Monday, October 13, 2008

Missional Organization & The Lost Charism

Someone asked me why, after so many years in Winnipeg, our ministry was still relatively small.  They assured me they felt we were doing a good and important work, but were surprised that our programs, staff numbers and ministry presence were not more sizable.  While there are many reasons for this- some I know of, others I do not- and while my own failings as a leader cannot be ignored, one thing has come to mind after giving the question more thought: organization.

It is not that we lack organization, as I think that is one things we do well.  Rather, it is the nature and dynamics of how we organize (and do not organize) that has been significant.  I am firm believer that the charism of administration is significant and largely mishandled gift to the Church.  While we have much to learn from business models in our modern western context, I think the word and concept of “administration” come loaded with baggage that can ultimately limit our capacity to be ministers/servants of the Gospel.

I recognize the practical and even legal need for boards and governing bodies, but I cannot help but struggle with how often I have seen this approached used in a ministry context to devastating ends.  When time and resources are measured as investments and the bottom-line plays the major power card, we have strayed from the guiding vocation given to us.  After all, the radical selflessness of Christlikeness seems incompatible with the measures of success that business models set forth.

Further, when lives are at stake- real bodies and souls of eternal consequence- our focus has to shift.  Shift away from simple pragmatics, away from territorialism (which can be ideological, political, geographic, etc.), towards the will of the Other and the greater good of others.  I am not saying this is impossible with current institutional models, but that I have rarely seen it done well.

Perhaps I am being idealistic and naive.  I know some have said just that of me in respect to some of these issues.  They have said that, should we want to achieve what needs to get done, we must play the part necessary, filling the roles and jumping through the hoops.  To a degree, I know that this is inevitable.  However, while some feel we have limited this approach to a fault, I also know that we stand at equal- perhaps even greater risk of the other extreme.

What do you think?  Have we relinquished too much to the methods and values of a system that is contrary to the Kingdom?  As organization and governance are essential, how could they be conceived of without compromise?  And do those approaches cost us some of the “success” the other models seem to provide?

Posted by Jamie Arpin-Ricci in 08:51:57

13 Responses to “Missional Organization & The Lost Charism”

  1. hmmm…..can you give some hypothetical examples??

  2. Hey bk,

    Well, there are many ways this could happen, but one is the personality driven funding approach. This usually requires a leader to be the face of the ministry, whose primary (almost exclusive) job is to “sell” the ministry in order to raise donor dollars.


  3. Maria says:

    Interesting questions, Jamie. My husband and I sit on the board of a small ministry organization that was founded around the vision and work of a friend of ours. We had a meeting the other day, and had to make some decisions with serious financial implications for our small organization (namely do we bring our founder on as part-time staff). It was interesting to see the range of comments and concerns — some very much in the business model and others more concerned about the gifts and calling of our friend.

    On the other hand, we were reminiscing about previous meetings where the board functioned as personal support system and sounding board for the founder and his wife as they were going through some very deep water in their lives. There were many meetings in those years where we listened, wept and prayed together. I think it’s important for boards to have a pastoral element that looks out for the welfare of those doing the ministry as well as those the organization serves — that’s an important balance to those who keep their eyes on the legal and financial boundaries.

  4. Hey Maria,

    Thanks for the great examples of the tensions navigated properly. Would that this was a more common reality!


  5. Duncan says:

    Jamie, I think the word “board” has so many different meanings. The church I am part of has an elderate that is steering the church towards being permissive – i.e. you have a dream, go and do it, we’ll support you rather than a command and control structure. That seems to come hand in hand with a bit more chaos and uncertainty but isn’t that more consistent with sending out the disciples once they had been taught? It does seem that permissiveness and freedom are key in the gospel and Paul’s letters.

    In Seven Men, we’re using a board as a sound group of people we can test ideas with and that will provide both a healthy support (as Marla said) and a challenge to our naivety!

    I think funders who demand access to the main guy are missing the point that this is prob not the gifting or the best use of the main guy (so to speak, even though he’s not “main”).

    I’m massively encouraged by those I’ve met in recent months who’re taking that desire to be permissive and liberating but also to achieve and grow and replicate. It’s not an either or strategy, both can come together. Look at the starfish!

    Maybe you need supporters and sounding boards, and people who can do that role for you, without the formality of a board and the bureaucracy of reports and fund raising presentations?

    A board done well adds a lot of value. A board not done well tends to hinder.

    I think a lot of western business theory is about to get rethought in coming years.

  6. Hey Duncan,

    Thanks for the great input. That is really helpful. I suspect part of the issue is that in North America our legal systems and benefits as churches are so tied into government systems that we end up selling our freedom for the benefit of a tax receipt at times. As a result, it is easy to follow the pattern to it’s natural conclusion. The UK & Australia are in a better place in that respect.

    I think you are also right about what we need, though I am not sure how to get there from here. Wanna come help? (wink)

    I hope you are right about the coming change. Thanks again!


  7. Duncan says:

    lol. it’s too cold in the winter…

  8. LOL! Likely story…


  9. Duncan, think of the snowboarding and skiing….

  10. bk, sorry, we live in the flattest part of Canada, so cross-country skiing is about as good as it gets.


  11. Matt says:

    Well Jamie it is interesting that you have posted this we are in the processes of seek people to set up an advisory board for our ministry here in Fort Mac. It is good what you said. We always seem to be slipping into extremes but we never are able to do both extremes well. We are still wrestleing with whether or not to pursue an advisory board so what you have said gives us some good things to think about. Hope the DTS is going well. Matt

  12. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for sharing. There is an excellent book “Called To Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board” by Max Du Pree which is fairly good on this topic. Not perfect, but a great start. Hope all is well there.


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