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My engineer son has a mantra: “Fix the problem.” As mantras go, it’s a pretty good one. Simple, memorable, intuitive, and to the point.
The mantra refers to our tendency to go about addressing problems by doing a lot of things none of which will actually “fix the problem.” It’s an amazing phenomenon, all the more so for how common it is. Since my son’s brain is wired in the logical-pragmatic mode of the engineer he often is amused at the non-logical ways people try to solve problems.
In the faculty and staff lounge of a school someone had the ability to “solve the problem.” The problem was with the coffee pot. Despite years of reminder memos, signs, and complaints, inevitable the “last person” to use the coffee pot or leave the lounge would leave the coffee pot on. (First logical problem: how do you know you’re the “last person” to leave a room?). This resulted in the roasting of the dregs in the glass coffee pot with its attending burnt-coffee smell and potential fire hazard. One staff member finally fixed the problem. Rather than try to change people’s behavior, trying to make them more responsible, sending out another memo, sending another e-mail reminder to the entire distribution, or putting up another sign, he got a wall outlet timer, set it to shut off automatically at the end of the day, and plugged in the coffee pot. Problem solved.
It’s an age-old phenomenon
I recently came across this way of making, the need to “fix the problem.” You may have seen it: Reportedly, the Tribal wisdom of the North American Indian, passed on from generation to generation, says that, “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”
However, in the world of church and organizational life more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:
Broken Sunday School?
If your Sunday School is broken, fix the problem. When it comes to Sunday School there are four aspects on which we typically overfocus:
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.