by Terry Camsey, Major –
I am rejoicing this Thanksgiving because I recently had surgery to correct a condition called trigger finger. It had rendered the ring finger on my right hand almost useless, and this is a key (in more senses than one) finger so far as my cornet playing is concerned.
It’s not so much the successful surgery that has me giving thanks, as the fact that—while I was under the anesthetic—they dealt with the correct digit! You hear such horror stories about people having the wrong limb amputated, or appendix removed, so I was thrilled when, before putting me under, the doctor came in and clearly marked the offending digit prior to cutting and stitching.
Mind you, I did have a near miss when having laser surgery a few years ago to relieve the pressure in one eye! The doctor came in and carefully stuck various bits of equipment in my right eye to keep it open during the procedure and casually confirmed, before getting the laser fired up, that he had set up the correct eye. I told him I didn’t think so, causing him to check my medical chart, and avoid—at the very least—some discomfort to a healthy eye.
Have you ever had that kind of encounter with a doctor that you trusted? The key in both instances was asking the right question before setting out to solve a problem that didn’t exist!
Lyle Schaller (perhaps the most discerning church growth consultant I have ever studied with) once said that his technique was to ask the right questions to find out the right questions to ask.
I recall reading some years ago about the challenge NASA had of astronauts writing in space where there was zero gravity and often a need to write upside down. They asked themselves how they could accomplish this with a ballpoint pen—the research cost millions. Apparently the Russians asked how they could write upside down in space and came up with a much cheaper answer—use a pencil!
What a difference a question makes.
It’s the same challenge for churches and for Salvation Army corps. I believe the (often unspoken) question people have for us is, “Exactly how will what you offer improve the quality of life, in any way, for me…and my spouse or significant other…and my family?
It’s a question we should consider—and be prepared to answer—for every program and service we offer—and we need to be prepared to do so in words they easily understand, connect with, and that will inspire them to respond. To be able to do that we must first be sure we understand the needs they have that our programs and services are designed to meet. “Programs for people,” rather than “people for programs,” should be our priority.
And we need to realize that the language we use will be different for each generation if we are to truly communicate, as will the ways in which we translate the promised benefits into reality.
Let’s be sure we are asking the right questions with the right words that will trigger a response in people.