Monthly Archives: January 2015

How the Organized Church Changes, Part 3

We here continue Dave Thomas’s guest blog on the impact of business language on the nature of the church. Very significant stuff (Jon Paulien).

The second primary factor in organizational change has to do with what we call infrastructure. The kinds of infrastructure a church organization develops as it ages become major factors in determining what the future for an organization will be. It is not hard to figure out why and how infrastructure develops. As a movement catches on in the mind of the public, it grows. Early growth is often quite rapid with volunteers and informal conversation being the primary purveyors of mission. We downplay the power of informal communication far too much. It is one of the most effective means of communication available to humans. What we hear informally almost always trumps official word. This is one reason conspiracies and urban legends become so prevalent and powerful and resilient.

At some point, the movement becomes too large for the early, charismatic leaders to manage by themselves and the need to create some kind of structure becomes obvious and urgent. Those who are acquainted with Adventist history no doubt know of the great struggles the Adventist pioneers went through on this issue. Many strident speeches were made to the effect that any kind of organization would constitute “Babylon.” But something as simple as the ownership of property made resistance futile. The path to organization is easy to trace – the prosecution of mission requires vision which is broken down into strategy which is reduced to plans that get embedded in policy which then creates organizational structure and practice. And organizational practice pursued over time creates organizational culture and identity. By this process, organizations stabilize themselves, become predictable and efficient, and gain the real prospect of a successful future.

In the midst of all the exciting growth that makes the creation of structure necessary, something happens that goes largely unnoticed. Just as surely as the creation of infrastructure brings stability, it also initiates what theorists call “organizational entropy,” the technical name for the process that brings on the aging, disordering and sometimes death of a movement or organization. Speaking of infrastructure, theorist Jeffrey Saltzman says, “The purpose of these rules is to allow the organization to make decisions using standard operating procedures as a guideline and hence remove from the organization the need to think about the decisions being made.” (http://jeffreysaltzman.wordpress. com/2009/11/19/organization-entropy-2/) But, “removing the need to think about some decisions (this is what infrastructure does) carries with it an inherent risk, the risk of mediocrity or worse, the risk of extinction.” What is being alluded to here is that the early stages of organization are usually very beneficial to mission, producing benefits out of proportion to the resources invested. But in later stages of organizational life, infrastructure itself becomes problematic.

To be continued. . .

How the Organized Church Changes, Part 2

We here continue Dave Thomas’s guest blog on the impact of business language on the nature of the church. Very significant stuff (Jon Paulien).

Since the church is an organization, it is helpful to know that unconsidered organizational change is embedded within the nature of organizational structure itself. One of the best ways to understand this is to look through the eyes of organizational theorists, people “out there” who are fascinated with and study organizations, how they are born, grow, function, and finally die. One of the better-known conclusions of organizational theorists is the existence of a prevailing and all but inevitable “Organizational Life-cycle” – which all organizations pass through. Depending on which school of organizational theory you read, this life-cycle is said to have four or five stages. These begin with a Start-up or Entrepreneurial Stage, moving on through a Growth Stage that is often broken into two sub-stages – Early Growth which is often quite rapid, and Middle Growth where growth slows. The early stages are followed by a Mature Stagem where growth becomes very slow or stops altogether. The Mature Stage is followed by a Decline Stage which leads to the most critical stage, the Crisis Stage. The Crisis Stage may be followed by either renewal, or demise (see for more detail).

Organizations in the Mature Stage have a number of typical features. 1) Infrastructure is of enormous size to the point there is “a policy for everything.” 2) There are many employees whose entire focus is on tending infrastructure rather than front-line mission. 3) The treatment of employees is highly standardized with more interest in “fairness” than in “merit.” 4) Operations become regulated by policies more than by opportunities. 5) New hires are evaluated more on loyalty than on entrepreneurial spirit. 6) Employees gain more control over mission than volunteers. 7) A large proportion of resources are allocated to infrastructure in the place of mission. 8) There is little, if any, money devoted to new initiatives. Growth slows, then stops. By this time in the life cycle, all the infrastructure will have created such a great amount of inertia, it will be almost impossible for it to change, which sets things up for a likely crisis if change does indeed come to the marketplace.

In this life-cycle there are two critical elements that play a very big role in determining the direction of the organization. The first and most obvious one is the Crisis Stage where the way leaders approach and handle crises can lead to either organizational renewal or organizational decline and death. Organizations that have leaders who foresee crises and manage them well may renew themselves while those that have leaders who do not foresee or handle crises well go much more quickly toward demise.

Points of crisis are significant in the Organizational Life Cycle because, since they threaten organizational well-being or existence, they become the only times when any real prospect of significant change exists. It is simply the case that the more complex the infrastructure becomes, and the more success that can be looked back upon, the more difficult it is for an organization to adjust and change. This is because the stabilization brought about by the creation of infrastructure creates organizational inertia. And complex organizations develop so much inertia that the kind of change necessary to deal with an unanticipated future is simply too great.

In the business world, there are two elements that affect how crisis is dealt with, 1) shareholders who may take precipitous action if they become unhappy, and 2) the existence of outside predators looking for the chance to take over. Pressure from these two entities makes the prospect of change quite high. By contrast, in church organizations, these two elements are missing. There are no predatory outsiders looking to take over and the average member is too remote from organizational power to force change. In consequence, change in churches can only be brought about by those who are in leadership positions. The prospect of such people making significant change is very small indeed because organizations tend to promote those who are most loyal to the organization, and churches easily sanctify their structures if they have been successful. Those in power tend to be the ones who benefit most from the status quo. For these reasons, churches are more likely to fade away than agree to change.

To be continued. . .

How the Organized Church Changes

I apologize for the two-week gap in blog postings. It has been a really distracting time for me.

In November of 2014 at a meeting of the Adventist Society for Religious Study, I heard a paper from Dave Thomas, Dean of the Religion Department at Walla Walla University. The title of the paper was “From ‘Ekklesia’ to Something Else.” Ekklesia is the NT Greek word for “church” meaning those who are “called out” from the world by the gospel to form communities of believers. In this paper he explores some of the trends in Adventist organization that affect its options for the future. I thought the paper was so significant that I asked Dave’s permission to publish it as a guest blog on my site, which permission he graciously granted. What follows is a series of blogs sharing Thomas’ paper with some edits on my part to conform to the style of a blog (including the title I chose). From here on until completion the words are primarily those of Dave Thomas. I have made some alterations to explain or replace technical terms for clarity to a non-specialist audience.

In this paper I (Dave Thomas) wish to reflect on the church as organization. In particular, I wish to reflect on how church as organization may, for reasons that will be explained here, experience an unconsidered or non-deliberate change in its own ecclesiology (doctrine of “the church”) effectively moving it away from the concept of church-as-a-community-of-believers to something else. For those whose view of church is formed by the scriptural idea of a community of called-out believers, this would be an unhappy eventuality indeed.

I was first alerted to this prospect of an unconsidered change in church organizations through a comment made by Katie Funk Wiebe (”The Christian Leader,” Christianity Today, volume 33, number 17, August 1989). She wrote, “I sense that we are allowing business terms to creep into our language. . . I am convinced that because language shapes our thinking and actions, we change the nature of the church and its leadership if we substitute business language for ‘body’ language. An organism quickly becomes an organization if it is thought about that way.” This statement struck me with force. Could it really be that a change in language use could result in a change in theological perception that, because language shapes our thinking and actions, the use of “business language” rather than “body language” could actually result in a shift in the church’s self-perception, effectively changing a living organism into a mere “organization?” This disturbance of my thought equilibrium sent me on a search, the reflective results of which I want to share with you in a series of blogs here.

To be continued. . .

The Implications of the Cross, Conclusion

A second difference the cross makes is, at first glance, the very opposite of the first. We all have a fundamental need to value ourselves and to be valued by others. But how can we value ourselves when we recognize that the seeds of evil are within? It seems that the better we know ourselves the more we will dislike ourselves and the worse we will feel. How can we elevate our sense of self-worth without escaping from the dark realities within? That’s where the cross comes in.
How much is a human being worth? It depends on the context. If they were to melt me down into the chemicals of which my body is made, I understand I would be worth about twenty or twenty-five dollars. But the average American is valued by his or her employer at a much higher level than that, something like $50,000 dollars a year. But suppose you were a great basketball player like Kobe Bryant. Suddenly your value jumps to tens of millions of dollars a year. And if you were the nerdy designer of the software the majority of the people the world use, you would be valued at tens of billions of dollars (Bill Gates)!
You see, we are valued in terms of what others see in us. But according to the Bible human value is infinitely higher than the value we assign to each other. According to the Bible, Jesus was worth the whole universe (He made it), yet He knows all about us and loves us as we are. When He died on the cross, He established the value of the human person. When the Creator of the universe and everyone in it (including all the great athletes and movie stars that people often worship) decides to die for you and me, it places an infinite value on our lives. And since the resurrected Jesus will never die again, my value is secure in him as long as I live .
So the cross provides a true and stable sense of value. This is what makes the story of a particular Friday in Jerusalem so very special. The cross is not just an atrocity. It is about God’s willingness to take on human flesh and reveal Himself where we are. It is about the value that the human race has in the eyes of God. It provides hope for a better world. How?
The best hope for a troubled world is an authentic walk with God that not only takes the evil within ourselves seriously but also sees in others the value that God sees in them. If every one of us is flawed yet valuable, all other seekers after God become potential allies in the battle to create a kinder and gentler world. Armed with a clear picture of reality and a sense of our value, we can become change agents in the world. Once we know the right question, it is obvious that “Jesus is the answer.”

The Implications of the Cross

This blog stands by itself, but can also be read as the conclusion of the previous blogs in this series on the problem of evil in the world. What was the cross all about in God’s purpose? What difference did it make? I’d like to highlight two things. First, the cross changes the way we look at our personal lives, particularly our mistakes and failures. According to the Bible, human beings are not simply imperfect creatures that need improvement, we are rebels who must lay down our arms. Those who crucified Jesus acted no differently than we would have, given the same circumstances. In other words, the struggle to overcome evil is not, first of all, a social or political task, it is a struggle against the evil within.
This “repentance” is not fun. Acknowledging failure is humiliating and repugnant. But it is the necessary path toward redeeming our lives from the downward spiral of the evil that besets us all. It is the only way to bring our lives into the sunshine of reality. This “repentance” is simply recognizing the truth about ourselves. We will never change until we are willing to be changed, until we recognize that change is needed.
The neat thing about God’s plan is that He understands what this struggle for authenticity is all about. In submitting Himself to the humiliation of the cross, Jesus experienced the kind of surrender we need. In the Garden of Gethsemane He struggled to give Himself up to God’s plan. And the Bible teaches that if we follow Him in His surrender and humiliation, we will also share in His conquest of death and find new life in our present experience (Rom 6:3-6).
Tragedies like September 11 and the Holocaust are more than just the work of a few kooks and fanatics, they are symptoms of deeper issues that plague us all. The struggle to recognize the evil within us all is fundamental to the human condition, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The Problem of Evil and Its Origin V

The climax of the story of Jesus, and the whole reason for His coming to earth, took place one Friday in Jerusalem, a sequence of events dramatized in Mel Gibson’s recent movie, The Passion of Christ. As the “God-man” he was designated to experience all the consequences of human evil in His own person (1 Pet 2:21-24). His death on the cross would sum up all the pain, all the suffering, all the regret, and all the rejection that evil has caused the human race. He would suffer loss of meaning, loss of relationship and all the misery of human sickness and death (Isa 53:1-12). His anguish was much more mental and emotional than physical (in contrast to Gibson’s movie).
Arriving at Golgotha, the place of execution, Jesus was nailed to the cross through the wrists and ankles and put on display between two common thieves. Three hours later He was dead, more from emotional and spiritual anguish than from physical causes. Rich friends of Jesus then secured His body and placed it in a cave-tomb nearby, closed off behind a huge rolling-stone door.
The story reaches a climax about 36 hours later, early Sunday morning. Several women decide to visit the tomb and anoint Jesus’ body with spices, to preserve it and show Him honor, even in death. But when they arrive at the tomb the stone has been moved away and the tomb is empty. One or two men are standing nearby in dazzling apparel (one witness calls them angels). The women are told not to seek the living among the dead. Jesus has risen from the dead and will appear to His disciples again.
God’s answer to the problem of evil, therefore, is the answer of love in the most self-sacrificing form of that word. He does not seek to change the world by force, but by the power of a loving character, exhibited in the self-sacrificing actions of Jesus in our behalf. He wants to be acknowledged as God, not for what He has or the power He can wield, but on account of His character, which is evident at the cross. Why is this event so important? Stay tuned.