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United Methodist Church: Organizational Systems


Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how specific components work together within a whole (Meadows, 2008). This concept can be effectively used in the resolution of the problem by addressing challenges as constituents of an overall system (Seddon, 2008). This essay seeks to illustrate how the Systems Thinking concept fits into an institutional setup. For this purpose, the United Methodist Church has been selected to provide the background on which the operation of the approach can be properly illustrated.

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The Organization

In the United Methodist Church (UMC), the institution that the researcher is affiliated with, there is a hierarchy, which determines how individuals relate with one another. In the UMC, the largest ruling organ is the Episcopal Polity, an equivalent of the government. This Episcopal Polity is administered by bishops. The bishops are appointed from conferences, basically known as Episcopal Areas, which they represent in the polity. Only bishops can ordain other clergy and they (Bishops) are the ones who point out the church where an appointed clergy will serve.

After the bishops, there are deacons and presbyters, who are sometimes known as elders. These are the principal clergy in the church. Bishops are presbyters who have been elected to serve a lifetime ministry.

Within the polity, there is a laity, a regional conference, comprising representatives of the churches. These lay members play a role in the nomination of bishops and also decide on the budget and other ministry-linked issues. The lay members also decide on who will represent them in the centennial General Conference.

How Systems Thinking applies in the UMC

The Episcopal Polity, by the Systems Thinking theory, is the organ that ascertains the stability of the UMC. All other groupings within it are the unique systems that keep it running. The sub-organs, however, must work alongside each other in a complimentary fashion if the institution is to operate at desired efficiencies. In the different ranks of the UMC, there is a well-established communication and command flow pattern. Generally, the Bishops are the supreme authorities and they are tasked with all critical decisions affecting the church. The junior members of the clergy also have their spheres of command, and any decision they make is escalated to the top for approval.

In this regard, the regional conferences cannot operate independently of the polity, because unless the polity gives approval to decisions made by a conference regarding critical issues such as budgets, then the region remains paralyzed. The polity cannot operate without the conferences, because it is these grassroots establishments that make the supreme authority aware of issues at the local level. This helps define the Systems Thinking tenet of interdependence, which states that: in a system, all parts must work alongside each other, in such a way that they influence each other’s operation. Because the Systems Thinking theory has it that independent parts cannot make a system, one laity member cannot claim to be the UMC system.

The principal objective of the UMC is to spread the gospel as well as help make the world a better place to live in through the alleviation of suffering. However, in order to meet this objective, the individual parts must work alongside each other in such a way that there is a free-flow of ideas and support. This goes in tandem with the Systems Thinking goal-seeking tenet (Skyttner, 2006). In this regard, each member of the church, from the title-less worshiper to the Bishop, plays a role in getting the system to move. For instance, if it is decided that the church will open a centre in a new country, the message will be escalated from the top-most office to the regional conferences.

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With the message firmly received by each member of the church, feedback will be provided through members of the laity as to whether or not the institution should go with the objective. This back and forth communication will go on until members approve the budget and the selection of members to represent the church in the mission.


This essay had set out to explain the concept of Systems Thinking. To this end, a basic explanation of Systems Thinking was provided before the discussion delved into exemplification of the systems modus operandi in a real-life institution. The United Methodist Church, an institution which the researcher is a member of, was selected for this purpose. A summary of the structural organization was provided and later an explanation of how the systems within it work for the better of the whole was provided. In summary, the essay has indicated that the Systems Thinking approach is a method of establishing how organs function through interdependence on same-level and lower-level systems (Senge, 2009). A number of tenets encompassed in the approach have been used in the exemplification. It should, however, be noted that though the entire spectrum of tenets was by no means exhausted.


Meadows, H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Seddon, J. (2008). Systems Thinking in the Public Sector. Devon: Triarchy Press.

Senge, M. (2009). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.

Skyttner, L. (2006) General Systems Theory: problems, perspective, practice. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company.

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