complex wiring

The Leadership Challenge – From A Complicated To Complex World

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I’m a regular listener to the Rebuilders podcast which features Mark Sayers. I would highly recommend it if you are involved in leading church. Mark is a church leader in Australia and also a much sought after speaker, author and cultural commentator. He is often insightful and helps me understand the times in which we live. I was listening a few weeks ago when he described a concept that feels so right for these times.

You can listen to the full podcast episode here, but if you read on I’ll attempt to summarise and add some comments.

Mark discusses the idea that as a culture we have transitioned from a complicated world to a complex world. Now at first read you might wonder what the different is! They sound very similar.

A Complicated World

In a Complicated World we look to experts who through experience and hard work have produced technical solutions to problems. In an increasingly digital world we look to those who have the skill to help us produce social media content or build websites. In the church world we maybe look to the experts in a particular area of ministry. We don’t know how to run small groups so we find the leader who has successfully run small groups, written the book on it and is touring the country helping others do the same.

In a complicated world things progress linearly. Problems come and we find a technical solution which we apply and find success. Generally this works works in times of stability, where there is a degree of predictability to the coming weeks and months.

A Complex World

A complex world is one where nothing seems to progress linearly. There are multiple simultaneous crises which combine and it becomes nearly impossible to determine outcomes. A complex world is a networked world, where a change far off in a distant land still has an impact locally. This is the result of global financial markets, the internet, social media and our increasingly global social connections.

In a complex world the technical solutions we once sought and implemented no longer work as well. There are still areas where applying technical solutions will be exactly what we need. However we find ourselves in largely uncharted territory. Not to mention that each of us finds ourselves in unique circumstances. Whilst we have a global outlook we still have a local expression that doesn’t fit the mould of some mono-culture.

Just recently we have had to navigate – a war in Europe, an energy crisis, political unrest, a global pandemic, rising race tensions and cost of living crises. These simultaneous events all conspire together to make our world complex and unsettling.

If you go back 10 years the thought that we might not be able to get the computer or car we want because of semiconductor issues was probably unthinkable and yet this is the world we find ourselves in. Welcome to a Complex and unpredictable world.

Why Does It Matter?

I have found the contrast between a Complicated world and a Complex world really helpful in understanding the times we live in. Gone is the appearance of order and predictability. There have been other disruptive events in recent years however the pandemic was a huge reminder of just how little of our world we can control.

If we try and bring the tools, the outlook and the skills that worked in a previous season to a new one, we will find ourselves frustrated and burnt out. A complicated world promotes leaders that are good at uncovering and exporting technical solutions. A complex world requires leaders that are resilient, flexible and prepared to think local before global.

This season needs adaptive leaders. Leaders that continue to bring passion and direction to their communities but let go of simple technical solutions and blueprints in pursuit of the messier endeavour of following God’s voice, holding plans lightly but relationships tightly.

It is so easy each time we come across a problem as a leader to immediately try and find the technical solution. Sometimes this is the right thing to do, though in the uncertain times we find ourselves we need to train ourselves to first pause, explore the options with others and think more about our particular context.

Whilst we may never enjoy disruption, we need to accept the world around us will continue to be messy and unpredictable.

In recognising this I hope that there then becomes potential to think differently, letting go of what worked in the recent past and be positioned to pioneer something new in this season.

The church has always thrived in seasons of challenge and perhaps God will use this time to shake us free of the trappings of all that has come to be called church in a previous season. Perhaps to rediscover the same dynamism that pushed a group of 11 followers of Jesus to turn the world upside down without any of the resources we have at our finger tips.

Maybe in a complex world it is time for our faith to get simpler?

What do you think? A helpful contrast for your leadership?


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