Throw out the managers

May 13th, 2009 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

Since the 1980s, a story has circulated in church circles of what would have happened if Jesus had taken the advice of management consultants,  it even made the business pages of the Daily Inquirer in Manila last year:

To: Jesus, son of Joseph

From: Palestinian Management Consultants Ltd.

Thank you for submitting the resumés of the 12 men you have handpicked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests and we have not only run the results through our computer but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologists and vocational aptitude consultants.

The profiles of all tests are included and you will want to study them carefully. As part of our service we will make some general comments. These are given as a result of staff consultations and come without additional fee.

It is the opinion of the staff that most of your nominees are lacking in background, educational and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you have in mind. They do not have the team concept. We recommend that you continue with your search.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The brothers James and John place personal interest above group loyalty. Thomas has a skeptical attitude that would tend to undermine morale. It is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James and Thaddaeus, the sons of Alphaeus, have radical leanings and show a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

Only one shows potential ability, resourcefulness, a brilliant business mind, socializes well, has great ambitions and is highly motivated.

We recommend that Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man.

Caiaphas, CEO

Palestinian Management Consultants Ltd., Jerusalem

Few deny that secular models of business are inapplicable to the church, yet the church persists in its belief that it can manage its way into the future.  Clergy are bombarded with correspondence about numbers and plans and strategies; huge resources are expended on yet more projects.

Rarely does the most elementary of questions get asked: what works?

Perhaps those committed to modernisation and management do not like the answer.  What works is the small parish, the thing least amenable to master plans.  What works is the amateur, bungling, makeshift, get by, it’ll have to do, one man operated bus model of ministry.

Why? Because it’s personal.

Because for perhaps the only time in their weekly lives, people are not confronted with an organization; not confronted by a secretary who says that the person wanted is unavailable; not confronted by a receptionist who says there are no appointments; not confronted by a telephonist who asks the caller to hold the line; not confronted by an automated voice that asks that certain buttons be pressed to contact certain departments.

The small parish is personal in a way that nowhere else is, and the parish priest plays a special role in that setting.  The 18th Century writer William Blackstone says that the priest, “is called parson, persona, because by his person the church, which is an invisible body, is represented”.

The story of Jesus is the story of God becoming a personal God.  Ministry after his example is ministry that is personal.  The church needs to read less strategies and more Scripture.

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  1. Is anyone listening to your wisdom because it makes total sense?

  2. Course no-one’s listening, Baino. There are only twenty people who read this stuff and half of them are atheists!

    I spoke on one of the reports at General Synod last Saturday morning and, at the response at the end of the report, the proposer went through each contribution and simply said, “Some interesting comments from Mr Poulton” – like some primary school teacher feeling she must say something about each class member’s work. It was appallingly patronising. Katharine, ever the optimist about human nature, says he simply did not understand the comment.

  3. One of the fundamental errors of the management model (consulting in particular) is the assumption that everyone else is at best barely competent. It inherently lacks trust and takes a flawed view. In my brief stint in management I took the approach that it was my job to ensure the team had the right resources and environment to perform their job effectively, not browbeat productivity from them. I thought it worked pretty well.

  4. Trouble with the Church of Ireland is that it has lost its nerve and is loathe to say that what works in a business environment to make a profit simply doesn’t work in a small community of people where you cannot sack those who don’t meet your expectations and where you can’t go off in search of a different market if your product fails in your traditional market.

  5. Growup can I come and work for you?

  6. I have news for you. Secular models of business are inapplicable to business.

  7. Given the current state of the world economy, that would be pretty hard to argue with. The problem is that the church always lags behind in its thought and can be a refuge for those who have not succeeded elsewhere, so we get rehashed failed philosophy

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