More Serious Than a Hole in the Wall


If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. —Abraham Maslow

One time I tried to install shelves in the kitchen of my small New York City apartment. I had a hammer, screwdriver, and little experience. It didn’t go well. For months, every time I washed dishes, the over-sized holes in my wall were evidence I didn’t know what I was doing. Some time later, a friend who knew what he was doing came and completed the job. He had the right tools and the right expertise.

In ministry we are faced with problems more serious than a hole in the wall.

We are faced with the problems of humanity. Abraham Maslow once tried to explain humanity based on the needs we all share. His Hierarchy of Needs (adapted below) helps us understand some of the human problems we come across.

A.H. Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation (1943),” Psychological Review 50 (4) 370-96, accessed May 26, 2015,

A.H. Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation (1943),” Psychological Review 50 (4) 370-96, accessed May 26, 2015,

As ministers it’s helpful to remember a couple of things.

First, this isn’t what they need, it’s what I need.

Every day I need food, sleep, water, and shelter. But that’s not all. I also need security, acceptance, confidence, and purpose. We are always in a better position to help others when we realize it’s not their problem, but our problem.

Second, just as an experienced carpenter has many tools in the tool-belt, ministers must use the right tool, at the right time.

Some tools provide relief, and others provide release. Relief work meets needs at the bottom of the pyramid. It is the immediate response to need. It may involve the simple act of giving someone a sandwich, a coat for the cold, or a mattress on which to sleep.

Release work sets people free from destructive habits, addictions, defeating behaviors, and stinking thinking--ultimately release from sin. Release work often has both an immediate component and a component that takes much longer.

Jesus understood what people around him needed. He understood their problems. Jesus addressed these problems in multiple ways. He told stories, made friends, healed, and fed. He spoke bluntly, gently, subversively, and compassionately. Humanity’s problems were uniquely addressed as Jesus met people’s needs, set them free from sin, and taught counter-intuitive principles for living God’s way.

Then He sent us, His followers, to do the same.