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Adaptive Decision Making, Change and Leadership

Decision Making

Let’s pick up from where we left off in Part 1 of this series of articles on adaptive decision making, change and leadership. Be sure to start by reading Part 1 if you haven’t yet done so.

Over the last century, here’s the reason most churches and organizations have been able to scale and support the growth that they’ve experienced.

It’s because of the modern day “scientific management model,” which rests primarily upon two elements:

  1. “Absolutely rigid and inflexible standards throughout your establishment.”
  2. “That each employee of your establishment should receive every day clear-cut, definite instructions as to just what he is to do and how he is to do it, and these instructions should be exactly carried out, whether they are right or wrong.”[1]

I’m not saying that these two elements run the shop in every church and organization today. I’m just saying that they are the foundation that modern-day management theory—both inside and outside the church—has been built upon, and it doesn’t work anymore because…

  • You can’t just set it and forget it.
  • You can’t just keep your head down, do your work, and expect to succeed and hit your goals.
  • Your success isn’t wholly dependent on you.
  • If the only time you talk about development is the annual performance review, you won’t grow.
  • If the only time you connect with your volunteers and leaders is on Sunday or in formal training environments, they won’t feel connected.
  • If the only things you do are the things on your job description, your team won’t win.
  • In fact, if you’re not revisiting your job description multiple times a year, it will become outdated quick.
  • And if the only time you talk with your team members is during official team meetings, your team will move too slow.
  • And if you’re not changing your website every two to three years, watch out…irrelevancy is just around the corner.


Here’s how he explains the difference and the progression that organizations make as they move from one to the other:

Virtually all successful organizations on earth go through a very similar life cycle. They begin with a network-like structure, sort of like a solar system with a sun, planets, moons and even satellites. Founders are at the center. Others are at various nodes working on different initiatives. Action is opportunity seeking and risk taking, all guided by a vision that people buy into. Energized individuals move quickly and with agility.

Over time, a successful organization evolves through a series of stages…into an enterprise that is structured as a hierarchy and is driven by well-known managerial processes: planning, budgeting, job defining, staffing, measuring, problem solving. With a well-structured hierarchy and with managerial processes that are driven with skill, this more mature organization can produce incredibly reliable and efficient results on a weekly, quarterly and annual basis.”[2]

There are benefits and frustrations to both.

When it comes to the church, networks seem like small churches, don’t they? Or church plants?

And don’t hierarchies seem like larger established churches? Or the megachurch?

However, one is not better than the other. Both are needed.

And today, in order to grow and multiply your church or organization, you actually need both—a dual operating system—where you have hierarchy on the one side and network on the other.

But in order to see this dual operating system functioning well within your church, you need to carefully think through how decisions are made.

Just consider modern day warfare.

Whereas before successful missions were led by armchair generals in cigar smoke filled rooms who made the strategic decisions for everyone on and off the field—and everyone had to do exactly as he said and commanded—today, successful missions are a result of real-time decisions made on the field by commanders and soldiers who know the intent and values of the general, even when they’re not with him.