I’d like to continue the line of thought that I started in my previous post on Versatile Design. The question that I want to explore here is, now that we’ve extracted some lessons from the design of nature, how do we apply them in real life?

At the end of the last post I touched on how I personally take those lessons in my field of engineering. But I also think that the concept of design does not only apply to technology, architecture, or engineering. Instead, the kind of approach that follows nature’s pattern can be applied in non-technical or even social contexts as well. In my world, this non-technical arena translates to ministry.

In campus ministry and the youth movement in general, we deal with design concepts all the time. We create programs, projects, initiatives, and resources for the primary “heaven-appointed purpose of giving the gospel to the world in this generation” (Education, p. 262). It thus makes intuitive sense that we ought to strive for the highest order of efficiencies to turn this noblest aim into reality.

Which Wall?

Ten years ago when it all began and the wall was down, builders were called into the work. Novel ideas and innovation sparked in these individuals’ minds, and the beginnings of the chemical reactions that would eventually turn into a fireworks of youth ministries were extraordinarily exciting.

Ten years into the movement, some walls are already built. Does that mean, however, that innovation stop? Heaven forbid. There are many things that are yet to be done and builders must continue to rise up. But what is important to note is that these builders cannot think that they’re working on an entirely destroyed wall anymore – that thinking is ten years behind. When current builders scope the land, what they should see is a wall that is partially built [I’m talking about the youth movement wall] precisely because the movement has moved. They must see how their work can fit into the larger context.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that still need to be built from scratch, things that are simply not done yet. But what we have now is a field that is calling not just for builders, but also repairers and fortifiers. Starting something up may seem more glamorous, but there are many less glamorous parts that are equally important. The innovations need to take place not only in the building sector, but also in the fortification and repairing sectors. Yes, that means working on something that someone had built before, and making them multiple times better. We can’t all be pioneers in title, though we must have the spirit.

Ministry Ecology

The kind of versatile thinking that I’m trying to explore goes something like this. If I see a need that I am particularly called to address, instead of just asking the question “what can I do?”, I can ask a variant of that question, which is “how can I do this using the available structures?” This way, the originality of the idea doesn’t necessarily translate into a completely radical project that no one has ever thought before and creating everything from scratch, however romantic that would be, but it comes from the novel ways of connecting sectors of ministry and combining resources that many others have been working on. The glory of this kind of approach is that one may find that he/she doesn’t have to do much invention, just coordination, but exponential results ensue. Call this laziness; I call this efficiency.

When one zooms out to see a larger picture of how different sectors interact, what often emerges is the creativity to make any one sector more versatile. Light bulb moments come when, hey, one ministry can actually connect to many others without drastically increasing their activity. It’s all about opportunity costs here – the cost of not doing more. We see this all the time in business and different sectors of society. Just because different entities are not talking to each other, even when they’re working on very similar things, they lose much. Additionally, more resources are wasted because each one is in their own world[1]. In ministry, resources and waste translate to time, energy, and the spirituality of the individuals.

When I have a goal, a mission, an objective for a project, and I set my mind on doing it, it is incumbent upon me to find out what has been done that can help me towards this goal before, i.e., do my research. Indeed this must be one of the first things that I do. That’s what Nehemiah did, isn’t it? That’s what people do in business or research. You think you have a brilliant idea, but when you research the field it turns out that people have done it before. Do you get discouraged? No. You think more and see how you can advance the field by doing something that hasn’t been done, i.e., come up with a more brilliant idea.

Synergy is what I’m getting at. It really is a simple idea, and not novel at all. But it’s been bothering me a lot lately because I would be walking through an exhibit hall of ministries, and I would come across multiple booths doing almost the exact same thing. In my mind, I was like, “Umm… have you guys talked to those guys across the hall?” At the very least, they should split the work or something.

Now What?

To any ministry organization, this means more research, more communication, and more creativity. No one should live in their own world; they should know what’s going on outside of their direct sphere of influence. To an institution that has more of a wider scope of view, this means facilitating inter-ministry coordination. Perhaps a directory of ministry should be built as a go-to place for research. The question is what can we do so that we don’t keep reinventing wheels (yes, plural), because “reinventing wheels” and “end-time movement” sound oxymoronic to me.

[1] For example, sector A has a waste stream X. Because it doesn’t talk to sector B, who turns out to be able to process stream X as inputs, sector A dumps X to the environment or pays money to dispose it somewhere. Sector B, on the other hand, pays a lot of money to get their inputs elsewhere. What could happen instead is that sector A could sell X to sector B and gain more money. Stream X from A most likely costs less than what sector B is paying right now because it’s a waste stream, thus lowering their costs and increasing their profit. The environment is less harmed too on top of that. Gahh, I’m seeing this more and more the longer I live, and most likely the reason is political. If you haven’t read about the Veta la Palma story I recommended in my previous post, I highly recommend to look into it – there are many lessons to learn from their experience.