Friday, November 16, 2012

Managing the Church to death. . .

One of the common complaints of government and industry is the decidedly think middle layer of managers that seems bent upon preventing helpful directive from making it from the head on down and in preventing vital information moving back up.  I have spoken, for example, of the meeting culture that seems to have pretty much died at my parish but which is evidently still very much alive at the District and Synod levels of the Church.  While at my own parish I struggle to get a meeting called, an issue discussed, and a decision rendered even on urgent practical matters, it seems we spend our lives talking away about how best to manage the Church. 

For a long time I have complained about this reticence against meetings and structural issues in my parish but I am becoming either accustomed to it or have grown to see the wisdom of it.  We tend to spend less time than any group I know managing and organizing.  I guess for those who sniff against organized religion I can in good conscience offer them a chance to embrace the disorganized religion that is Grace Lutheran Church.  We spend most of our time and energy not on managing but on doing and the doing begins with a rich liturgical and musical expression of the Divine Service.  Anything and everything else flows from this and, if we are doing it right, back into it.

There was a time when I was more enamored of managerial stuff.  I bought some of the books and listened to some of the gurus of church management (from the Abdons of old and the Merkens to more modern stuff I have grown to decry on this forum).  It seems we are more in love with managing the Church than being the Church.  We cast our visions like pearls before swine and wonder why people are not impressed or motivated by our goal statements and our proposed methodologies.  We restructure the structures until no one really remembers who was supposed to do what so it all seems to fall back upon the Pastor in some way or another (Pastor either as clean up crew or CEO depending upon your perspective).  We study to study and evaluate to evaluate everything from the internal of the congregation to the felt needs and wants of the folks outside the Church.

We manage the Church to death.  We look more sideways than forward.  For some of us that means looking at what other churches or others outside the Church (business) are doing to be more effective, consumer oriented, and adept at changing to meet the rapidly changing times.  For others of us that means having an interest in and a desire to critique what others are doing while failing to do what we are called to do (some of you might put me here).  I grow weary of it all.

Instead of trying to institutionalize every possible response to every possible issue or event, why not simply be the Church.  On that SET I spoke about on a previous post, I remember the first question asked what is the job of the Church.  My answer was spectacularly unhelpful (according to some who read my SET).  The job of the Church is to be the Church.  We are not a social service agency, a counseling center, a gym, a community center, or any of the things we seem to try so hard to be.  We are the Church.  We do not have to be anything more than we are -- that which Christ has declared us to be and equipped us to be through the means of grace.

I do not mean to impugn the motives of those who love to listen to the heartbeat of the world and plot strategies to respond or those who listen to what is going on around us to see if some are doing better than others.  I do not mean to suggest that these folks have impure motives.  I just believe that much of our energy and interest here is misplaced.  McDonalds and Wal-Mart cannot help us learn how to be the Church or do the work of the Kingdom.  This is not rocket science.  We have the answers we need in the living voice of Scripture and the Sacraments that deliver what Christ has accomplished to the people of His promise.  What we need is not all that hard to decipher.  We need passionate, faithful, vibrant preaching.  We need thoughtful, well planned, and authentic liturgy.  We need a focus off ourselves and on to Christ.  We need to be the Church. 

As to our success or, rather, effectiveness, well, that is up to the Lord of the Church to decide.  If we are being faithful in doing what He has called us to do and being the Church of Christ, I can hardly see how God will fault us since He has declared over and over again that He will bring it to pass and make it return with the fruit He desires. 

We have gotten lost and part of the dead end is our love affair with management.  We listen so well to the hoof beats of change in culture and our world that we cannot even hear the sound of the Lord's voice.  When finally we do hear Him, we feel the need to bolster Scripture with the latest and greatest sociology or psychology or methodology as if the message of the Bible were mere theory for which the practice was left up to us to determine and define.

The Church does not need to be managed.  The Church does not need more managers.  We need more faithful preachers and hearers, teachers and doers, presiders and people in the pews -- actually listening, believing, and doing what Christ has called us to do.  This is not the whisper of a breeze so hard to feel or decide which direction it comes from.  God blows loud and strong in the same direction as it has always blown -- from sin to forgiveness, from pride to repentance, from death to life through the means of grace.  It is no less urgent in our age than it was in generations past.  We do not need more managers for the Kingdom of God.  We need to be the Church.  Period. 


Anonymous said...

Excellent! Period.

Janis Williams said...

The Church is not the culture. The Church should not reflect the culture (read: be relevant). The Church is in the culture, not of it, if you will excuse the liberty.

If the Father had meant for the church to be "run" like a business, it would be laid out in Scripture. The Wisdom of God is wiser than men.

Tracy's Living Cookbook said...

Well said!