Problem Solving and Decision-Making

Problem Solving in Ministry

Before problems can be solved and decisions made, the problem needs to be clearly identified. Failing to accurately identify problems (and then solving them) can result in a loss of individual and team motivation, confusion, conflict, a waste of time and resources and an adverse effect on the vision of the team and the wider organisation.

Decide whether a problem does exist.

How would you react to the following problems if they were presented to you?

  • Some teams are not committed
  • There are too many meetings taking place
  • There is not enough storage space for our equipment
  • The new team member is not working out.

A problem is basically a dilemma with no apparent way out.  It appears to have no solution and can be the cause of significant conflict. To determine whether a problem does exist, we must first assess it against agreed upon standards.

How does the commitment compare to other teams?

  • Is this team achieving its goals?
  • How will future growth impact upon present and future storage space?
  • How does this team member’s performance relate to others who have been in the same team for the same period of time?

The first step in assessing the problem is to compare what should be happening in the situation with what is happening. The ”what should be happening” relates to your objectives.  By clearly identifying what your objectives are in a given situation, you can assess the seriousness of a problem and the appropriate course of action.

Define the problem

 When we first become aware of a problem we only see symptoms. The real problem often lies beneath the surface. To clarify the real problem, we need to gather information and ask specific questions to get as much related information as possible.  As we listen to other viewpoints our impression of the problem can change.

Collecting and sorting information is the first step in defining the problem. Methods of data collection may include:

  • One-on-one conversations
  • Group feedback
  • Outcome assessment

Once you have collected information on the problem, it is useful to organise it so a clearer picture of the real problem can be obtained.

Diagnose the cause

The root cause lies at the bottom of a problem.  Sometimes the cause emerges during the problem identification stage and sometimes it doesn’t. It is critical that the root cause of the problem is established before any decisions are made or actions taken. By definition, the root cause explains why the problem exists and persists.  If we remove the root cause the problem will collapse.

Start by defining whether it is a people, process or environment problem, then explore the possible causes.

Ask the people to identify whether the problem with people, process or environment, is the result of:

  • Poor communication
  • Ineffective systems
  • Insufficient resources
  • Low morale

Two common techniques for identifying the causes of a problem are:

  • Brainstorming (group process)
  • Repetitive Why Analysis (individual & group  process)
No matter how small or large a problem appears to be, don’t jump to a conclusion that could waste time and resources. Before problems can be solved and decisions made, the problem needs to be clearly identified.
Colin Noyes

Colin is the Director of ResourceZone International. He has thirty years of ministry experience as a pastor, college lecturer and consultant/coach to consultants, denominational leaders and local church pastors. He can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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