One leadership tool that has helped me tremendously is this one simple question: “Is this a problem to solve or tension to manage?” Confusing tension with problem can not only result in waste of energy but creating unnecessary problems.
For example, a consistent drop in church attendance is a problem to solve. But drop in church attendance during summer (particularly July and August) is not a problem to solve but a tension to manage, as families take annual vacation during these times. I don’t try to resolve this issue by addressing it or even think much about it.
The presence of difficult people at work can feel like a problem, but often is tension to manage. (Of course, conflict needs to be resolved) Because usually, we don’t get to choose whom we work with and even if we do, everyone carries idiosyncrasies that can be a source of difficulties.
Struggling house church is often a tension, not a problem. Many churches that do “cell group” see the struggling cell as a problem and solve it by dispersing the cell and assigning people to cells that are doing well. But we believe that house church has different seasons of ups and downs, just like any church does. Just as no one freaks out that their trees don’t bear fruit in winter, we simply bear out different seasons in patience and manage our expectations in reflection and prayer.
Of course, when tension becomes unbearable, it is a sign that there is a problem. For example, as long as 70-80% of work you do is satisfying, then 20-30% of undesirable work is tension to manage. Because there is no job that is 100% satisfying. But when 70-80% of your work is unsatisfying, then it could be a problem you need to address.
Life is never black and white as many assume. In fact, as we grow, we realize there is so much more “grey”. And we realize we actually need this tension because it is the tension that keeps us in the place of “growth”. Tension forces us to adjust, wait, pray and wait again.
A problem needs to be solved, but tension is something we live with. When we grow (in character, understanding and patience), tension becomes more manageable. That is why maturity is the ability to live comfortably with tension.