Published: 11 months ago

Maybe Your Problem Isn’t Your People

When it comes to leaders in the church, my favorite Bible verse is Matthew 18:20:

“For where two or more are gathered, they shall eventually start griping about their volunteers.”

Alrighty, so Jesus never said that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Church leaders seem to default to volunteer horror stories: there’s not enough of ’em. They won’t step up to serve. They won’t do what we ask. They’re always calling in sick. It’s easier to do the job myself. 

(If you are a volunteer reading this, you need to know that I’ve never heard your leader say this about you. It’s another leader talking about the jerks that they lead. So be encouraged.)

But what I’ve noticed after hundreds of these conversations is this: if you drill down, these ministry leaders aren’t actually dealing with people issues. Rather, they’re dealing with systems issues.

people issue is just that: it’s a person who won’t do the job, has a bad attitude about the job, or just doesn’t show up for the job. But a systems issue is far more insidious: systems issues often keep our people from being able to do the job, no matter how much they want to. And systems issues can be incredibly difficult to uncover.

In an episode of The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, Horst Schulze addressed systems issues vs. people issues. Schulze is the founding president and former COO of Ritz-Carlton (a luxury hotel much unlike the Motel 6 where you and I stay). At one of their properties, room service orders were taking what felt like forever to get to the guest. Because Ritz-Carlton is committed to excellence, they began dismantling and examining every component of the kitchen: was it the cook? The sous chef? The complicated menu that the snobby chef created? The bellhop who was delivering the food? Which of these people was slowing the system down?

Actually, it was none of those people, or any other person. As they continued to dig, they realized that the food was slow getting to the room because the bellhop had to wait on the service elevator. The service elevator was slow because the housekeeping staff was constantly traveling to the 4th floor to get a fresh supply of linens. They had to get a fresh supply of linens because the hotel only had two sets of linens per room. And they only had two sets of linens per room because when the hotel launched, Schulze had ordered they cut their inventory from three sets of linens to two sets of linens as a cost saving measure.

The bottom line? An additional set of linens (which Schulze immediately authorized) solved the room service problem. The issue wasn’t with people. The issue was with a system.

So how about it, church leader? When you think about the volunteer you’re prone to gripe about, can you honestly say that the issue is a people issue? Do they have the resources they need to do their job? Do they have the training they need to perform their job well? Do they have the coaching they need to continually improve in their skills?

Where two or more are gathered, maybe we should start examining our systems before we gripe about our people.


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