Whether we like it or not, those of us who are pastors work within the confines of “organized religion.” Part of it comes out of necessity. We have programs to plan, buildings to maintain, and budgets to meet. However, when our focus shifts from ministry to maintenance, we lose our way!
Judson Edwards, in his book, The Leadership Labyrinth, warns that “the more organized the church becomes the less it accomplishes.” I believe that. We have to ask ourselves if we, in our ministries, have organized ourselves to points of ineffectiveness.
Edwards shares a story about a city boy visiting his cousin, who lived in the country. To impress his visitor from the city, the cousin offered to show him a neat trick. “Do you know how to mesmerize a chicken?” he asked. “Mesmerize? Uh-uh. What’s that?” “Follow me.” The cousin led the way to a ramshackle chicken coop out behind the farmhouse. He selected a fine, white hen, put it under his arm, and marched to the front of the house. Then he took a piece of chalk and drew a line on the porch. He stood the hen over the chalk line and held her beak to it. After a little while, the boy slowly removed his hands, but the hen remained motionless, hypnotized by the chalk line. Cousin had mesmerized a chicken. “Let’s do another one. Let’s do another one,” McKenzie’s father pleaded. And so they did. They mesmerized one chicken after another until the chicken coop was empty and the front porch was filled with motionless chickens with their beaks on the chalk line (Source: A Chicken’s Fate by Gordon MacKenzie).
The same thing that happened to those chickens can happen to us. He concludes that when we join an organization, we are, without fail, taken by the back of the neck and pushed down and down until our beak is on a line—not a chalk line, but a company line. And the company line says things like: “This is our history. This is our philosophy. These are our policies. These are our procedures. These are our politics. This is simply the way we are.” Pretty soon, the focus shifts. It’s about keeping rules. Meetings. Motions. Policies. Bylaws. Etc. Etc.
So how do we avoid the death grip of over-organization?
- Change the rules. We can do that! Yes! Our rules and policies are not holy writ. If we find something that isn’t working or isn’t clear, let’s boldly change it! Tweaking things only makes us feel better –we must be willing to make significant changes and face the risks that come with the change. (Which leads us to #2.)
- Take risks. We need to get beyond “doing things the way we’ve always done them.” Yes, some things should never change, but we have to discern the difference between God’s message and our methods. Too many people think “keeping things the same” is a virtue. It’s not. Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, says, “When the rate of external change exceeds the rate of internal change, disaster is imminent.” Be willing to embrace needed changes, even when you feel a bit uneasy.
- Simplify. It’s incredible how we complicate things. We add and never remove policies or programs that no longer work. A few of our churches stopped all their programs for a year (except Sunday Worship). While that seems very unsettling, they were able to step back and evaluate what ministries were really needed.
- Work together. Let’s not give up on each other! Sometimes we are tempted to show contempt for people rather than the problem. Progress can be slow, but we need patience and perseverance. We need each other!
- Believe the best days are ahead. I just happen to believe that we serve that kind of God. Jesus said that he would build his church. We must claim that promise and move forward in faith.
Has your local church become too organized? What are some crucial changes? What about our Conference and Denomination? What do we need to leave behind? How can we embrace a productive future together? What do you think?