Church as a Rube Goldberg Machine

Posted by | Leadership, Organizational Culture | June 10, 2014

There are, without question, regions of the U.S. where church leaders find the work of church leadership more difficult than in other more favorable regions. I am especially sympathetic to those planting a church from scratch or leading an existing church in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hawaii or New York City — These are some seriously difficult regions to lead a growing church. Unquestionably the average church pastor or planter will have more luck gaining traction in places inside the Bible Belt than place outside. However, there is simply no such thing as Easy Street.

cub_simp_machines_lesson05_figure1The old concept of great worship, inspired preaching and an exciting children’s ministry (I call this the Holy Trinity of Sunday Morning) is simply not enough to lead a thriving, growing and impactful church. In some regions that may fill every seat you have, but in NO region will that make a transformational impact on a city.


As it turns out, the local church is an extremely and breathtakingly complex animal. Her mandate to seek and save the lost, and furthermore, to make disciples of them may be simple on paper, but not so in real time. The local church could easily be likened to that of a RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE.

 Truth be told, the local church is a Rube Goldberg Machine of sorts, swelling with great complexity to accomplish a simple and universal mission.

When Adam Sadaowsky was approached by members of the group OK GO to build a Rube Goldberg Machine for their next music video, he was excited. He learned a lot about life in the making of that video that likely can apply to your ministry context. Here’s what he learned:

  1. Small stuff stinks…
  2. …but It’s essential
  3. Planning is incredibly important
  4. Flexibility is equally important
  5. Reliable stuff goes last
  6. Life is messy
  7. This too, shall pass


(Watch Adam Sadaowsky’s Ted Talk here)

Truths About Your Own Rube Goldberg Ministry Context:


TRUTH #1: As a church leader, it is easy to grow cynical.

Things are going wrong everyday. Just about the time you get a new staff person in their sweet spot another one quits. And just about the time you get the giving strong, the volunteerism fades. It’s really easy to grow cynical.


TRUTH #2: Church always moves away from simplicity and toward complexity.

The reality every great new idea developed you and your team develop is adding complexity to the organization and creating more interconnected relationships between ministries and their leaders. To pull one piece out is NOT to simple remove a piece of a puzzle. More accurately, it is to remove a a block from a Jenga tower.

TRUTH #3: The END GAME is easy to forget.

If you are not careful your church will soon become focused on all the auxiliary (and important) things you DO and forget the ONE thing you were called to do, make disciples.

TRUTH #4: ‘Success’ is tough once, but even tougher to repeat.

It is not as clear as simply re-engineering what made last year fruitful and doing it again. It is not as easy as preaching the sermons that other guy is preaching with great success. You are growing an organism in real time in a real and ever-changing eco-system.


TRUTH #5: A Bird in Hand…Sometimes has rabies.

There are setbacks in ministry that cannot be planned for, strategized around or envisioned on a dry board. Just because you’re holding onto something that you think should create momentum or health, doesn’t mean it actually is doing so in your context.


TRUTH #6: When it all comes together, nothing can stop the cheering!

Watching a Rube Goldberg Machine operate is a strange experience. No matter how disengaged you begin the process you cannot help but grow with excitement as each task is completed and the complexities grow toward the final crescendo. Such is life inside the church. When she is fully functioning and disciples are made, baptisms are completed, decisions are cemented…there is nothing like it, and nobody can — or would even want to — stop the celebration!


In a four part series of leadership writings I want to share with you what we are finding out here in Northern California to be some of the moving pieces in church as a Rube Goldberg Machine that I find apply no matter where I go around the country.  Over the course of the next four blog entries I’d like to encourage you, challenge you and maybe train you a bit in the area of volunteers. Specifically, how to increase your volunteer base through recruitment, inspire them through experience and lead them to the next level.


Here’s a brief outline of the next four entries

Part 2: Three Simple Essentials in Recruiting Team

Part 3: Leading The Health, Intelligence & Capacity (H.I.C.’s) on Your Team

Part 4: Equipping & Empowering Tier-2 Volunteers


I hope you’ll join me. Look for a new entry every Tuesday.

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