LIVING SYSTEM MINISTRY is a discipline of Christian practice in the Western world that recognizes the differences between cats, the living systems that God makes, and toasters, the constructs that we make using our technology and capacities, limited as they are. When we understand the difference, and learn to work in and with God's large living systems, our ministry will be much more effective. Start learning here!
101.1 Welcome to the entry point to an exciting journey! To begin, think with me through each of these points. Taken together, these ideas form what we might call the backbone or core ideas of Living System Ministry.
- Churches, cities, and cultures are living systems
The Bible describes the church as a Body, an organism. Yet, in our Western culture, we have grown accustomed to thinking of churches in terms of organizations or buildings because our culture is very organizationally and technologically centered.
- Our thinking about our social context is inadequate, so our actions are unfruitful
God is always at work and, as his children, we want to participate with him in his work. If we use our organizational mental models to work with living systems such as churches, neighborhoods, and cities, unknowingly we cause much long-term harm instead of good. We need to learn to adopt the right mental models about living systems to avoid that.
- Through redemption, we can learn a better way of thinking
Through our friendship with Jesus Christ, we find that his ways are higher than ours, and, through a consistent process of redemptive thinking, we internalize his ways of growing and nurturing what is alive. More like farmers than technicians, we learn, through this redemptive process, to be involved in and “in tune with” what causes fruitfulness. We never “cause” fruit to happen! God does!
- With a new perspective, we can participate with God as his life flows through his living systems
As our work becomes aligned with what God is already doing in his complex living system environment, and as his vitality begins to flow through the veins and arteries of the living social systems, there is an explosion of life within us and around us. Multiplication of this life is the natural outcome of living system ministry. It is our joy to discover it, and to give all honor and praise to God.
(The text above is from The Cat and the Toaster, p. xxiii)
101.2 Finding the pathway to Living System Ministry
First, a word of warning. I can't give you a map for this pathway. It's not that easy. It is not a program. It is, instead, a process of learning to see reality with a better perspective, so that the way we do ministry changes from the inside out. But while I can't give you a map, I hope to give you tools to learn to navigate this pathway for yourself.
I do think I know what that pathway might look like for you. At least, this is what it looked like for me. The pathway to becoming what we will call a "living systems ministry practitioner" 1) starts with a passionate quest for fruitful ministry, 2) moves into an acknowledgement of our failure and weakness, 3) ignites into new life through repentance and the gift of redemption, 4) becomes rooted through our alignment with God's living systems, 5) continues to mature toward fruitfulness through discipline and pruning, and 6) finally finds its fulfillment in relationship, with an eye toward our eternal future with Christ. Does this sound exciting?
(The six points in the paragraph above are developed throughout
the six parts of the book, The Cat and the Toaster.)
Here are some more tools to help you get started:
Read a brief overview of the six parts of the book, including the portions of Jesus' letter to Laodicea (from Revelation, chapter 3) which give the biblical context for each of the parts.
Read a condensed version of the book, as edited by Jeff Bass, that helps flesh out each of these six concepts. This condensed version covers about 34 typed pages, as compared to the 390 pages of the actual printed book. It should whet your appetite to learn more.