07 March 2007

Management in the Church

In my struggle with modern management theory in the church, I've come across another aspect of the struggle. Interestingly it comes from Max Weber (pronounced Vay-bear), the German sociologist of the 19th century. I want to sketch this out and try to work through the various issues over the next few posts. Herr Professor Weber doesn't get it all quite right, but there are aspects of his analysis of conventional management that I find intriguing.

The first aspect of conventional management, Weber says, is the emphasis on Individualism. This had its start in the Reformation. We are called (beruf) to do a specific work, but we are also called to work hard on our jobs, and to fulfill the obligations imposed on us by our work and place in the world. The upshot of all this, according to Weber, is that the more we are pushed into individualism, the more isolated we become.

The second aspect of conventional management is materialism. The goal of Christianity, according to John Wesley, is to produce industry and frugality. With the movement of management away from its Christian roots, we find the emphasis is now on maximizing productivity (industry) and efficiency (frugality). The end goal is to produce profitability.

This movement toward materialism in conventional management has lead to rationality. Rationality involves calculation and efficiency in order to make the results predictable. Relationships within conventional management are all the means to an ends, i.e., the final bookkeeping entry.

I think the issues are apparent. We want our churches to be significant for the kingdom, but we run them like a business. And we know what the goal of a business is.

There is another tension I find in the church that comes from an analysis of conventional management theory. This deals with the issue of authority. Weber describes three kinds of management categories:

Charismatic authority—This is belief in the intrinsic gifts of the individual. People respond to this kind of authority because they believe that the individual has a special calling. (Examples of this type of authority include Martin Luther King Jr., Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy, Golda Meir, and Jesus. It is people’s belief in the charisma that matters; thus, we can have Hitler and Jesus on the same list.)

Traditional authority—Belief in time and custom. People respond to this kind of authority because they honor the past and they believe that time-proven methods are the best. (Good examples of this type of authority are your parents and grandparents, the Pope, and monarchies.)

Rational-legal authority—The belief in procedure or routine. People respond to this kind of authority because they believe that the requirements or laws have been enacted in the proper manner. People see leaders as having the right to act when they obtain positions in the procedurally correct way. (A good example of this type is your professor—it does not matter who the professor is, as long as he or she fulfills the requirements of the job.

The irony is this: Most churches reflect a Traditional style of authority, because this is the way that churches have always been run and managed. However, people look for Charismatic style of authority, because they believe that God will raise up gifted individuals to run his church and lead it deeper into his will.

The final aspect of this tensions is that most churches, while appearing to be Traditional in its view of authority, because of the emphasis on conventional management practice, are actually very Rational-legal in its use of authority. Programs are set up, rationalized so that they are predictable and calculable. No surprises.

What happens is that the Charismatic leader is almost always sublimated and assumed into the process, taking the edge or surprise out of his leadership.

It would be interesting to see what Mr. Hybels or Mr. Warren would say about this.