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System Stories PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Newton   
Friday, 09 March 2007

Was just reading, The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch, I am learning a great deal. I just read about “systems stories”. A system story is a set of core beliefs which results from a multitude of conversations, that maintain an organization. From those stories programs emerge that are a manifestation of the system story. After a period of time the system becomes institutionalized and is difficult to change. The systems story determines the way the organization behaves.

When the organization goes into decline the first thing to change are the programs. Some programs are tweaked, others deleted and some more are added. I have seen it in our denomination— Church Growth programs (make your church more attractive with parking, programs, etc), parachurch events (Promise Keepers, Emmaus, etc), and programs that “promise” growth (Alpha, the forty days of purpose, community etc) We were encouraged to change our worship styles, our nurseries and the way we staff. In an effort to “save” the organization.
When the programs don’t work. The restructuring begins—downsizing, mergers, new mission statements,etc. It doesn’t matter what the organizational chart looks like if we leave the system story in place nothing will change except more decline. It is futile to revitalize the church or denomination, without first changing the system.

Following Jesus into the mission field is either impossible or extremely difficult for the vast majority of congregations or denominations because they have a systems story that will not allow them to take the first step out of institution into the mission field, even though the mission field is just outside the doors.

Suppose a denominational church were to plant over time 20 micro churches (Churches with 10-15 people that meet in houses, restaurants or other public spaces led by non-professionals (clergy) with a focus on mission. Little money is needed as there are no buildings to maintain, no paid staff, no need for insurance etc.). Two hundred new agents for the Kingdom have been recruited and are in place and are living Missionally. Would that threaten the system story in a denomination? For many that would be chaos.

Hircsh says, ” it is in chaos that God’s people thrive. The most fertile parts of the people are set in the context of the people of God facing significant danger and chaos….Abraham, the Exodus, the Exile, Jeremiah, Jesus and the book of Acts are all examples of living on the edge of chaos.”

What do you think?


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