There Are No Technical Solutions to Human Problems
During the summer of 2014 the Technology Committee conducted a survey among our Twenty-Five-Congregation Focus Group. We asked them seven open-ended questions about the challenges and bottlenecks they encounter when planning and carrying out worship in their congregations. The insights from that focus group will help shape the direction of our work on the Technology Committee.
As I reviewed the results of the survey it became clear that many of the challenges that our focus group identified are not technical in nature. They are human problems—and there are no technical solutions to human problems.
Any problem where the solution requires a change in people’s values, attitudes, habits, or behavior is a human problem. Consider your health, for example. If the doctor diagnoses you with heart disease he may prescribe a medication. This is a technical problem. You need this pill, so you take this pill. Easy. But the doctor may also say that what you really need is more sleep, a healthier diet, and frequent exercise. That’s a human problem. Change your values, alter your habits, and do so faithfully. Hard.
Human problems are difficult to solve, while technical solutions are easy to administer. Because they are easier, we gravitate toward technical solutions for our human problems. In fact, administering a technical solution for a human problem often makes matters worse by refusing to make the necessary changes to the values, habits, or practices that must change for a real solution to emerge. There are no technical solutions to human problems.
Here’s how it might look inside the church: More and more members are dissatisfied with congregational communication. Leaders quickly relaunch the website or set up an email list to solve the problem when in reality the communication problems probably lie much deeper than the delivery mechanism itself.
How does that look in worship? Our focus group identified a wide range of human problems in the area of worship. One of the biggest challenges according to our survey is encouraging congregational participation. We may be tempted to administer a technical solution to this problem. If singing along with the hymns is hard, I suppose we could just print different hymns. Or we could project the words of the hymns with a bouncing red ball to tell us when to sing. Or we could play a professional recording though the speaker system and circumvent the problem entirely.
I hope you can tell I’m being facetious with these suggestions. They won’t actually work because there are no technical solutions to human problems. The biblical principles of worship present difficult human challenges that require diligent human solutions like education, leadership, and training. The Technology Committee can’t offer that, and we’d be foolish to try—it’s not our role.
We can, however, work to alleviate some of the most pressing needs in planning and carrying out worship in WELS congregations. The top challenge identified in our focus group survey was organizing and planning worship. We can work to build tools and frameworks that help worship planners stay ahead of schedule and manage all the details of conducting an excellent worship ministry. Here at the end of 2014 and into the early part of 2015 the Technology Committee is drawing up a description of what that could look like. This is the next important step in making a digital planning resource a reality.
But as we do this work, please remember: what we hope to provide will only solve your technical problems. If advance planning and effective organization is a challenge for you, it may take more than a new piece of software to solve the problem. You may have a human problem on your hand.
I’ll propose this little bargain with the pastors, teachers, and worship leaders of WELS: The Technology Committee will spend the next several years working out a technical solution to some of your most pressing technical problems while you lay the groundwork by tackling the human problems we face in planning and carrying out worship. Learn and practice the necessary values, habits, and attitudes that make an excellent worship ministry and you will have some good solutions to your human problems. Then, who knows, maybe all this technical stuff will end up right where it should be: in the background, in a ministerial role, supporting something bigger and more important.