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We Are Our Mental Models
By: Bill Easum

Have you ever wondered why some people see things differently than you do or they appear to be impervious to what’s obvious to you? There’s a reason... their mental models get in the way of them seeing the reality of the situation.

Mental models are the unwritten assumptions, rules, and prejudices that govern how we respond to the world around us. They are based on our experiences. The older we get, the stronger our preconceived notions become about what will or will not work. Differences in our mental models explain why two people can observe the same event and describe it differently; they are listening to different mental models. And, here’s the kicker...lasting change in our attitude or actions cannot happen without changing our mental models, and most of us aren’t conscious of having them.  

So, I thought I would share five of the mental models I sense are harming the spread of the gospel and how these models are changing in thriving churches all over the world.

1. The machine mental model is being replaced by the organic mental model.
The machine model is based on non-living things that require as little maintenance and caretaking as possible. A little spiritual oil now and then offers a quick fix to most church problems. In this model, the whole is the sum of the parts. The machine is composed of parts that mesh together. People in this model think in terms of pieces and parts that make up the whole.

Where I see this model the most is at worship in established churches. The service is a combination of many pieces, each standing by itself, not having much to do with the other pieces.  We act out this piece, then we do this piece, and then we take part in this piece. There is seldom an overarching theme that ties it all together. 

The organic model is based on related living beings that require regular nurturing. Health is based on a long-term view. The relationship between the organism and the environment is crucial. Organic beings have to adapt ahead of the changing environment. The whole is far more than the sum of the parts because of the many changing relationships between the organism and the environment. People in this model think holistically and envision systems and processes that go far beyond the whole.

2. The institutional mental model of Mission is being replaced by the Spiritual model. 
The institutional mental model is concerned with funding our programs, doing church and denominational work, balancing the budget, and keeping buildings clean. Faith is seldom seen as a life-and-death issue. This model is evident in churches that place a lot of emphasis on administration, credentials, denominationalism, meetings, and defending the faith. 

The spiritual mental model is concerned with carrying out the mission at all costs and living out the DNA in all that it does. These churches live to introduce the world about Jesus Christ.  Anything that no longer does this is discontinued for something that will. The goal is to share Jesus and to make disciples who share Jesus. Healthy churches are not concerned with the continuity of programming or with protecting a heritage that no longer carries out the DNA.  Present ministries that do not carry out the DNA are discontinued.

3. The committee mental model of delegation is being replaced by the team mental model of empowerment. 
The committee mental model believes that the laity is empowered when they “run” the church by going to meetings and making decisions. Getting laity to do what the institution needs done is the role of leadership. Feeding the machine takes precedence over feeding God’s sheep. Activity and involvement in the machinery is the mission, not living in the world. In such a model, control of what people do is the key.

The team mental model believes that laity are empowered when they are equipped to serve others. Laity is encouraged to follow their gifts not the organizational needs of the institution.  Autonomous teams carry out the mission of the church without interference from the top.  In this model, accountability is more important than control.

4. The entitled model or leadership is being replaced by a servant model of leadership. 
The entitled model of leadership believes pastors are “hired guns” brought in by the church to do the ministry of the church for the laity. “Pastor fetch” is a primary role of the clergy. Whatever the laity need them to do for them pastors are suppose to do. “I’m just a lay person” is a favorite expression.

The servant mental model of leadership believes that everyone can be a leader because of their spiritual gifts. Spiritual leadership is a given to each person. Staff’s primary role is to make disciples who are equipped to make disciples. The stronger the leadership, the more empowered the laity. Staff exists to equip laity to do ministry.

5. The problem solver mental model of local and regional denominational leadership is being replaced by a consultant mental model.
The problem solver mental model believes that the role of denominational leadership is help dysfunctional churches work through their conflict. Denominational leaders spend the majority of their time with small and conflicted congregations that have little chance of survival or health.

The consultant mental model believes that the role of denominational leaders is that of a consultant to individual congregations. Denominational leaders spend most of their time with a handful of healthy congregations that want to be more effective. It is not uncommon for them to do triage (i.e., intentionally deciding which churches to ignore or to let die). This model requires that dysfunctional pastors get help instead of being shuffled to another church. In this model, lawsuits initiated by clergy are not feared as much as they are prevented. 

New Mental Models Can Be Created
If mental models determine most of what we do and think, and if they keep us from seeing the obvious, how do we change our mental models?

• Recognize that we have them and that they may be the reason we aren’t as effective as we’d like to be.
• Name the mental models that affect us and decide if we want to do something about them. 
• Decide if we are willing to pay the price of changing our mental models.
• Imagine a new reality. What if I did live up to my calling; what would I have to believe and be willing to do?
• Quit listening to what others tell you to do. 
• Don’t follow the rules just because they are the rules. 
• Be willing to dream and imagine a world where your life does make a drastic difference. Then ask, “What would I have to believe and do to live up to that vision God has for me?”

If you are contemplating messing with your mental models, I strongly suggest that you invite a mentor to join you in the journey. Your efforts are usually more productive. That’s why I spend most of my ministry coaching people to change. For more information, go to www.nextlevelcoachingnetwork.com.

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.

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