Systems-Sensitive Decision Making
Recently Charles Wade wrote a blog calling attention to the fact the church was a “body not a bunch”. He called attention to the vast difference between an “organism” versus an “organization”. To understand the dynamics of the local church on a small scale or the inner workings of the Baptist General Convention of Texas on a large scale one must take into account that both of these organizations are “alive” and exhibit the characteristics of a “living being”.
Paul noted this in his astute description of the church as the “body of Christ”. He pointed out the interdependence of every part of the body. He called for the church members to value each other deeply even though there were dramatic differences in their functions and perceptions. A simple lesson from his teaching is “unity is a given”. When disunity is present there is something fundamentally wrong with the relationships or connections between the people of God.
In light of our interdependence it is critical that when decisions are made that those empowered to make these decisions take into account the ripple effect through out the system of their actions. Just like when a hammer hits a thumb the entire body reacts with a jerk, and a few choice words. Every decision impacts the whole system whether we want it to or not. Good leaders must take a “big picture” view of things are dire consequences can occur.
A few years ago I led our staff to address a worship problem. Our contemporary worship service was consistently lasting until 12:15 p.m. (Obviously I was preaching too long!) In an effort to end our service closer to noon, and to prevent a mutiny among our nursery workers we discussed what to do. Our staff under my “keen” leadership decided to move the 11:00 a.m. service to 10:50 a.m. Therefore we would have ten extra minutes for me to preach! There was only one major problem with our decision. We solved the getting out of church late problem but we robbed our Sunday School of ten minutes to accomplish their vital mission. The leaders of the Sunday School responded to our solution in two ways. One group cut back on their ministry, and the other group kept on doing what they had always done and just showed up ten minutes late for worship. We were short-sighted on our solution to a problem and in my estimation created a bigger one. What were we thinking? The simple answer we were not thinking like a “system” or an “organism”, we were thinking like mechanics tinkering with the parts of an engine.
Recently I have been reading an interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled The Tipping Point. This book notes how many times epidemic movements start when the system reaching “a tipping point” and everything changes. Jim Collins notes in his book Good to Great that often great companies don’t have one brilliant idea that launches the move toward greatness but rather it is like the build up of a flywheel that suddenly is released into action.
In The Tipping Point Gladwell tells the story of the dramatic drop in the crime rate in New York City after the 1980’s. From his perspective this change can be traced back into the bowels of the city and into a couple of basic changes in the subway system. Before these changes entering a NYC subway was like going into “Dante’s Inferno”. Under the guidance of a new director who applied the “Broken Window” Theory to the situation, the management of the system began to crack down on graffiti and fare jumping. Simply by painting and maintaining the cleanliness of the subway cars and by arresting people for jumping a fare of $1.25 the whole atmosphere in the system changed. This “sea change” flowed into the streets of the city and soon the crime rate in the whole city took a dramatic plunge. Who would have ever believed paint and arresting a few petty criminals would have unleashed such a dramatic change. The simple truth is these changes transformed the “context” and the “system”.
When Fundamentalism made its march into Texas and sets its eyes on the BGCT our system was changed. Politics became the strategy of our relationships. Fear and suspicion became common place. The spoken and printed word was used to case doubt and suspicion on the motivations of both sides, and a narrow victory in an election meant total control of the seats of power. Peace committees were a waste of time and good will in an environment covered with the graffiti of politics and power brokering. Does this have to be our reality? Can we put politics to bed once and for good, and create a system in which trust replaces suspicion, and first names replace labels?
I believe we can, but we are going to have to start treating our convention like an “organism” rather than a “political organization”. You may think I am crazy but grab a can of paint and let’s go to work.