The SINGLE Biggest Mistake Ministry Leaders Make

Our basement was a great space, but it was ugly, dark, and not very functional.  We never used it, and we needed more space for our growing family, so we decided to finish the basement to make it a more welcoming space.  We added drywall, paint, and fresh carpet.  Eventually, the area was everything we wanted a friendly, welcoming space for our kids to play.  But they didn’t.  Even though the room looked great, the kids still wouldn’t play there.  We had made a classic mistake.  We answered an adaptive challenge with a technical solution. 

Technical solutions are things that leaders can fix.  Ministry leaders are experts at finding technical solutions. 

The music is too loud at the service, no problem we will turn down the volume.  A group wants more studies on the New Testament, no problem we will start a series on the Gospels next week.  People are not coming to church-wide events, no problem we will send out a weekly schedule via email. Those are all technical solutions to what may be adaptive problems.

Technical challenges:

·       Have known solutions

·       Are resolved through authority 

·       Find solutions using the congregation’s established structures

The problem is too many leaders solve adaptive challenges with just technical solutions.

Adaptive challenges:

·       Require the congregation to learn a new way of being

·       Are “addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties.”[i]

·       Resolved through leadership

An adaptive challenge requires a group of people to change part of their core.  For example, the people complaining about the volume of the music may be facing an adaptive challenge as they adjust to having a different worship style.  The group who wants more New Testament studies, may not like the current focus on social issues.  People not coming to events, may be part of a larger narrative about the role of church in a community’s life.  The complaints may be pointing to larger challenges that will take effective leadership to navigate. 


My husband and I fixed the basement, but we did not solve our problem.  We had to make the basement a part of our home.  We started having our weekly movie night in the basement; we built forts that could stay up for weeks in the basement.  We showed the kids how to use the basement and expanded their ideas about the nature of our house. 


What are some of the adaptive challenges you are facing in your ministry?

[i] from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Granshow and Marty Linsky, 19.

Erin ReibelComment