What is Living System Ministry?

What is Living System Ministry?

Living System Ministry is a discipline of Christian practice that recognizes the differences between the living systems that God makes and the constructs that people make, offering insights and practical tools to help us align with and effectively engage living social systems.


Consider cats and toasters

People make toasters. Only God makes cats. And, clearly, we can’t fix a sick cat with the tools we may use to fix our broken toaster. So why do those of us who are in Christian ministry try to fix our churches with tools designed for accomplishing simple tasks, which don't take into account what is truly living, the rich complexity of our people-based, Spirit-filled churches?


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 in his work

As our work becomes aligned with what God is already doing, 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.


Bear fruit in every good work

We learn that real change in any living system is not dependent on what we do, but on what God does. Therefore, to get anything done, we are going to have to learn to think more about working with God’s living systems and think less about trying to fix problems with our plans and procedures and programs. When our ministry activities are better aligned with what God is already doing, there is an explosion of life! Then, instead of our actions causing more decline, our actions contribute to fruitful ministry.


To learn more

These are just some of the core principles of Living System Ministry. At the Emmanuel Gospel Center, we have been teaching these concepts to seminarians and ministry practitioners for many years. To learn more, you can start by reading Doug Hall’s 2010 book, The Cat and the Toaster, Living System Ministry in a Technological Age (Amazon: https://amzn.com/1608992705). You can search this site for more on the topic of Living System Ministry. Or get in touch with us. We would be happy to help!



What is Living System Ministry? Doug Hall sets out the core ideas of this discipline of Christian practice where we learn to discern the living social systems around us and align our actions to what really creates lasting change.