Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Leading Up - Systems Thinking

Leading Up: Finding Influence in the Church Beyond Role and Experience is officially releasing this week on December 1. I'll be sharing some of the concepts and tools from Leading Up each day, as well as some new material not found in the book.

Today's concept: systems thinking.


Photo Credit: cappuccino_iv, Creative Commons
The predominant New Testament image for the church is a body. There are individual parts, but there is also the whole body, the whole church. Like the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 about the body of Christ, if one part suffers, all suffer; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.


Problems begin to occur when one part decides that it is the most important in the whole body. Its vision, its ideas, its agenda, its programs, and its budget all take precedent over the other parts of the body. Whatever ministry it is within the church, an argument can be made that it is incredibly vital to the health of that church system. Yet this would be similar to saying that the heart is the most important organ in the body. What about the brain? What about the stomach? What about the skin? This latter part doesn’t initially seem as crucial when compared to the former organs, but without our skin, we’d literally fall apart.

Leading up requires combating individualistic and linear thinking. Systems thinking is having a framework for thinking about and understanding the interrelationships, connections and forces that shape the life of an organic system. Systems are at work all around us, whether we realize it or not. Your family is a system. Your neighborhood is a system. Every church is its own system that is within the larger system of the global Church and the kingdom of God. Navigating these systems in healthy ways requires thinking in terms of wholes and connections, not just one's individual desires. An individual decision has ripple effects throughout a system.

Practicing systems thinking requires a few disciplines: First, ask plenty of “why” questions, striving to understand the reasons and motives behind every program, procedure, and person. Second, ask plenty of "how" questions, looking at the results and implications of a possible new strategy or direction. Third, view every situation through the lens of relationship. If every part in a system is somehow connected to each other, how does this vision or idea affect the other parts in the system? How would individual people be affected by this new vision or idea? Knowing how individual pastors, volunteers, and church members will respond is critical in making a systemic change.


You can buy Leading Up at The Youth CartelSimply Youth Ministry, or Amazon.com

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