The need for problem-solving is one of the day to day realities of leadership in the parish. Every week pastors are presented with complex situations that require us to discern a faithful response. Confronted with the enigmatic riddles and Gordian knots that mark life in congregation, we find ourselves continually asking God, “What in the world should we do?” What should we do in response to the conflict in that family? How should we best approach the board about that planned change? What should we do about the Sunday School issue? What should we decide about whether to repair the roof or start the clothes-closet?
Most of us approach these dilemmas instinctively, letting our inner compass consciously or subconsciously guide us to a particular response. Perhaps on some more challenging occasions we ask a friend for advice before we act. We might even occasionally go so far as to sit down with a particularly thorny problem and try to deliberately parse out the situation. Often, however, because of the mad rush of church life, we make these decisions and judgments very quickly, guided by little more than a gut feeling or thought.
It is my conviction that we as pastors need to slow down a little more often to think these situations through: to make a space and time to turn the decisions and dilemmas we face over and over in our mind in order to discern what God is calling us to do. We need to stop and ask more questions: and the kinds of questions that should guide us in such reflective problem-solving are little different than the kinds of questions we ask in exegeting a biblical text for preaching.
Perhaps “exegesis” is a better way to think about our decision-making than the term “problem-solving": after all, what we often think of as problems are actually God-given opportunities, and they are rarely “solved” completely. They are more like mysteries pregnant with hidden meaning than straightforward puzzles with neat edges and corners.
The word “exegesis,"comes from the Greek word “exegeisthai,” which consists of the roots ex-, or “out of” and hegeisthai, “to lead, to guide.” Thus an exegesis is, at root, “a leading or guiding out of” a complexity.
When we exegete a biblical text, we pore over it and enter into its particularity and mystery in order to discern what word God is speaking through it to our unique context. We are seeking a “leading” or a “guiding out” through the Scripture. Often we receive this guidance by asking a particular set of questions of the text: and by allowing the text to ask certain questions of us.
In a similar way, when we “exegete” a situation or dilemma or challenge that we face, we are trying to discern the redeeming presence of God in a particular situation, and how we might be called to proceed in response. We are helped in this by a particular line of questions, both asked by us and asked of us.
In my next post, I will lay out a series of questions that I often ask in the process of exegeting a passage of Scripture. I believe these same types of questions can help us exegete a challenging situation as well.
What if “exegesis” became our guiding mode for confronting the situations we encounter in the parish? What if we treated each challenge we encountered as possibly being a holy “text,” pregnant with hidden meaning, that could speak to us the Word of God?
View Part 2 of this topic: The Kinds of Questions Faithful Leaders Ask of Life’s Texts .