the church’s ministry for years to come. Like a homeowner who faces a messy house after a Super Bowl party could say, “No more people in the house,” the absurdity of the reactive policy seems logical at the time. But it is bad medicine—extreme to the point of becoming more harmful than the problem itself. It’s like prescribing chemotherapy to treat the common cold.

What’s the good medicine? A measured solution to the actual problem consistent with mission. In the situation above, it’s an operations problem. Either the church made no provision to have the facilities cleaned, or those who are supposed to clean it aren’t getting the job done. My guess is that other areas of the church are also left unkempt, and fixing the facilities management problem through a frank conversation or personnel change would do far more good than saying, “no more pre-schools.”

Why? Because groups other than pre-schools are likely to use it and leave a mess behind that will go uncleaned (usage, not pre-schools specifically are the problem). Or, the church will slowly have to eliminate usage for all groups that use the facility—they will all leave some mess. Meanwhile, the real problem (facility operations) will go untreated. So, piece by piece, leadership’s reactivity constricts the church’s ability to do ministry—with each ill-advised step reinforcing the true problem.

When we face problems at church, don’t react. Respond sensibly. Look carefully at what the real problem is—and address that. No overcompensation. No overswinging. Just responsive, responsible, proactive rather than reactive…leadership.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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