Reframing the Problem

In the mid-1980s, I was approached by Carl George, who at the time was Director of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Church Growth and Evangelism. At the time, I was a professor in the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Carl was concerned about the high failure rate among church planters, and he posed this question to me: How can we better train and prepare church planters for this ministry?

As a consulting psychologist, I learned that the consultee’s presentation of a problem often is not the problem. After some discussion, I offered Carl a different perspective. Here is the essence of what I said. “Training is indeed a problem—one in which all organizations should take seriously, and we all should periodically take advantage of training to improve our performance. Yes. All church planters should be continually committed to improving their game.”

“However, there is a more fundamental problem: the ineffective selection of church planters. We need to identify those individuals who are most gifted and likely to succeed as church planters. At the time, there was no systematic approach to selecting church planters.”

Those conversations led Carl to organize thirteen denominations to support the project I suggested. I then conducted a job analysis, resulting in the development of the Church Planter Profile. To me, I simply answered a call, having no idea of how God would use the forthcoming tool.

Here are some take home points about reframing.

1. All individuals have a limited perspective on a problem—their own. They see through the lenses of their personal experiences and knowledge base, which almost always does not comprehensively capture the big picture.

2. Symptoms are often framed as problems. A tooth ache is never anyone’s problem. A host of factors in one’s oral cavity or other parts of the body are in need of diagnosis—these are the problems. In the case of church planters, the high failure rate was not the problem. It was only symptomatic.

3. When people present a problem, determine if they are motivated to change. I told Carl there was a potential solution, but it required work and departure from the status quo. He needed to be convinced of the solution before he took action.

4. As a change agent, you have to be valued added by expanding the perspective of the people you hope to help. Here is a rule of thumb: If you are not regularly helping the people you serve to reframe and sometimes flat-out change their perspectives, you are not being value added.

5. Real solutions are rooted in an accurate framing of problems. As a former colleague of mine would say, “Problems I got. Solutions I need.”