Once upon a time, I was a church-management know-nothing. I deliberately avoided any of the tawdry books about increasing attendance, about church marketing, about management and leadership with a thin theological icing. I knew I was spiritually superior to people who relied on such works, and I didn’t bother to learn anything about the claims I rejected.
That was a long time ago. I’m still cautious, skeptical, about the relation of “management” to the life of that peculiar institution, the church, but I’m more guardedly skeptical, and I hope I’m humbler. For instance, although I agree with some of the points Jay Bauman makes in an article for TheOoze, I would want to couch his criticisms differently, and to register an appreciation for management/leadership theory. Yes, you heard me right.
I’ve learned enough from my neighbors online — some of whom include those grievous sinners, the marketers — and from experience in churches and academic institutions, and from my retired colleague John Dreibelbis, that I see ways I’ve benefited from business theory. I’d steer away from thinking of that as “management” (for reasons I’ll stipulate in a minute) and “marketing,” but I participate more productively in various contexts through a refined understanding of organizations, communication, and desire. I expect that a large part of Bauman’s work as an Executive Pastor draws heavily on responses and insights informed by his business experience.
At the same time, Bauman’s arguments rightly point toward subtler versions of his critique. No one has laid this out with more clarity and theological nuance than my friend Phil Kenneson in Selling Out the Church. Alasdair MacIntyre tackles the ideology of management in After Virtue and Against the Self-Images of the Age. Even Chris Locke has gone on record (in last night’s Chief Blogging Officer report, if not earlier) as an anti-marketer. I’m not going to rehearse here the points they all make at much greater length, with admirable subtlety, but will simply assent that a great proportion of what gets passed toward churches as management theory or appropriate marketing ought to be passed even further — to the dumpster.
That last increment, though? The what’s-left-over after we throw out the dross? I hope that my colleagues don’t fall for the same spiritual pomposity to which I fell victim. We can’t afford to decide in advance that we have nothing more to learn, in any area. Sometimes, though, we learn most when we’re learning something a little different from what the teacher thinks we should be learning. I’m still cautious and skeptical.