Yep, this is a really nerdy topic for a blog post. I know. But for a college student who started in engineering and ended up in ministry, what can you expect? I think in systems, it’s one of the reasons I got into engineering in the first place, and now that I work in a people-based field, this way of thinking has served me really well, so this is my post on why I love it, and how I think it should be done. If anyone has read to this point and is wondering: “Systems? Like computers? What are you even talking about?” What I mean by systems is essentially just managing my organizational structures in a way that they work together to efficiently accomplish my goal. It’s basically just problem solving, but using people as the means to do it instead of math or technology.
Necessity of Systems:
Systems are necessary if we don’t want to live in a world of confusion and chaos. Even if you don’t realize it, you rely on systems every day to get things done. If I had to guess, when you get out of bed, you don’t forget how to do it every night and try a new method every morning. You have learned that the best way to get out of your bed is, likely, to swing your feet down to the floor first, and to stand up. Imagine if instead of this you tried just rolling off the bed, or going head first. That would be pretty stupid, but you have a system to get out of bed because you have learned that it is the best way to accomplish what you are trying to do and start your day. Think about your job if you have one. Whatever you do, you are paid to do something, and you know how to do that something in a way that makes your company value your work efforts enough to keep you on staff. If you saw your task, and at first didn’t know how to accomplish it, you had to develop a system of doing your work, or maybe somebody showed you the existing system they had in place. Either way you had to learn a system to get the job done. Life is made up of systems, and they are necessary because they bring an order and structure to life that keeps us from running around in circles like animals.
Systems are not just some man-made thing that humans have developed for our own advancement. No, systems were God’s idea first. Think about it. God created the universe and everything in it. That means everything from the orbit of the planets down to the miniscule structures within cells were ordered and set into motion by God. Your body is made up of organ systems. Each one with a unique task and design, but all working together to keep you alive and functioning. Those things were carefully crafted by God, in fact the Bible tells us that He knows your inmost being, and knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:16). In the way I think about my organizational systems, look at the cross of Christ. God had a problem to solve: the sinfulness of man. He had a goal to accomplish in solving that problem: redeeming man to himself (as opposed to just destroying us in His wrath like we deserve). God created the perfect plan, and executed it through the person Jesus. This is the system of all systems: Christ takes our punishment, we get his righteousness through faith in Him. God is perfect in wisdom, so his systems and execution are both perfect. I value systems because I see how God uses and values systems.
Building Systems Systematically
Here’s the practical portion. A large part of my job, if you haven’t guessed by now, is building, managing, and executing ministry systems (some people call it strategy, I like systems). This is a kind of abstract way to think about what I do, because my job also involves a lot of relationships, teaching, and serving in various ways around the church. Those things cannot happen, though, if I don’t have good systems in place to make sure we are accomplishing our goals as a ministry.
There are two primary ways to develop systems, form-based and goal-based. Building systems in a form-based way means you are starting with how you want your system to look, and then trying to work in your goal on the back end to make sure it still gets done. This way of doing things is inefficient and ineffective in the long run because your goal is not the center piece, but a side product. An example of this that I have seen fairly often in ministry is someone saying they want to have a Bible study meet at this time and place, but then when invites to the study go out, almost no one can come because that time or place is inconvenient. Yes, you had a Bible study, but it did not reach the people it could have reached if it had been designed around the goal. Goal-based systems start with the goals, and build the system around them in a way that most fully accomplishes the task. To plan that same study, you would start with your goal: to gather a group of people to read the Bible. This is not a very specific goal, so it doesn’t help us with a lot of the details, but lets just say that it’s a group that works together in an office that you are trying to reach. Well if this is the case, then you want to plan the study in a way that makes it accessible to this group. Planning it in a location near the office at a time that is convenient for people, like right before work or right after work, greatly increases your chances of having people come. Planning it on a weekend or too long after work cuts into down time and makes it more of a hassle for people to attend, so you lose people that don’t seriously value the study. Next you have to think through buy-in, meaning you want to convince people that they should value this event enough that they should sacrifice their free time to be a part of this. If you are trying to reach this office of people, then finding key people in the office that everyone likes, and convincing them to go and spread the word gives you a better chance of pulling people in because now it has become an inside thing involving other people they know and value. This is a very general example, and actually doing this involves forming more specific goals and thinking about a lot more factors, but the principle is that you should always build a system around the goal you are trying to achieve. In a coherent system, form follows function, not the other way around.
Kudos if you’ve read this far, I know it’s not the most eye-catching, intriguing thing I could write about, but I hope this post has helped you to see the value of systems, and more importantly the value of being intentional in the development of our systems. We have been entrusted with the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:4), and so we have the opportunity to build our lives in a way that displays and furthers that truth.