Edwards Deming was an electrical engineer who became a pioneer in systems management. He developed sampling techniques still used by the U.S. Department of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In his book The New Economics, he introduces systems as “a network of interdependent components that work together to try and accomplish the aim of the system” (p. 50).
Systems have a purpose. Without it, there is no system. The aim of the system should be obvious to everyone in it. The system should have plans for the future, although the aim and the plans might not be clearly articulated by everyone in the system. Some people just go through the motions in a system. But, there is an interrelationship between the aim, the plans for the future, and the purpose of the system. Everyone in the system is part of it.
Hopefully, it is obvious that the church is a system—it is different than a corporation, club, or nonprofit. The church is God’s presence in the world. Yet, when we look hard at the church, we can see that it produces what it was designed to produce. This is why different churches experience different results. Some churches are vibrant. They grow disciples, embark on mission projects, and produce ministers. Other churches are stagnant. They plod along. Still, others are in decline and waiting for an inevitable funeral. These latter churches even practice the eulogy, saying, “Remember how good it used to be?”
What is University Baptist designed to produce? Do we live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)? Are we the embodiment of a Micah 6:8-inspired faith? Do we follow the repeated biblical edict of engaging with our world and loving people where they are?
Ideally, we want to say ‘yes’ to the questions in the previous paragraph. Before we can answer in the affirmative, let us analyze the system of University Baptist Church. Let us look at how we exemplify ‘making disciples’ or ‘loving justice’. What, in our system, produces these results? A system will produce what it is designed to produce.
Many years ago, a minister asked an organist if she would leave her church to come and play at his. He tried to sell her on the idea: “If you come here, it’s easy. We don’t do much. We have one service on Sunday and choir practice before church. That’s it! You’ll have it good!” The organist viewed her playing as part of the system of the music ministry at her church as part of the wider system of carrying out God’s mission. She wanted to keep fulfilling what she understood to be God’s calling on her life. She did not want it easy.
An easy life is alluring. The Beach Boys sang, “Wouldn’t it be nice,” imagining an idealized future of wedded bliss. No married couple lives out a Beach Boys song. Instead, I pray, they enjoy the good times while building a healthy family system. They can learn from the struggles along the way. The church has good times, a need for healthy systems, and opportunities to learn.
Is University Baptist Church’s system producing the results God is calling us to achieve? Deming writes, “A system must be managed. It will not manage itself… The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the [church].”When we work together, we can make changes to the system to redefine what it is designed to produce. If we want disciples, let us explore ways to make disciples. If we want God’s justice, let us design the system to produce God’s justice.
This is an exciting time to be God’s church.
[This post comes from my University Baptist Church newsletter column]