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When Church Systems and Structures Hurt More Than Help

A month ago I got a ticket for an expired registration. I was guilty and there is no argument for that. The following week when I went to renew my registration they asked me if I had driven the car while the tag was expired or if I had been ticketed. Obviously, I admitted to that, so I paid an additional fee for the admission believing I had to in order to have the ticket removed.

Today, however, when I went to the municipal court to show my registration and have the ticket removed they had me pay another fee. When the court clerk told me to pay the fee I conveyed to her that I thought I had done that at the tax office and all they needed was the receipt. Her response, “Yeah, you should have lied and said you had not driven the car because all you did was pay a fine to them. If you had said no you would have walked out with the same paper and saved $100. That amount was for them and this is for the court.”

I walked away feeling as though the system encouraged me to lie if it happened again. The temptation to hide or to work around the system was even encouraged by those who uphold it. It was almost as if they were saying, “You wasted money so if there is a next time now you know.”

In leadership your organization may be so system and structure heavy that you are unwillingly encouraging dishonesty, manipulation, or avoidance in spite of your efforts to create order. You may have so many policies and procedures that there is no room for things to be done in a way that make sense and encourage people to believe in them. In fact, they may be so overbearing and taxing to those who lead through them that in sidebar conversations and meetings after meetings people actually discuss how to beat your own system because it makes zero sense.

Here are a few questions to ask in order to determine if your systems, policies, or structure are hurting more than helping.

1. Are you the only one driving “that” form?

2. Is your office vacant? In other words, do people come to you to get things done?

3. Do the number of occasions where your form wasn’t used outnumber the occasions where it was?

4. Do people complain when they fill it out?

5. Do new people to the system say nothing when you describe how things are done? Only the courageous actually say, “Oh my gosh! Are you serious? Why?” Most people stay quiet then go home and feel sorry about those who have to follow those guidelines.

6. Are you afraid to get feedback or ask, “What do you guys think about this?”

There are probably a few more things to ask but that should get you thinking. The important thing for an organization to understand is that systems should make sense to everyone. They should enable and free people up. They should culminate in being fulfilled with one meeting from one person. If people have to do the same thing multiple times with multiple people like I did with the fine they will learn to operate in the mode, “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” 

Yes, I will continue to tell the truth to the law but your form… I’m not so sure 😉

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chadswanzy@churchleaders.com'
Chad Swanzy has served in youth ministry for 15 years and currently works as the student ministry director at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. Learn more from Chad and ask him your questions at ChadSwanzy.com.