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Jeremy Lin, Success, & Failure: Your System Makes You Great…or Not!

Your success or failure is likely due to the system you’re in.

A few years ago I heard a revolutionary talk from Andy Stanley about systems. He properly diagnosed what I experienced in my work and professional life. Diagnosis? That when there is a recurring problem or breakdown in an organization we jump to the conclusion that it’s a personel problem – someone didn’t do his job. Stanley advocated that more likely it’s a system problem. That is the structure of the organization allowed, permitted or rewarded certain behaviors and therefore  infected the blood stream.

A great example of systems is the recent insanity about New York Knicks point-guard, Jeremy Lin.

If you don’t follow professional basketball, Lin burst on the scene last week leading the Knicks to a 5-game winning streak. 5 games is typically no big deal, but Lin graduated from Harvard – not a bastion of NBA level talent. He was previously cut by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets (two towns where I have most recently lived). Yet while people goo-goo over Lin, the question of how he could have possibly been cut by two teams and is now a contender for Rookie of The Year has arisen. The answer? The system.

Lin is now in New York, with offensive minded coach Mike D’Antoni. What’s more, the Knickerbockers run  the point-guard oriented pick-n-roll, the same system wherein dirty and undersized John Stockton thrived. It’s the perfect offense for Lin. The Warriors and Rockets didn’t make a mistake, Lin just wasn’t right for their system. The same can be said of many college QB’s that thrive in college, but struggle in the NFL. And the same is true for your organization. Whether you believe it or not, every behavior inside your organization is rewarded or resisted by the system. The problems or successes aren’t the products of one or two people, but the system as a whole.

This is especially true for churches, which are described in the scriptures as a body. Bodies experience everything together.

I get very bad migraine and sinus headaches. During the worst of these, my entire body shuts down. My fingers have more trouble writing, my feet have more trouble walking. You’ve likely heard the analogy before. Like with us, the severe dysfunction in one part of the organization effects the remainder. When the body is healthy, obviously, the entire body functions.

So what steps can a local church take to better care for and create healthy systems?

  1. Executive Function.  Though the entire  body responds to pain in any part of the body, we have to understand that some parts of the body are more important that others. I can live without a foot. I can’t live without a brain, heart, nor lungs. That means the care of these are more important that the bone spurs in my ankle. So yes, here it is: There is a hierarchy to care. The health of your preachers, ministers, and elders is more important that Aunt Susie who only comes on Sundays and complains about the worship service. Is she important to God? Yes. Is she critical for the success of a church? No. Harsh, I know, but we all instinctively know it’s true. Paul says in Romans 9, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” There are certain people who are simply more critical. Everyone in ministry knows of churches where preachers, youth ministers and elders have resigned, setting the church back years in it’s mission because of the dysfunction of another staff member or church members gone wild. Your system can’t afford to treat everyone the same. Like a body, some things are more important than others. As Jesus says, “If your foot is causing you to stumble, cut it off.”
  2. Hire For Fit. A few weeks ago, we talked about team chemistry. I believe fit is the most important component is organizational success. I’ve worked with people of varying degrees of professional experience, personal lifestyle and life stage, different educational levels and just about every difference imaginable. What has made the difference in my personal and organizational success? Fit. When bringing people into the leadership of an organization, if they don’t fit, it won’t work. Now that’s not to say that diversity, along lots of lines, isn’t important. It is. That’s one of the ways organizations grow and develop, but when leaders don’t “get” one another and don’t want to “get” one anther, you’re dead in the water. If your co-workers and leaders don’t want to hang out together at a party, you’re in trouble. Worst possible outcome of a mis-fit? Everyone feels like they are not wanted.
  3. Clarity And Accountability. Everyone in your organization needs to know, with unwavering clarity, what is expected of them. And then they need to be expected to do it. I once knew a worker that knew exactly what their senior leader wanted from them, but lashed out through refusal to perform, gossip and slandering others within the organization. Unfortunately, because the rest of the organization would not hold them accountable, the negative behavior continued. Over the course of the years, this caused multiple other staff members to finally throw up their hands and pack their bags. These folks knew that no success would come to the organization because it lacked clarity and accountability on the most basic level. What’s more, the problem staff member knew that regardless of what they did, there would never be a judgment day for them. They were in the driver’s seat. Lack of accountability is a cancer that infects the entire body. It cannot be tolerated or it will eat everything, regardless of how small it starts.
  4. Reward. Reward. Reward. I’ll admit, I’m not great with this, but desired behaviors need to be rewarded. And they need to be rewarded publicly. I recite a maxim to myself, “More people die from a broken heart than a swelled head.” It reminds me to praise people. What’s more, rewards show the entire organization what the preferred behavior is. Sadly, most churches do little in order to reward it’s pastoral staff. This leaves staff wondering whether or not their efforts are appreciated. Worse, they have no measure of whether their energies are spent doing things that are helpful and useful to the congregation.
What about you? What elements have you seen contribute to healthy systems? How can your experiences help me and other church leaders partner with God for healthy church systems?


  • happytheman

    As Wooden said, “You play to you strength and recruit to you weaknesses.”

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