Summary: Systems are predictable, regardless of people’s intentions that operate within them. The principles of the systems you operate by lead to the outcomes you get. This applies to the Church as well.
Being the middle-aged (cough cough) man that I am, I’ve had a chance now to experience a lot of different systems of doing things in a lot of different “industries of life.” What do I mean by “systems?” I mean ways of doing things expressed as a collection of principles by which things operate and which deliver consistent outcomes.
What’s predictable about these systems is regardless of people’s intentions, dreams, goals, etc., the system they choose to be a part of necessitates the principles they will need to live by, which necessitates the outcomes they will experience. Re-read that sentence a couple times to let it really sink in.
That’s right…you can have the utmost of good intentions, but the principles you live by necessitate the outcomes you experience. We’ve all heard the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
A couple examples and then I’ll make a point about churches…
I’ve been studying stock investing for about 3 or 4 years now and have clearly seen 2 distinct systems of operation in this space.
The first is institutional investing. This is where a third-party money manager invests other people’s money into different investment vehicles. If you have a 401(k) or other type of retirement account, this is the system you’re involved in. 85% of the money in the stock market is invested through this system, and it operates under a set of principles. Some of them are…
- The ultimate metric for success is Assets Under Management. Every decision that is made by a money manager is done with the intention of improving this metric; even if it means making less money for you. That’s right, money managers don’t actually implement the best strategies for making you money long-term because that’s not how they get paid. They get paid a percentage of the money they manage; regardless of if they make you money or not.
- Use short-term strategies to guess stock price trends. When you’re managing someone else’s money, you really can’t use a strategy that will make the most money long-term. Why? Because people are emotional beings, especially when it comes to their money. If a money manager puts a person’s money into an investment that will perform badly short-term, but likely very well long-term, what will happen? It’s very likely their client will take the money out and give it to someone else to manage. This affects the ultimate metric of Assets Under Management from above. Their goal is to get good enough results to be able to sell you that your money should stay put with them. This typically happens if they can at least keep pace with the stock market’s performance as a whole.
- Price equals value. Whatever the stock price of a business is at any particular moment in time, that is it’s value. The thinking here is that the market is efficient and uses all of the available data it has on a company at any given point in time to make the price what it should be minute by minute. In this system of thinking, there is no possibility that fear or greed is mis-pricing a stock. So, if you outperform the stock market, you simply got lucky.
Some other investors operate by a different system altogether. My teacher calls it Rule #1 Investing. Lots of investors operate by this system, including the great Warren Buffett himself. Here’s some of the principles this system operates by…
- You invest in a small amount of great businesses you understand well. Instead of putting your money into mutual funds that spread out your money over hundreds of companies, you invest like you’re going to own the businesses whose stocks you purchase (because you are!). Money managers will tell you this is more risky, but really it’s not. That’s just what they’ve been trained to believe and teach by their system.
- Price does not equal value. The market prices stocks fairly close to their value most of the time, but there are times when it will act with irrational exuberance (extreme fear or extreme greed) and price a company way above or below it’s true value. In other words, the market can be bi-polar. These are the perfect times to buy and sell. For example, Yahoo! stock once sold for 1,000 times its yearly earnings. The average public company sells for 15 times its yearly earnings. We know how that turned out.
- You purchase great businesses for the long term when they’re on sale. Typically when a great business has a low price relative to its value, it’s because the short-term outlook has some uncertainty and is bleak. But if it’s really a great business, it typically corrects itself long-term and makes investors a lot of money. An example that comes to mind is when BP had its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a mistake, but it eventually got fixed. If you would have bought right after the mistake, the stock price was half of what it was before and after it.
Just for the fun of it – here are some stats to show how these different investing systems have performed. If you invested $10,000 in the S&P 500 in 1964, today it would be worth $1,500,000. If you invested $10,000 with Warren Buffett when he started in 1964, today it would be worth $240,000,000 :).
OK, so maybe it’s not quite fair to use Mr. Buffett as a comparison since he’s one of the most successful investors of all time. But, there are many people like him that have done nearly as well over time using the principles he teaches.
I’ve had some health issues in the last few years I’ve been dealing with and have encountered two different systems in my journey to seek out wellness. One of my issues was an itchy rash that would flare up at random times. I sought out both systems to get their take and recommendations on the situation.
The first was traditional medicine. I went to visit a medical doctor and some of the principles I noticed this system operated by were:
- Diagnose the symptom instead of the cause. He looked at my skin and then told me what he thought it was.
- Educate patients on ways to alleviate symptoms. He gave me a drug that would keep me from itching. But, if I didn’t use the drug continuously, I would itch again. This was because I wasn’t actually being cured of the cause of the itching, or being educated on how to alleviate that cause. His goal wasn’t to cure the rash. His goal was to simply stop the itching. This focus led to a mis-diagnosis of the problem I had.
- Trade side effects for the convenience of not having to change one’s lifestyle. All drugs have side effects, and they typically pile up on one another. Changing one’s lifestyle is hard. Traditional medicine emphasizes the former more than the latter. There was never any mention that my rash could be a symptom of a digestive issue that could be solved by eating healthier.
The second system I encountered was naturopathic medicine. I went to visit a naturopath and some of the principles I noticed this system operated by were:
- Understand and treat the cause of the symptoms. The naturopath’s diagnosis was focused on the cause of the problem, not the cause of the symptom. He was able to identify that the rash was caused by food intolerances and my body was reacting to those intolerances.
- Educate patients on ways to alleviate the cause. He put me on a diet that would cure the intolerances.
- Give the body what it needs to perform optimally. He educated me on what real food and fake food was so I could choose more wisely.
So, my point about churches is they can operate in different systems as well. As we’ve seen from this series of posts, they can operate as static, centralized, hierarchical organizations. These tend to operate by principles like…
- There are professional Christians and non-professional Christians. You usually become a professional Christian through a self-proclaimed calling and a mental demonstration of theological facts that get you certified. You then get interviewed and placed in a position without being fully known.
- The church is a compartmentalized piece of one’s life. Church typically occurs in specific blocks of time in one’s schedule with little flexibility.
- Church is a place you attend. You meet in a centralized third-party location outside of everyone’s personal space.
A church can also operate as a dynamic, decentralized, networked organism. These tend to operate by principles like…
- All believers are priests unto God. There is only one class of Christian, as all have been given the Spirit to drink.
- The Church IS one’s life, and all else revolves around it. Since the Christian’s life is Christ, the church is as well. For you cannot separate the Body from the Head. One’s schedule mirrors this revelation.
- The Church is a family. Therefore, you meet in each other’s spaces, share everything with one another and progressively grow into oneness in the Lord.
Sure, I’ve only scratched the surface with a few principles from each system. But I’m hoping you’re seeing the point.
The System Goes Beyond the People
The point is…the system you operate in is critically important to the results you’re going to get. It’s not a “whatever works for you” situation. The system goes beyond the people. For the Church, it goes into the unseen realm where principalities and powers want to entrap Christians into the system that was conceived by the enemy and adopted by the world over which he currently has dominion.
Another point about these systems. You may notice that in each example above, one system was easier to operate in than the other. It’s easier to throw your money into a mutual fund and let someone manage it. It’s easier to take drugs. It’s easier to live a compartmentalized, non-professional Christian life. But in each case, the long-term results suffer immensely.
May the Lord continue to gracefully grant His Church in this day a deeper revelation of His Kingdom…His System. Ultimately, the health of both local churches and the universal Church depends on it.
The rest of the posts in the A Decentralized Network series are here.