Alignment At Church

I read a post by Seth Godin, about “alignment”. Seth is a marketing geek, and so alignment to him is about customer and purveyor… or something, but what he said was interesting – because “it” works when there is alignment – between the expectations of the customer and purveyor.

Here is his post

So how does it work at church:

Fruit Producing Ministry alignment:

I want to produce fruit, and my church wants to equip me to produce fruit,
I am trying to figure it out, and my church wants to produce fruit.
I want to use my gifts and talents to glorify God, my church wants to produce fruit.

Legalistic: I want to do all the right things to get into heaven, my church wants to tell me what the right things are.

Prosperity Gospel: I want God to make me healthy, wealthy, and wise, my church tells me that God will make me healthy, wealthy and wise… if only…

Big Box Church: I want to see a spectacle, be uplifted, and feel good about being part of something bigger than myself, my church wants numbers to go up.

How does it not work at church:

I want my kids to learn about God, my church wants me to act like I believe in God.
I want to produce fruit, my church wants me to be a bible scholar.
I want to grow in my relationship with God, my church wants numbers to go up.

How is your alignment with your church?

Using the World’s Tools

We live in a time when technology is evolving very rapidly. Especially communication media are rapidly evolving. While communication media are certainly the tools of the “world system”, there is no reason that the church cannot and should not use these tools to “reach the world”. In fact, the world will recognize the church as “relevant” when it uses the current media to reach them.

If I look at the new testament, I see that in Paul’s missionary journeys he took advantage of local institutions to connect with people. In communities with a synagogue he started there, in other communities he used the public square.

What are the current media that we can take advantage of? Newspaper, radio, television are obvious, but also expensive. To advertise on these media costs thousands of dollars and have a very short life. The internet offers many, many opportunities for reaching our community, and beyond for extremely low cost. If we can get some savvy around this new technology we can use it to draw people from our community using media that they are immersed in.

Here are some ideas that cost little or nothing:

1) Brochure website – create a website that tells anyone who can find it what they need to know about your ministry.
2) Interactive web portal – create an online community that allows your members to communicate with each other, and to invite others to join.
3) Locator services – use mapping services like Mapquest and Google Maps to help those doing location sensitive searches find you.
4) Social media – use existing web applications like Facebook and Youtube to get your content and message to those who aren’t particularly looking at churches.
5) Publish your own content – using websites like and Biblegateway, publish your own message audio, or teaching aids – give back to the community of believers as a whole.

Not only do these cost very little to implement, several of them can vary likely be accomplished without any real technical expertise beyond what you already have among your current resources.

Look for a series of posts providing guidance on each of these ideas….


Arguments Against Systems Thinking

Over the years, I have heard lots of arguments against systems thinking in church. Most of the time the argument is phrased “It’s not _________ to run the church like a business”. Over the years I have heard many words or phrases fill in that blank, but never “effective”, or “reasonable”, or “helpful”. What this tells me is that even though church leaders believe that something will help, they believe that for some reason God has prohibited them from doing that thing. This makes absolutely no sense to me. If you are not violating other biblical principles, or committing specific sins – why would God prohibit something that helps? I am sorry – that is just plain dumb.

Some reasonable objections exist so lets talk about them first:

  • “Its all about money” – many ministries have fallen into temptation around the misuse of financial resources. So running a church like a for profit sounds like a bad idea, but isn’t it all about what you do with the money? If the monies are spent on missions and outreach – and ministry programs, there is integrity, but it seems very un-churchy. Like bingo and raffles and bake sales – just do it the old fashioned way – tithes and offerings. More churches apply systems thinking to fundraising than any other aspect. This is especially true of building campaigns, so when it feels like the church spends more energy on fundraising than it does on producing fruit, something is definitely amiss.
  • “Its not very loving” – I think that at times, the policies of some churches do not reflect the love that believers are supposed to express toward one another. When policies are designed to make it easier for staff, or ministry leaders, but less friendly to those being ministered to, especially when the policies are administered with a particularly legalistic approach, this criticism rings true. Yet in order for the body to grow, there must me some organization and decisions must be made in a way that is fair and not partial to any person or group. Policies must be administered with enough lovingkindness to reflect both fairness and sensitivity.

Then there are the objections that just seem like excuses:

  • “it is unspiritual” – If we plan every aspect of our ministry, does that not diminish our faith in God? If we are emphasizing the plan, how can the Holy Spirit lead us? Why would anyone think that the Holy Spirit would not simply lead the planning process. Besides, every ministry plan changes, when the actual ministry starts and we learn what really works and what doesn’t. But the unspiritual objection is not a good excuse to “fly by the seat of your pants and hope for the best”.
  • “It is unscriptural” – In Systems Thinking In Ministry I already addressed this one, but let me hit this again, there are many examples from both new and old testaments about heroes of the faith who tackled difficult challenges by planning, and being good stewards of the resources God provided them.
  • “It diminishes our faith in God” – While this seems right on the surface, because an emphasis on human plans and human means can take our focus off of God, if I recall the analogy of the farmer, this also is not rational. The farmer must plan which crop to plant in what order, and how to cultivate and care for the crops to ensure a good harvest, but the elements of nature are all beyond his control – just like in our ministry. So what if the farmer simply threw up his hands said – “Well it is all up to God anyway, so why work so hard, why be intentional about my farming – just do a little here and there and see if God blesses it.”  Do you think that this farmer will reap the same harvest as the one who was diligent? So why would we expect our ministry to be any different? When God blesses our diligence and our Intentionality, we also recognize that He is the one who made the fruit. And that increases our faith, instead of diminishing it. When we measure and celebrate our harvest, we magnify the God of the harvest, and our faith in Him is magnified as well.

So in dealing with the criticisms that I have heard of systems thinking, what I want to say is this:


  • Our intentionality and diligence are neither unscriptural, unspiritual, nor do they diminish our faith.
  • We need to ensure that we are intentional about producing spiritual fruit and not earthly results.
  • We need to contemplate how our policies, procedures, and plans are felt by those who are helping in the ministry, and by those who are being ministered to.
  • The Great Commission must be tempered by the Great Commandments.

When we can do these things, the arguments against systems thinking in church are not so terribly relevant.

Systems Thinking in Ministry

I had dinner with a pastor friend this week, and one of the topics we discussed was "Systems Thinking". Systems thinking is really the application of policies, plans and procedures to ministry programs. All churches have policies and procedures, but in my experience it is rare that they have policies and procedures applied to the creation, maintenance, operation and staffing of ministry programs.

In many churches, running the church "like a business" is anathema. It is considered unspiritual. Systems thinking is often perceived as unspiritual, or interfering with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many churches claim to be "spirit led" but it is just a rationalization for disorganization or chaotic management practices.

I think that people forget that "stewards" and "managers" in the bible are very closely related. Good stewardship is in fact good management. So why is good management anathema to the operation of ministry programs. God calls us to be good stewards of His resources. What is the problem. Really? In the bible the word that we sometimes translate as "elder" is also translated "overseer". How different is an overseer from a supervisor? Not very to my mind.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus himself correlates stewardship and fruitfulness. Right? So what is the problem?

I think that part of the problem is that pastors are not educated in stewardship as it applies to ministry programs. Seminaries teach them to handle the word of God correctly, to shepherd a flock, to lead worship, but not as much how to manage a staff, or how to run a non-profit organization. I also think that perhaps the aspects of ministry that attract people to those schools, do not attract people who like to plan. I never attended seminary or Bible college, but I have never heard a pastor talk about the classes they had in organizational behavior or ministry planning, or the professor who taught them church accounting and planning. They may have taken courses like that, but I never seem to hear about them. Not very inspirational?

Perhaps church boards do not value management skills or aptitude when calling paid staff. Perhaps they are simply focused on the more "spiritual" aspects of ministry. I have been on a couple of pastoral search committees, and in those cases, philosophy of ministry or leadership style were topics of conversation, but not qualifiers.

When I look for examples of "systems thinking" in the bible, I don't have to look further than Acts. After Pentecost, the church grew so rapidly that the 12 were spending too much time serving communion, to the point where it was interfering with their praying and teaching. So they create a brand new job description for "deacons". If you look closely, the Bible has all kinds of examples of systems thinking.

  • Exodus – Moses delegating judging of the people
  • Nehemiah – The organization of clans and families to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem
  • Acts – Appointing of deacons
  • Timothy – qualifications of deacons and elders

If a church is not to be run "like a business", then what is it to be run like? What is the alternative operating model? As a kid, I often heard adults use an expression for something disorganized, by saying that it was run "like a church picnic". So it was clear to me that church as a well understood example of poor management practice.

There are two words that describe (for me) the attitudes of stewardship: intentional and diligent. If we apply these two stewardship words to all aspects of our ministry, I think we get very close to systems thinking. We are stewards of not only the financial resources that God provides, but also the human resources of time and talent, and beyond that the spiritual gifts God gives to equip His church. When we diligently marshal these resources with the intention of producing fruit, we are not running the church "like a business", but in fact "like a church".

Selfism In Ministry

Jesus, as he turned his attention toward Jerusalem, began to utter some of his most difficult teaching. He talked about going to the cross, yet at this time, most of his followers (including the 12) were still thinking that he would lead Israel out of Roman occupation. After the feeding of the 5000, followers came to him, and basically asked for another miracle meal, and a spectacle. And when he started with the hard teaching about sacrifice and suffering, many of them turned away. They were looking for "dinner theater" and he told them to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

How many of us decide what church to attend, based on the ministry programs, and how they meet our needs. How are the children's programs, how are the youth ministries, how is the worship service, how is the teaching from the pulpit?

How exactly is this different from Jesus followers looking for dinner theater. Where do these criteria lead? Often, they lead to a church becoming all about the needs of the congregation, and when the congregation selfishly expects their needs to be met, they can revolt when they are not. Church can become an inward facing club – far removed from the great commission.

So how do we (ministry leadership) combat selfism in ministry? Teaching is one way. Having a consistent message that Christians are expected to produce fruit is important, because it combats the Christian as Spectator (dinner theater) mentality. Getting people involved in ministering outside the body as well as in, is another way. Community ministry – serving others in the community as an outreach is another way to help people see this. Last is accountability. Having your members understand their accountability for working in the fruit production area is key. Challenging individual attitudes that smack of self-seeking, with the command to pick up your cross daily is important. When people complain about their needs being unmet, ask them what they are doing to meet others needs. Each of us should be reaching out in whatever way possible to meet the needs of others, and focusing on opportunities to serve, rather than to be served.

And how do we (as Christians) combat these attitudes in our own life? See the church not only as a way to get fed, and as a place for our children to grow in Christ, but as a place for us to express our gratitude to our Lord by giving our gifts, talent, and time to serve others. Our criteria for selecting a church should be equally focused on how we can get involved in serving, as it is how we can be ministered to. How does the church help us grow in Christ, how does the Church help us reach our neighbors, how does the church allow us to use the gifts and talents the God has given us, how does the church hold me accountable?

Our Part in God’s Work

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (NASB)

What I have always known from this verse, is that we (Christians) were created to do good works (our reason for remaining on earth, and not going immediately to Heaven), and that God, Himself created opportunities for us to do them. But what I am just now understanding is this:

  • God does not need us to accomplish His work.
  • He allows us to participate in His work.
  • Our participation in God's work deepens our understanding of God and his plan.
  • God blesses us through our participation in His work.

If I were to summarize the above points, what is clear is that it is all about God's work. In ministry, we get off track when we forget that the work is God's work. Jesus himself said that he did not come here to do his own work, but the work of the One who sent him. As soon as we realize that ministry is not about us, then our attitude is right.

So what is "Our Part" in God's work? It is being ready, willing, and available to take advantage of opportunities to serve the Lord in church, with friends, at work, anywhere we find opportunities to share the gospel, to encourage other believers, to support God's work, to demonstrate God's love… We should do it.

As ministry leaders, how can we approach this?

  • We can help new believers get started by organizing "light weight" opportunities. Short term committments, and lightweight service opportunities are great ways to get new people involved. Make sure that there is a clear path for them to move into more significant service roles as they are ready.
  • We can make sure that our volunteers and potential volunteers are aware of opportunities to serve and to help. Somethimes ministry fails, because potential volunteers are not aware of the needs of the ministry. How will they know if you don't tell them?
  • We can make a clear path for new volunteers to approach us. How do I plug in? For new people, it is often intimidating to ask how can I help? There should be a regular and accessible way for people to know about needs of ministry programs.
  • We can manage our resources to help ensure that volunteers do not overcommit or commit to burnout. This can be tough, including recommending the elimination of a program that cannot be supported with staff – even though there is fruit. If people know there are needs, but the Spirit does not move any to volunteer, then that can signal God's direction to change programs.
  • We can make sure that our volunteers understand our values around ministry. That it is God's work we are doing, and the the goal of all ministry is to produce fruit.