Friday, September 7, 2007


Is it possible for a church system to empower individuals to be all that they can be? From the standpoint of leadership within any local church, this question seems almost too basic as that is what they are all about. SO THEY THINK!

But what if someone begins to deviate from the structures that have been implemented? What if boring bible studies are replaced by interesting poker nights that have lots of relationship building and meaningful discussions about life, love and God included? This is not so far fetched as this is actually occurring right now with some groups of young adults. Is the structure adaptable enough to respond to the rapid changes of what people are desiring or does the structure demand its adherents to adhere to yesterday’s program?

Repentance is a common theme within religious thinking but in reality it is a common theme of life. Repentance simply means a change of mind and action. Individuals are asked to change/repent on a regular basis and the expectation is that it should happen quickly. Use the expectation of quickly as one of the criteria for change and apply it to organizational models and it seems that organizations are extremely unwieldy in this regard. Discussion and fact finding groups begin and die with very little change ever bearing fruit. When change actually does happen people shout it from the roof top as it is such a rarity.

An example from an organization that I was involved in for 25 years expresses the difficultly of change/repentance. One of the policies that had been in place since in 1918 was that divorced and remarried men were not allowed to be board members. The problem was that as we moved into the 1980’s the number of potential candidates for the position was dwindling as divorce rates sky rocketed. There was also the stigma attached of creating second class Christians that could never be “normal” because they had violated the policy of remarriage.

When an individual leader came to the conclusion that he no longer agreed with the policy due to a different biblical interpretation he was not allowed to implement the change. Now he is in “crisis” as his conscience says it is OK for someone to remarry but his organization demands otherwise. Thus he serves the organization and the organization does not empower him to serve in the way his conscience allows. Interesting enough over a ten year period enough votes were gathered to get a two thirds majority to overturn the existing policy. Now the shoe was on the other foot with those whose conscience demanded non-remarriage to be maintained. They felt betrayed and the argument of going down the slippery slope of compromise was thrown out indiscriminately. Character assassination became the order of the day and friendships were broken over the act of “change/repentance.”

I’m coming to the conclusion that group models are probably helpful in short, manageable timeframes. But when they exist and grow beyond the possibility for personal input and without a clear ending in sight then it is inevitable that individual empowerment is swallowed up by the need to maintain the status quo. The simple truth is that as difficult and necessary it is for individuals to repent it is infinitely more difficult for organizations to do the same.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I think organizations can exist long term, but measures for dealing with conscience-based dissent need to be developed.

Conversation needs to be tied to action, but inevitably, there are going to be people that disagree with the majority. Sometimes, those minority figures are going to find themselves with a crisis of conscience, rather than, say, simply disagreeing on some bureaucratic issue.

If the individual's ethical position is intractable, I think there are two basic ways to deal with it.

One, make the majority ethical position a condition of membership in the group. In practice, this will lead to people either violating their consciences or splitting off into new groups. Neither outcome is desirable.

The second way is to have a built-means of dealing with opposition and dissent. What I'd base this on is a particular idea of rebellion. A lot of people don't like to be told what to do; they don't like being led around by the nose. Some people even get a kick out of violating or resisting authority. All of us enjoy that, at some point or another. The pleasure of martyrdom.

So, have clear (and basically token) punishments. If someone is really holding to a position of conscience, or even if they're just resisting authority for the heck of it, some suffering will, on some level, be enjoyable to them.

That way, the individual does not violate their conscience, and the group leader maintains their (entirely symbolic!!) authority. Dissent is both allowed and regulated. The group survives and is able to act.