Great leaders, at their very being, are great problem solvers. They anticipate conflicts before they fully arise and see solutions that others might overlook. Mountains become manageable hurdles. But is problem solving sufficient? I would make the case that for those leaders who are desiring to leverage their leadership through the lens of the Gospel, there is more that is needed.
And to be honest, there has to be, for I cannot live out my leadership compartmentalized from the reality of what the Gospel is doing within me. Who I am must radically impact what I do.
Same story, new application
Have you ever read a passage in the Bible that you have read multiple times, but then God allows you to see something new? That happened to me Saturday morning when I was reading through Genesis 13.
The story is common but somewhat unobtrusive. It is a smaller account within a much larger narrative.
It all started in chapter 12 when God commanded Abram to
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
Abrams gathers all his family as well as his nephew Lot and they embark on a new journey. Chapter 13 drops us in the middle of this story:
And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. (Genesis 13:2-7)
What happens is not too uncommon: family conflict breaks out over people being in close proximity. Abram’s and Lots’s herdsmen are struggling to operate their independent herds on the same piece of ground. They simply had too many possessions between the two families.
What is done to resolve conflict is relevant; how the conflict is resolved is often more important.
Enter Abram. Note what he says.
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:8-9)
At first glance, I have to admit that this seemed like a textbook problem-solving technique.
“Lot, just go somewhere else, OK? This does not have to be difficult.”
But that is not the sense I get from this passage as you look both at the how and the what. Abram had several options that could have qualified as “problem solving.” Abram had the “authority” to call Lot out on this one. He was the uncle. Lot was the nephew.
“Lot, deal with it. Tell your herdsmen to back down.”
That is problem solving and we use it at times when we don’t want to deal with the immaturity of the person or situation. We want the fix.
Abram could also have just stated the solution to Lot.
“Look Lot, you go over there with your family and I’ll go over here with my family so we can quit the arguing.”
That is also problem solving because this would resolve the situation. No more arguing between the herdsmen of the two families.
But Abram’s how and what speak more than just to problem solving. It is also problem solving and Gospel fused together. Notice three elements of Abram’s technique:
He appeals to something bigger
“No need to for conflict. After all we are family.”
The great thing about the Gospel is that one of its paramount principles is that reconciliation is always the end goal, not just the resolution of a problem. And with that, I am able to see through the issue to the more important aspect of the situation: the person.
He involves Lot in the solution
“How about you choose where you would like to go and I will choose where I would like to go? Let’s separate our families.”
Collaboration instead of just dictation of information always wins the day. When I involve the other party in the resolution of the issue, you are moving beyond problem solving to problem solving with reconciliation. You can actually win the person to desire to collaborate with you. Good things happen.
He allows Lot to choose the better of the two solutions
This is a great display of leadership by Abram within a framework of grace.
And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (Genesis 13:10)
This was not a situation where there were two unknown or similar choices and Lot just gets to choose and so either is fine. Rather, clearly there was a section of the land that was more bountiful, full of life, and the better choice for Lot and his herdsmen. And granted, Lot clearly took advantage of Abram’s kindness and his lustful eyes took what was best for him. But the fact remains that in suggesting a solution, Abram’s humility and servant leadership showed a Philippians 2 type of honor that prefers the other and wants their best.
Abram counted Lot more significant than himself. That is often uncommon leadership.
The sum total of Abram’s leadership not only resolved a conflict but allowed him to mend and advance a relationship. That is often what is lacking in leadership – something more than just problem solving.
The “more” of solving problems
But isn’t problem solving good? Isn’t problem solving the goal?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, in the sense that a leader can take a “broken” situation and offer something that pieces it back together. That is always good. No, in the sense, that for a believer in Jesus, we are often asked to do more and be more. Not because it is always natural. Not because we always want to.
Rather, because we can. The power of the Gospel frees me from merely solving a problem to actually solving a problem with the other person in mind, showing them preference, allowing them to come out ahead. And that type of mindset fosters future open doors and investment.
And that is advancing the Kingdom.
In conclusion, I hope you do not underestimate the the principle found in Genesis 13. In an age of getting things done and fixing problems, the most important aspect, the person, often gets left in the rear view mirror. And for those who claim to be followers of Jesus, this is tragic. Tragic because we claim to be about so much more. Tragic because we live out so much less.
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