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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

08 Jul '09

Simplicity and Complexity

Remember that last strategic plan you did for your organization? How much of it was ever implemented? Can you remember the details of what you decided? Or what about those things called ministry philosophy, values, preferred future or ministry outcomes? Do you remember what those are for your church? Would your leaders or staff remember? Are they helpful to you?

All of the above are good I am sure. But they often look like the jumble of paperclips in the picture - they are there somewhere and they can be helpful - if you can remember them when you need to or make sense out of them when you want to.

Consider this
Ministry is always complex
Complexity is confusing
Therefore complexity must be communicated with simplicity
Simplicity beats complexity every time

Most ministry leaders have a hard time remembering core documents or core missional commitments - let alone three year strategic plans. And if leaders don't remember those things, certainly those down the communication chain are even more challenged - if they care at all.

Despite the title of the book, "Simple Church," few churches are truly simple - nor are other ministries. The world is a complex place filled with complex problems that require complex solutions. Even the four basic Questions every leader must ask for their ministry requires a level of complexity:

1. What is our mission?
2. What are our guiding principles?
3. What is our central ministry focus - the thing we need to do well all the time?
4. What results do we want to see?

Rarely can I get a quick and clear answer to those questions even from the most senior leaders of an organization. That is not a criticism as much as it is an admission of the complexity inherent in even those four answers. Any good organization must ask and answer those questions - to say nothing of others that may be important.

The problem is that complexity creates confusion. Or, just as problematic, people deal with complexity by simply ignoring it (it takes too much energy) which is a worse fate than confused complexity! Is it any wonder why mission and vision drift take place so easily?

One of the best ways to simplify complexity is to tell stories. Jesus was a master at this. Stories grip the imagination and are remembered. Just think of the complexity of grace and the ways in which we respond or don't respond to grace and then think of the story of the prodigal son! So simple, so profound, so easily remembered and so full of content.

You may have a philosophy of ministry or uphold a certain value. Telling stories of those who have lived it out will be remembered even if the specific wording of your value is not. Stories are powerful simplifiers.

Metaphors do the same thing. The baseball diamond used by purpose driven churches takes complexity and simplifies it. I lead from a sandbox (hence the title of this blog) which takes complexity and simplifies it. A metaphor is something that can be repeated and remembered which is the goal!

Sometimes just a phrase, intentionally and often repeated does the trick. A friend of mine, pastor of a large church always tells the congregation that "We always must have a seat for the next person who is looking for a church home." He has said that for twenty five years and the church now has over 7,000 people in multiple worship venues. The value of always having a seat for the next individual has been owned by the congregation.

You can actually create an intentional church or organizational culture around those things that your care about and which are important to you but in order to do that one must take complexity and bring meaningful, rememberable simplicity. That takes great intentionality but those who do it find that their values, direction, mission and culture are understood implicitly or explicitly by their organization or congregation.

But complexity must be simplified. How do you simplify complexity and does your church or organization get it?