Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

There is no finish line.

Written by: on February 12, 2024

I like setting up chairs.

At our church I’ll sometimes go into a room that’s being prepared and help set up the chairs. Our operations team must think I’m a little bit obsessive about how those chairs get set up for meetings, but the truth is, I just enjoy doing it (I tell them that, but they don’t believe me).

And here’s my secret to why: Setting chairs is something that has a before, a clear actionable goal in the middle, and an end. It’s something that can get done and get done right. There is an objective finish line. It’s a tame problem, and 99% of my work and life is made up of wicked problems.

Exploring Wicked Problems: What They Are and Why They Are Important is a book by Joseph Bentley and Michael Toth in which they explore the challenge of wicked problems. By wicked they don’t mean evil, they mean unsolvable. The biggest, most important problems in our world and in our lives, they say, are not problems that can be fixed (tame problems) but complicated messes that can and should be worked on. And they suggest that the best way to work on an unworkable mess is to isolate one part of the mess that can be addressed and to create a coalition of people to go about solving that.

This idea was quite valuable to me, and in some ways was a threshold concept. In my work there rarely is a finish line. So much so that when I encounter Nike Ads with the slogan “There IS no finish line” (dating all the way back to 1977), I find myself with a bit of a twitch. Because even when there is a finish line—like a Sunday service or an event or a decision coming up that will get ‘done’—there’s always a part that could have happened better, or a piece of the mess that we haven’t addressed. And then, when the mess IS addressed and seemingly cleaned up, we later return to it and discover that, somehow, it got messy again.

As Mr. Incredible bemoans in the film Incredibles “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved!”[1]

 I’m someone who has a “fix it” orientation and I’m always working at solving problems. But the fact that they either don’t stay solved, or more often can’t ultimately become solved, drives me up the wall.

John Lassiter, former Chief Creative Officer of Pixar understands that frustration when he talks about wicked problems (he doesn’t call them that) in animation. An animated film is made up of thousands of steps that the artists could keep iterating and improving without end. It’s a mess, and can become less of a mess, but at some point, you just have to call it. “We don’t actually finish our films” Lassiter says, “we release them.”[2]

As Steve Jobs famously said (and Seth Godin has made a cottage industry out of), “real artists ship.”[3]

Exploring Wicked Problems was a timely book for me. Here are three reasons why

1. My NPO: I’m tackling a wicked problem when I claim, “The Church On The Way needs a more robust culture of intergenerational leadership partnership to engage, equip, and empower rising generations for ministry leadership.” I KNOW this isn’t a problem that can be finally solved. If it was, many leaders and churches before me who have tackled a similar challenge would have fixed it. However, it’s helpful for me to understand better that though I won’t solve this problem, I can determine which parts of the problem I will choose to get after.

2. My professional/church life: Like I said, in my work there is no finish line. People are never finished. Ministry is never perfect. And leading staff can be like herding cats. It’s helpful to understand that this is normal and instead of living in frustration that I can’t fix everything (and when I do, that it doesn’t stay fixed) that a big part of my call is to continue to work on things that can never get done, and to find new discoveries and solutions along the way with the people I’m called to work with.

3. My personal life: Recently I’ve encountered some family challenges that represent the most wicked problems I’ve ever faced. As hard as it is to accept that these things will not get fixed, they can be engaged, parts of them can be improved, and we will find a way forward.

Only God will finally fix everything. I can only hope to bring all the broken and messy parts of my life as close to Him as possible, trust that He alone has the solution, and then partner with Him in the process. And I can remind myself that in the end God will “wipe away every tear from (our) eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4 NIV).

No more mess!!!

But until God fixes it all, my messes will remain unsolved. There may never be a finish line in my work or in my life. The day I die there will be much left undone and unfixed. But until then I’ll keep working on it. As Robert Browning said “Ah, but a man’s reach should extend his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”[4]

Ok, it’s time to go find some chairs that need to be set up.


[1] Brad Bird. Incredibles (Emeryville, CA: Pixar Animation Studios., 2004)

[2] Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 200.

[3] Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable (New York: Penguin Books, 2010).

[4] Joseph Bentley and Michael Toth, Exploring Wicked Problems: What They Are and Why They Are Important (Bloomington, IN: Archway Publishing, 2020), 57.

About the Author


Tim Clark

I'm on a lifelong journey of discovering the person God has created me to be and aligning that with the purpose God has created me for. I've been pressing hard after Jesus for 40 years, and I currently serve Him as the lead pastor of vision and voice at The Church On The Way in Los Angeles. I live with my wife and 3 kids in Burbank California.

9 responses to “There is no finish line.”

  1. Esther Edwards says:

    I so understand your pain. I live to get things “done.” Although, my therapy is not setting up chairs 🙂
    This book was also helpful to me in realizing so many things just won’t get “done”. Church life is definitely like that since we deal with people. We go in and out of seasons of messiness.
    My NPO is around ministers that face midlife and beyond. Early ministry is about consuming and producing. But as we move into our mid to later years, it is a stripping… a stripping of what doesn’t serve us well, a stripping of the Savior complex, a stripping of unproductive relationships, a stripping of what we thought we could have done by now, etc… It often lays bare the wicked problems within us… I guess this all came to mind because of your thoughts on finishing the race, knowing that not all will be done and fixed.
    Thanks for the reminder that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Not us.

  2. mm John Fehlen says:

    Tim, everything you have written in this post rings true on what I know about you. That’s not to say that you have been lying in your other posts, but this one, from what I know of you and your story smacks of who you are and what you are facing.

    I too have a love for “chairs” – although my go-to is clearing/cleaning out church closets. I did a couple of them today as a matter of fact. I was overwhelmed, couldn’t get my eye to stop twitching, and couldn’t seem to get my anxiety to back down, so I went about dealing with some “tame problems” and cleaned closets and drawers.

    I used to apologize and make excuses, but now when people ask me why I’m doing it I tell them that it’s for my mental health.

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      I used to mock you for cleaning out closets and mowing church lawns and remember urging you to focus on your best contribution and not get stuck in the weeds.

      I still think that’s sound advice….UNLESS you need it for mental health. And I’m realizing more and more that with only wicked problems for people like us to solve, it’s a happy and healthy diversion at times to go do something for the church that can get done!

  3. Jennifer Vernam says:

    I liked how you tied your takeaways to your varying aspects of your world, and the Wicked Problems you and those you love are facing. How do you show up for others in those spaces… when you don’t have good answers, and spiritual platitudes may not be helpful? I am seriously in awe of people who can sit in those spaces and find the right balance between not fixing and still offering some comfort.

    On a lighter note, your illustration of setting up chairs was spot-on. The equivalent for me is weeding- which, after reading about John’s interest in cleaning out closets, I feel like we could assemble a DLGP cohort task force to do low-skill tasks that makes everyone feel better!

  4. mm Tim Clark says:

    Honestly, I stumble my way through the answers. And try not to lead with platitudes.

    YES, let’s start a support group!!! 🙂

  5. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Tim,
    Great post! Thank you for making me feel normal. I find that taking breaks to do menial tasks or stopping to solve a tame problem actually resets my brain. Not to mention that it is very satisfying to complete a task when so many other tasks and wicked problems never give that satisfaction. You highlighted that wicked problems show up in all areas of life: NPO, professional/church, and personal life. I have been reflecting on this. I have been asking myself the following questions. How do I keep them in balance? How do I prioritize them? I don’t have any great answers at the moment except to limit and focus on what seems manageable, and what I can reasonably own. Thoughts?

  6. Kally Elliott says:

    I really, really enjoy vacuuming and mowing the lawn. I can see the floor get cleaner as I go and I can make straight lines or fun designs in the yard as I mow. I feel accomplished when I am done and best of all, both the vacuum and the lawn mower are so loud nobody can talk to me while I do both chores! I do enjoy alone time.

    Anyway, your NPO is speaking to me big time right now! In some ways I am a bit jealous that this is not my NPO :). Our church is struggling with inter-generational anything! We are extremely siloed in our age cultures. There are some folks who will venture outside of their age group but mostly people do not do so. In the church where I mostly raised my boys – they were born there and stayed through elementary school – the intergenerational relationship were HUGE and they and I benefited so much from the love and care we received from each generation. I also saw how our youth learned to take responsibility for leadership in the church and how the older generation encouraged and TAUGHT them how to do it. It wasn’t perfect, but looking back, I can see how extremely valuable it was – and I am watching from afar how the generation that was younger when I was there has stepped up and taken on so many leadership roles.

    Your NPO is vital to the health of the church. I am so glad and encouraged by your work. I will be looking forward to hearing more about your project.

  7. Hey brother Tim. Man, thank you for your post. You write like a Shepherd! After reading your post I prayed about your personal and family life and will continue to do so.
    I do have one easy question: In regard to your NPO, which part of the problem will you choose to go after? 😊

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