Notes for my writing

This blog is made up of notes on the gospel as found in the only true and living church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This includes notes that are either excerpts from or ideas for books I either have in draft or may yet write.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Local church leadership vs middle management

As I think back with a little more knowledge and experience it becomes clear to me that there was always an odd mix in the wards I was in. There were people who seemed to think of their positions in the church as being like a business, particularly those positions that brought them into Ward Council, Bishopric meeting or Priesthood Executive Committee meeting. They seemed to feel they were supposed to be managers - they just happened to be managers where part of that management was to tell people they loved them. They had a measure of affection, to be sure, but in retrospect I can't help feel it frequently it was a way they felt obligated to act more than anything else. For a number of them, I think they saw friendship almost as the gospel "management style". Which, sadly, robs friendship of its soul.

Then there were people who I believe really had started to develop some measure of the love of Christ. There was a depth to their interest in people, and an insight that accompanied it that was born of inspiration. I can think of a stake presidency member whose years of military service sometimes made him come across as gruff, but who carried gospel light with him in his dealings with his fellow man. That greater light seemed to be accompanied by greater insight. He had a knack for finding the heart of a matter, and insight into keeping people in the right way.

I can think of a Bishop who, after being released, was criticized by the next Bishop for not doing his priesthood duty because he would often miss much of church to take his adopted son home. His adopted son had pretty serious problems due to physical abuse prior to being adopted. The Bishop who took his son home still strikes me as one who rather strikingly carried the light of the gospel with him as he dealt with people. He was our friend, but not because friendship was how you manage the church. The Bishop who criticized him was a good man too. He really was. But there was a difference. One of them saw the "one sheep" through different eyes than the other, and used a different stick by which to measure priesthood duty.

I am not saying that any of these people was called against the Lord's will. I believe the Lord completely supported them in their callings. Bishop's don't need to be perfect. That is OK. No one wants a "be perfect" requirement suddenly heaped on their back. They are regular members. It would be too much. No one could be a Bishop. The leaders worked really hard and did huge amounts of good in building the Lord's kingdom, and of course the Lord honored their sacrifices.

But I worry that the "being a bishop is middle management" mindset had started to gain some real footing in some of our wards. In at least one stake I believe a relation between church leadership ability and business management ability was openly suggested by the stake president.

Christ did not behave like a company CEO. Had he done so, he would have failed. The scriptures say of Christ:

Mosiah 14:2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him.

Apparently Christ wasn't the most energizing, the most dynamic, the most charismatic leader. That isn't what being a Savior is all about.

Christ called Matthew, who was a publican, to be an apostle. The publicans were generally despised by the people because they were tax collectors for the Romans. That is why the phrase "publicans and sinners" is used as a recurring insult in the new testament. But that wasn't what concerned Christ. He called someone who was despised by the people to be an apostle because Matthew had the spirit of the Lord.

Just as Christ was not like a CEO, Christ's Bishops are not called to be middle management. Worldly ideas about "management" have no place in the church. The scriptures are the manual for running the church. Worldly ideas about management impede true gospel leadership. They grow up around it and constrict it. The scriptures are more the real manual than the handbook of instructions is the real manual. The handbook of instructions may hit more difficult, finicky cases and spell out vastly more bureaucratic rules, but the scriptures are the backbone it is trying to support, and in time the handbook of instructions will be replaced and no one will miss it. By contrast the scriptures are the living water we drink from to have the light of inspiration. Inspiration is the lifeblood of the church. The scriptures are the word of God.

I absolutely, unquestionably think the Lord was very pleased with the work all these local leaders did. Very much so. He accepts our sacrifices even though we err. He honors them for their extensive efforts in his kingdom.

But I still find something repugnant in the idea that church leadership is like middle management in a large company. I'm not sure anyone ever stated it that way precisely, but it seemed to be an underlying assumption for some people. For some, it was as if friendship was a commodity. For some, it was as if friendship was just a "management style". That just comes across differently than gospel light shining through you because it has become so much a part of you. Of course I don't think the Lord will reject the many, many sacrifices in his service made by those who viewed their own church positions in ways influenced by worldly ideas about leadership. Absolutely not. He honors their sacrifices. But the numbers who follow such an idea in their hearts weaken the spirit of the work being done, and thus weakens its ability to accomplish its principle ends - the immortality and eternal life of his children.

They were all very good men.

But the idea that local church leadership should take any inspiration from middle management in a large company is still repulsive.

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