Arguments Against Systems Thinking

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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.

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