A Fear of Whales

A Fear of Whales

Adaptive Challenges

Leaders in the church today are facing a new kind of problem. Previously, the majority of the challenges faced by the church, and by church leaders, were identifiable, comprehensible, and often fully solvable. Some experts now refer to those types of challenges as “technical problems.”

In contrast to technical problems, “adaptive challenges” appear to be arising in our churches with increasing frequency. Adaptive challenges are characterized by being complex, difficult to identify, and multi-faceted. To resolve adaptive challenges people and communities must change at fundamental levels. Experimentation is required–with no guarantee of finding solutions. The church is facing these sorts of problems more and more.


That means when we teach things like “How to share the gospel” we run a serious risk of doing more harm than good. If we believe there is a formula for conversion that means we believe that non-Christianity is a technical problem. When we talk about the “right way” to do a worship service, or to lead a praise band, or to have a dating relationship; not just naming some pitfalls, but acting like there is a correct path to follow… We are making stronger claims than we probably realize.

There may have been a time a generation or two ago when most of the responsibility of a church leader, was reasonably boilerplate. Give the sermon, collect the offering, close in prayer. I doubt it, but It’s possible. But I just don’t think we can get away with it anymore. Instead I believe that we as a church need to address with flexibility and humility the amorphous shifting problems that lie ahead.

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