Sacred Systems

written by Kat Bair
9 · 19 · 22

In his classic book The E-Myth, Michael Gerber outlines one of the fundamental misconceptions of how an entrepreneur runs a business. It is easy to assume that if you are good at something – baking, graphic design, programming – you can start your own business doing that thing and not have to have a boss and work on projects you want. Pretty soon, though, you have to spend so much time managing the business that you don’t actually get to do the thing you set out to do, and your expertise is wasted. Your business suffers, and you wind up more frustrated and less productive than before you started your business. 

Any of us who lead teams or have started a passion project are familiar with this struggle. Maybe you started a food truck because you love to feed people or a charity run because you love running and are passionate about the project, and within a year or two, you don’t even get to do the run, and the food truck is suffering because the people you hired don’t have your culinary gifts. 

The E-myth in the Church

I saw how this can play out at a church where I once served. A young, charismatic associate pastor was a talented preacher and spent hours investing in the people who came to his service, considered a supplemental offering to the main church service. He drew in larger and larger crowds with his well-written sermons and approachable attitude. Because of his success, within a few years, he was promoted to the church’s senior pastor. Along with the new job were a ton of responsibilities he hadn’t previously had, including trustees meetings, staff management, budget, and finances. Pretty soon, he didn’t have nearly as much time to devote to his sermons or spending time with the congregation. The service suffered. The preaching and approachability the congregation had shown up for had deteriorated because it had been successful.  

In Gerber’s book, his solution is to break out everything you do into discrete roles and responsibilities and then build systems to replace yourself from the lowest level of tasks up. If, for example, at your organization, you lead meetings, set a strategic vision, work with donors, send out the weekly emails, and run social media, you could begin by building templates and procedures for the emails and social media and then find someone to take those tasks on. 

Ministry Incubators frequently works with organizations to evaluate and build systems. In particular, we have seventeen systems that we encourage organizations to develop. That sounds like a lot, but at the beginning, some systems are as simple as an automated weekly reminder on your phone to check the finances or a checklist of annual inspection dates. 

The System in the Sacred

Systems can seem not only unsexy but rather unspiritual. When you reach out to offer appreciation to a volunteer not out of some prompting of the Spirit but because you had a few hours blocked off for working your volunteer retention system, it can feel inauthentic and unnatural. But we at MINC believe that there is a solid case to be made for the use of systems as foundational for our faith. 

When does your church offer communion? When the Spirit prompts it? Maybe, but at most churches I’ve worked at, it’s more like “the first Sunday of the month.” When do you focus on the incarnation of Christ? Probably over a color-coded pre-scheduled four Sundays in December. Resurrection? That’s scheduled for Spring. 

Religious communities use rituals, schedules, repeated scripts, and actions not just out of convenience but because we believe there is a sacredness in following the footsteps of our spiritual ancestors. When we imagine Jesus breaking the bread over his disciples, teaching them the words to say, the actions to repeat with one another, what is he doing other than establishing a system that allows what he has built to continue when he would no longer be physically present? 

Jesus allowed the disciples to follow him and learn from his ways, and those disciples taught others the same prayers and actions (systems) that Jesus taught them. Because of that, the church has survived millennia and even grown and evolved in Jesus’s physical absence. We, as His followers, have been empowered to carry the systems forward and make them our own. 

Establishing our Systems

When we establish the systems of how we communicate, how we plan, and how we encourage one another, we are not just following the example of some business book; we are following the model of early Christians. To follow God’s call to create something that can benefit the world and then ensure it relies on us and our own talents is not in line with how God calls us to lead – with humility, community, and joy. 

Spend some time this week thinking about the systems in your organization. 

  • Does the organization rely on you alone to accomplish its calling? 
  • How could you translate what you have learned into discrete tasks that you could delegate to empower someone else? 
  • How could you capture what you have learned so that it can be passed along to someone else, maximizing your impact? 

If you’re ready to talk through the systems in your organization or want to begin to build them, contact our team. They’d be happy to talk to you about how we can help your organization begin to build an organization that is reflective of the interdependent, joyful life we are called to. 

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Kat Bair

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