“Systems Thinking” is Marquardt and Berger’s sixth essential competency for global leadership. Before we can assess Jesus on this criterion, we should define what we mean by “systems thinking” and being a “systems” thinker.
Organizations, communities, nations, and the physical universe itself contain many elements that interact with one another to produce an overall effect. How well these various elements align themselves with one another influences the effectiveness of the system. When systems become out of sync with themselves, they fail.
Systems thinkers are able to picture in their minds the interrelatedness of the parts. They not only see the forest, but they also understand how each tree contributes to the forest.
So what about Jesus? Was he a systems thinker?
Jesus often drew connections between events and issues that others could not see. After he fed the five thousand near the Sea of Galilee (John 6), the crowd sought to make him king by force. Jesus knew that their fanatical devotion to him was based on one thing: he fed them. He connected this event with the ancient Hebrews whom God fed by sending manna from heaven. They too became a riotous mob despite all that God had done for them (Numbers 11:4-6).
Jesus then made another connection between his own mission and the manna that came from heaven:
Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh (John 6:51).
What Jesus was offering was superior to what what God gave the Israelites through Moses. His own flesh, his own body, was being given not just to survive until the next meal, but to defeat death itself.
Jesus often framed individual events and experiences from within the structure of Old Testament prophecy (See for example Matthew 13:14). He also saw patterns in the resistance of the Jewish authorities (Matt. 23:29) and he envisioned a dynamic network of global leaders rather than a rigid hierarchy (Matt. 13:18-19; John 15:5). As a systems thinker, Jesus helped his disciples see the big picture (John 4:35), a picture that included the internal and the external dimensions of human interaction.
So, yes, if we take the New Testament documents seriously, there is ample evidence that Jesus passes the test of “Systems Thinker.” He understood the political, social, religious, historical, and even psychological connections between the components of his world. He saw not only the big picture, but how individual parts connected to the whole.
What about you? Are you facing a problem that has so commanded your attention that you are failing to see how it is connected to the multiple components of your organization, your community, your world, your life? Do you need to back up and gain perspective on the bigger picture?
Marquardt, Michael J., and Nancy O. Berger. Global Leaders for the 21st Century. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000.
Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.