Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the most widely respected leadership gurus in the evangelical church world. This DVD captures him speaking at the Catalyst Conference on the topic of organizational systems. There are also separate in-depth interviews with Pastor Stanley and three key leaders in his multi-site church organization.
I ordered the DVD on a Sunday evening after first hearing about it on Kidology.org from another user of that service. My first impression of dealing with North Point is that they have stellar customer service. I received the package just three days after ordering it. Atlanta to Portland, Oregon in three days. Incredible.
Pastor Stanley makes a compelling case that systems affect every aspect of church life. Whether intentional or not, systems provide the framework within which we work to accomplish our mission and goals. There is much to like about his perspective, and a few concerns as well.
What I like
- I like the fact he that he pulls back to view the bigger picture of how organizations work to accomplish their goals. Although I do not believe he pulls back far enough, as I will point out momentarily, I think he is on to something important by identifying systems as the key component in enabling or disabling a church or organization to accomplish its goals.
- I also appreciate his observation that churches too often blame personalities for performance failure, often reprimanding or even firing them, when in fact those individuals performed according to the specifications of the system in which they were required to work. He makes the point this way: workers will do what is rewarded and will avoid doing what is punished. As a byline, it is helpful to point out Jim Wideman’s comment that “people will do what is inspected.” The inspection then leads to evaluation and rewards/punishment. This is true of compensated employees and volunteer staff, although the two usually look very different in how they are implemented. Stanley suggests looking at the system if something repeatedly goes wrong, especially if it happens through more than one staff member.
- Cases-in-point: 1. staff members who are habitually late; 2. staff members who hesitate to give leadership the full scope of information pertaining to needs, challenges, opportunities; 3. staff members who fail to communicate or relate well across ministry silos. All of these might be the problem of an individual. Or they could be a systemic issue which breeds the undesirable behavior, a system which was designed, implemented and is being managed by the very leaders who grumble at the lack of desired performance outcomes in their staff. This is a critical point which speaks to the heart of organizational culture, particularly in those church settings where nepotism has taken root deeply.
- Pastor Stanley helpfully broaches the topic of the first century New Testament ideal expression of church. He rightly points out that while he is supportive of those in the house church movement, it is a stretch for them to say that this is the normative ideal for all churches for all time simply because it occurred in the early church. He explains that the New Testament biblical record in the gospels and Acts is descriptive, rather than prescriptive. This is a spot-on observation which deserves deeper reflection. If the house church movement truly is following the model of the first century churches, then why are they not also preaching in the synagogues as was the practice of the apostles? Again, the first century churches did what they had to do based on first century circumstances. Also, they were blessed with the leadership of the apostles, the eye-witnesses of Jesus. Despite what some might think, I agree with Pastor Stanley that we no longer have apostles who were eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry. Nor do we any longer live in the first century. While many believers around the world are experiencing direct state-sponsored or religious sponsored persecution and thus must do life together as believers in ways that reflect their witness, yet also preserve their lives, those of us in the West typically do not have that concern on account of our prevalent religious freedoms. Perhaps that will change in the future with the onset of Marxist idealogy and anti-Christian (especially anti-evangelical) sentiment in American culture, but it hasn’t happened yet.
- I found myself wondering if Pastor Stanley is self-aware of the degree to which his church seems to be beholden to the attractional model of doing church (my observation is based strictly on his comments, not my own direct experience with the multi-site church)? Is he aware of his involvement in a system which appears to promote bringing people to church to hear the gospel, rather than primarily encouraging people to live it out and proclaim it in daily life where they live, work and play? Based on his examples, particularly his thorough treatment of how the church leadership re-evaluated their guest services (a helpful and insightful process, to be sure), I am under the impression that the weekend church event is the focal point for gospel proclamation which is promoted in their system. While I think North Point is a stellar leader for other churches concerning systems and the attractional model, they might do well do investigate what it might look like to encourage organic grassroots missional initiatives from within their congregation into the community, as well. Perhaps they already do this, but the DVD did not appear to indicate it. I betray my own partiality to a hybrid model of attractional/missional initiatives with this comment, but that is an outcome of my worldview and the evolving systems of which I am a part in local church ministry.
- I heard no mention of how worldviews affect systems. This is a glaring omission which could account, in part, for my first concern. I think Pastor Stanley made a cogent and compelling argument that systems produce behavior. But what produces the systems? Is it all simply willpower, self-awareness, discussion, leadership and consensus? Or is something far deeper at play here? I think worldview is a major missing component in his discussion which he may want to consider adding in a future iteration of this publication.
- Pastor Stanley acknowledged early on in his presentation those who are critical of an emphasis on business literature. Indeed, some apparently have been particularly critical of him. As a blogger who has critiqued an over-emphasis on business models applied to the church, I appreciate his explanation that God used systems when he created the heavens and earth, as well as humans! A point well-taken and understood. However, I would like to have heard a bit more about how God factors into determining needed changes to systems. He spoke of cultural change from first century to twenty-first century and how we cannot go back to behaving as if we live in the first century, notwithstanding the attempts of some to get us to try. But I would have appreciated a bit more on what God has to say concerning the systems we put into place to function as local expression of church, or even as business leaders in the marketplace.
Much more could be said about the “Systems: Liberating Your Organization” DVD, but space prohibits continuing evaluation for this post. I highly recommend that you go to North Point Resources website for yourself to check it out.