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.
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.