Anti-organizational Bias

whitefield1.jpg wesley.jpg
It seems fashionable today in missional circles to exhibit an anti-organizational bias. “Organization” and “structure” have become dirty words and smack of institutionalization, bureaucracy, hierarchy and modernity.

Even around CRM, we’ve been striving to purge “corporate” language and replace it with nomenclature that resonates with words and concepts that are non-business like, non-controlling and egalitarian. But I wonder, at times, if all of this neo-organic trendiness is inadvertently throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It is an innate part of the human condition to organize. As every student in sociology 101 knows, human beings always bring structure to their relationships. There is not a movement throughout the 2000 years of the history of Christianity, no matter how spiritually vibrant or well-intended, that did not organize itself in one way or the other if it was to be fruitful and sustainable.

A powerful case study is the comparison of George Whitfield (1717-1740; above left) and John Wesley (1703-1791 above right).

Whitefield was the best-known preacher and one of the most widely known personalities in public life throughout England and America in the 18th century. He traveled through all of the colonies drawing enormous crowds and was one of the most recognized public figures in America before George Washington. Benjamin Franklin listened to him (without sharing his convictions) in Philadelphia and was astounded that his voice could be heard by tens of thousands at one time. He preached over 18,000 times and crossed the Atlantic seven times to itinerate in the colonies and was of the first to ever preach to slaves. Along with Wesley, he is credited as the co-founder of the Methodist movement.

Wesley, while also a speaker, focused on the organizational structure of the movement. He gave it shape and form through the infamous Methodist societies, classes and bands with their intense accountability and discipline. He was the organizational genius behind the movement.

It is bad history to devalue Whitefield’s contribution. His leadership was inspirational. But when it comes to the depth of social influence and sustainability of the movement, Whitefield doesn’t come close to the long-term impact of John Wesley. At the end of the day, effective organization won out.

Any movement, no matter how dynamic or how infused it may be with the power and the presence of the Triune God, is not sustainable without organization. Effective structure is essential.

What happens is that the organization that evolves to serve the movement invariably outlives the original movement, and what’s left is a shell that is powerless and impotent. But that inevitability is no excuse to write off the necessity of structure without which the immediate becomes transitory and even less is sustainable for the future.

6 Responses to “Anti-organizational Bias”

  1. Rick Says:

    I know in my experience, it’s not “organization” that turns me off; what turns me off is when churches operate more like corporations and businesses. When evangelism turns from sharing into marketing, when worship turns from being God-focused into a rock-concert, when deacons turn from being spiritual sages into successful businessmen, and when sermons turn from Gospel into self-help seminars. Yes, the past fifty years has taught America a lot about how to run a successful business, but I think the Lord is very disappointed when we bring those business models into his holy temple. We ought to be organized, but we don’t need to be corporate.

  2. Tyler Says:

    Good reminder, that is one reason I’ve always appreciated my Methodist heritage. The question is “What do we do now?” We have movements and institutions, resources and needs—how do we organize with out seizing up, how do we meet needs efficiently, do we let powerless, impotent shells die or try to revive them?

  3. Zona Says:

    I stand convicted. I just had a significant conversation of my fear of succumbing to and leading organization. But you’re absolutely right and my generation – we are shiftless and want everything easy there’s no getting around it- we want effectiveness without the hassle of policy and all those nasty words that we all rely on and what make things tick. May we seek the avenue of spirit led organization and revel in it.

  4. RichK (Richard King) Says:

    Thanks and amen, Sam! The ‘church’ is not a business, but its business is getting the Gospel out. The more effectively and efficiently the church does so, the greater the number of people who will hear about Christ and the greater the beneficial effects on society as Christian principles penetrate it.

    Jesus could perform miracles, yet He chose to work with and through people, sending them out with specific instructions about implementing His tactics and strategy. From then to now, reality shows that we all must depend upon others for timely and successful completion of projects bigger than any person can complete alone.

    That reliance requires planning, organization, leadership and control—Management. This is difficult because the church necessarily depends upon volunteers, but doing so is vital for other reasons, too. For starters, (1) Management failures in the church give the ungodly excuses to blaspheme. (2) Tolerance of slipshod work, incompetence, laziness, etc., does not glorify God; He is “a great King” and He expects spotless and unblemished offerings. (3) ‘Performance Review’ is coming—at the Bema of Christ.

    While the organization can outlive (and forsake) the original vision, this need not occur if the leaders set their faces like flint to prevent it and stick to implementing the original mission.

  5. Bob Middleton Says:

    As a person who has had significant experience in two different “movements”, one older the other younger, I have seen this first hand and in several different stages. But I believe the problem isn’t organization, after all organization only organizes things, but lack of motivational steam in the movements. Many movements in the protestant church since the Reformation seem to be reactionary, rather than Spirit-inspired creative forces for the dissemination of the Gospel. Those that are creative usually are centered around the leadership of a man (like Billy Graham), and tend to fade when the leader passes. Any movement or group who’s main emphasis isn’t culturally transcendent will eventually fade.

  6. Dan Says:

    I heard Charles Simpson speak on “trans-generational leadership” yesterday evening. It seams that organization is good if it is following the right model, family—not a corporation. Working for future generations is critical. Jesus had the gospel from the Father, and passed it to his disciples, making them sons of God, who then were commanded to pass on the gospel to others, who would do the same… In this way the message is culturally transcendent passed generationally to physical or spiritual sons -to us today.

    I’m not sure I was able to get that across quite how I wanted, but the importance of leading sustainably through the structure of family really resonates with me.

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