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.

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  1. Anonymous20/3/07 01:28

    Yo grandfather-elder-missionary person. Yes indeed the charismatic leader tends to be molded into other aspects of the perceived ideal church such that they cannot be who they are supposed to be before the Lord.
    This even while the church suffocates a slowly-managed death from management and administration. Well okay, maybe not suffocated to death but just neutralized into irrelevancy and/or no vision and authority.
    Signed, anonymous person

  2. Wow... so much to say. Wish we could sit down over a cup of espresso and chat.

    But what really hit me in your thoughts was the section on tradition and routine.

    I am currently blowing up just about everything that has to do with "doing church." Not that I won't come back to some of it, but not right now.

    I think back to the discussions that C.S. Lewis had on Joy. To Lewis, joy was not happiness but a longing for the eternal - something beyond us. It was an eternal moment that we experience and then it is gone. Trying to recreate it is fruitless and only becomes cheap copy.

    That is what I see much church routine and tradition is about. At some point, someone experienced God in a moment of sublime joy, then they thought 'How did I do that? How did that happen? We must do that again, and again, and again..." But the joy is not there anymore. Instead we manufacture it, or feel guilty that we don't feel it.

    That to me is much of what we do in church "services" - everything from high church, to seeker, to emerging. We all have our routines and ceremony.

    For instance, if you wanted to meet a new neighbor who just moved in, would you invite him over to sing Karaoke? Of course not. But, for some reason, whenever a stranger walks into a church (any church) the first thing they are handed are song lyrics (or a hymnal). They are being told "You are going to sing today, whether you like to sing or not!"

    Isn't singing in public up there in the list of fears with public speaking? And yet we can't worship God without handing out song lyrics.

    I guess I keep coming back to the gospels. Jesus didn't hold church services. He didn't do a lot of singing. (Any singing?) He wasn't much into routine or decorum.

    And (Luke 15) "the 'sinners' and tax collectors gathered around to hear him."

  3. Matthew's gospel says that Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the "last supper," but I doubt that it was karaoke. But you point is well taken. It seems to go back to the "Field of Dreams" mentality --Build it and they will come.

    If you haven't already, check out the book "Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church" by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, publish by Hendrickson Publishers.

  4. I've read it. I met Michael Frost at a recent event in Pittsburgh. He included our church, Hot Metal, in his recent book, Exiles.