How the Organized Church Changes, Part 4

In the previous blog Dave Thomas explores how an entity like a church changes from a movement to an institution with a large infrastructure. The infrastructure is created for the sake of efficiency in pursuit of the mission. But over time the infrastructure itself can become a mechanism that changes the mission. How the mission changes is explored in the following by Dave Thomas. (Jon Paulien).

The establishment of organizational infrastructure has three effects. First, it sets itself up in competition for resources that would otherwise have gone to frontline mission. Secondly, it places employees in among the volunteers who then tend to dilute their volunteerism because there are now paid people to do the work. And, thirdly, and most importantly to this paper, the appearance and growth of infrastructure produces and makes available managerial or administrative power to those who have charge of the infrastructure. These three things– competition for resources, the appearance of paid personnel, and the rise of managerial/administrative power– become the elements that affect or determine the future of an organization. While the first two items are important and quite interesting, this paper is going to look only at the third one, the rise of administrative power, for it bears most directly on the subject of unconsidered ecclesiological change.

Probably the best way to delve into this is to observe that, in the early stages of an organization, the leaders who originally articulate the vision have no administrative power. The have only the power of persuasion, exhortation, encouragement, prayer, personal appeal and personal example all of which depend on the voluntary compliance of adherents to achieve their desired ends. Early leaders have to win the goodwill of the people. They have to bring followers to the point of willing consent. But the appearance of infrastructure brings with it a very different dynamic for it introduces and very quickly brings to bear, a new kind of power that is of a different sort. Administrative power is very efficient, it is immediately available to leaders and leaders only, and it operates by something other than persuasion. Administrative power does not necessarily have to concern itself with the voluntary commitments of those who come under its jurisdiction. It has the power of policy and is able to use the prospect of penalty as motivation.

This difference between persuasion power and coercive power is very important to explore. When a charismatic leader encounters a problem, it is time for visitation, persuasion, exhortation, appeal, invitation, prayer, even tears. Early leaders have to rely on this kind of power even though it is not very efficient and may require time and muddling along to achieve its purposes. Its primary strength is that it elicits the willing compliance of adherents. But the emergence of managerial power makes for a very different scenario. Rather than having to expend time and effort trying to persuade, a manager may go directly to policy by way of which compliance or non-compliance can then be determined. After that, decision-making can be rather straightforward, willing compliance or not.

The temptation to use administrative power can be considerable because it offers the prospect of very quick resolution, it is “fair” in that it applies “across the board,” and it usually requires relatively little deliberation so can be applied quickly which means the “problem” is resolved and the organization can get on to other things. When a religious organization is careful to limit the use of managerial power to issues of infrastructure, life can be very good. But when it allows for a generous expansion of the use of managerial power to include also matters that pertain to belief and faith, it likely enters a whole new arena. History shows that the temptation to broaden managerial power expansively is a temptation that is very difficult to resist. In far too many cases, leaders have succumbed quite readily to the temptation to use managerial power to deal with ideological and belief issues. Discrepancies over doctrine and belief and commitment can be very challenging and messy and prolonged in resolution, so administratively powerful leaders face the great temptation of looking at belief issues as management issues that could be settled not by argumentation, discussion, or persuasion but by appealing to policy after which compliance and non-compliance can be measured. After that, the path to resolution can be very short.

When a religious movement accepts or allows this shift to take place broadly, when it allows for matters of faith and belief to be treated as matters of policy and management, at its heart it transitions away from invitation to coercion replacing the power of persuasion with that of requirement. Instead of calling for assent, it calls for compliance and in so doing, overlays voluntary commitment, which is the essence of religion, with an involuntary mandate, something that is inimical to faith. Administrative power does not work by persuasion and invitation but by coercion. It does not work on the inside but from the outside. It works by mandate, able to administer a penalty of some kind for non-compliance. It is the power of state-craft and so is inappropriate at the level of belief. While administrative power is important and useful, it should not, indeed cannot, effectively be used to manage religious commitments and ideas. Being elected to a position of power does not make a person right. It only makes them powerful. Efforts to enforce compliance easily lead to duplicity rather than genuine faith.

One thought on “How the Organized Church Changes, Part 4

  1. Kemboi Chesimet

    “Being elected to a position of power does not make a person right. It only makes them powerful. Efforts to enforce compliance easily lead to duplicity rather than genuine faith.”
    The old men institution that alleges monopoly of wisdom and experience as it promises the young tomorrow leadership! The sagging and inertia movement leadership struggling to maintain its mission and ideals.


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