Systems and Numbers

I like systems.  I like plans.  I like balancing my checkbook and working on a personal budget.  For some this obsessive-compulsive organizational architecture marks me as fairly strange, but I see it as essential.

We know that organization and discipline–whether it be financial, concerning personal health, time management, or coordination of life goals–can be a struggle for many people.  This is why shows like The Biggest Loser and gurus like Dave Ramsey have become so popular.

Yet it is not just individuals who face disconcerting questions about their ability at self-management.  Churches (together with other organizations large and small) must address the reality of unclear thinking and disordered systems as well.  To meet this need, there has been a lot written in the area of church management and vision/purpose alignment.  Of the latter, Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church is as good an example as any.

In my “Discipleship and Spiritual Formation” class we have also been talking about various systems and models of discipleship.  This past week we’ve had extensive discussion on the book Activate, which presents a compelling case for a specific and developed small group structuring of the local church.  It is a great manual for those thinking about this kind of congregational model.

As you would expect, I laud this turn towards thinking systematic thinking.  At the same time, I also caution my students about putting too much faith in a “cookie cutter” or “one-size-fits-all” model of ministry.  The temptation for the minister is to hear or read about the hot new trend and immediately implement it in their congregation without thought for their unique context.  Similarly, overemphasis on “the system” can ignore important contingencies that emerge, even while causing leaders to persist in something that is most definitely not working.  All in the name of the system!

Jesus once said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  That too was a system (and a good one!) but not one to which we were meant to be enslaved.

Remember: the system is there to help you, not you to keep the system going!  Use what works in your context, and do not be afraid to cast aside that which fails.


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