Not some scientific discovery, but a sociological fact may well be the great headline of the twentieth century: men have learned to work together. Even if they have trouble living together, they at least know how to labor co-operatively. Foreshadowed in the nineteenth century, this great organizational trend has reached its fruition in our day, dominating not only the commercial realm but the intellectual as well. With the world too big and too fast to understand let alone control even to a small degree, man has sought emotional, mental, and physical refuge in the Organization. Big government, big business, and big institutions have resulted, and each category has developed a special breed of modern organization man.

Operation Organization

Apparently here to stay, organized bigness warrants analysis and understanding, especially since the church, too, finds itself enmeshed therein. Committees that plan and executives who expedite affairs of the kingdom are familiar facts. Is this philosophy of Operation Organization suitable for the church however? Has this trend any spiritual validity? Efficiency may be necessary in these complex times. When, however, religious organizational machinery regulates and overrides both the individual and the church, then strong protest is in order.

Ignorance of this trend in church life reveals either lack of contact with the church or sheer blindness to what transpired. Church government once controlled religious bodies. Today, however, instead of governed churches we have administered denominations. Administrative groups now range alongside traditional church governments and take responsibility for more and more functions once controlled by the church governments. Much of this transference was necessitated, it must be admitted, by poor and inept church government; often only the devoted and energetic work of administrative executives prevented a total breakdown of the church program.

Organization, technically speaking, is that part of the denominational leadership which is supported only for administrative purposes. In denominations ruled by bishops this statement may not appear valid, since a bishopric government and administration normally heads in one man. But even here, an administrative organization has arisen alongside the rule of government. By contrasting the present and original structures of the various denominations, the distinction between government and administration becomes readily apparent. Some observers affirm that administration is only an extension of church government. Others, however, express deep concern over granting to administrative organization the sanction of government.

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Among the dangers of organization is its careless disregard for the individual; personal worth, after all, is a central tenet of Christianity. On the dust jacket appears this descriptive summary of The Organizational Man: “The Clash between the individual beliefs he is supposed to follow and the collective life he actually lives—and his search for a faith to bridge the gap.” Chapter headings—many ministers could superimpose these captions over their church functionings—include: Belongingness, Togetherness, A Generation of Bureaucrats, The Practical Curriculum, The Pipe Line, The Well-Rounded Man, The Executive Ego, the Tests of Conformity, The Fight Against Genius, The Bureaucratization of the Scientist [Theologian], Love That System, and The Web of Friendship. Some of these emphases taste of Christian virtue; under the organizational complex, however, they may become actual vices.

New Source Of Authority

Previous generations found their religious authority in the Bible, in the creed, or in both. Today, however, religious man finds his authority in the religious organization. While the Roman Catholic church has carefully transformed organization into something sacred with an absoluteness geared to winning modern man, it has done so without taking administrative authority from church government. Protestant churches have not yet effected such a union of the sacred and human, although there may he administrative authorities who hope in this direction.

If the religious organization man is more specialized in the humanities or perhaps a better public speaker than the organization man of commerce or government, he nonetheless differs from him in motivation and value judgment only by great personal effort. A minister disinterested in organization is considered somewhat suspect, for everyone is supposed to become involved in regional and national activities promoting the organizational program. If the organization offers a minister some special responsibility he feels honored. Acceptance means facing the problems of the organization. Pressure for organizational conformity comes through communication media, education, social pressure, and possibilities of professional advancement.

Fortunately almost everyone in the religious organization espouses personal faith, and usually men of great personal integrity have moved to the top administrative posts. Even integrity, however, is inadequate to correct the foibles of human nature in an organization. Organization demands conformity. A leader surrounds himself, therefore, with those indebted to him and accordingly compliant to his will. As men build their own parts of the organization, they engage in occasional power struggles. And they may display an alarming disregard for the Christian doctrine of the priesthood of believers. Lacking, too, may be administrative faith in the common man, the local church, and in the local pastor. While awaiting directives from higher echelons, pastor and people in the local church, therefore, may soon lose heart and initiative.

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Service Or Control?

In addition to its threat to the individual, the organization poses two major problems for the church: first, its tendency to control the church, and second, the organization’s tenacious determination to perpetuate itself.

The first problem is a clear case of the tail wagging the dog. The administrative organization properly exists to serve the church, but the fine line between serving and controlling is easily blurred or altered in the course of operations. By straddling most lines of communication the organization soon has undue power to influence the affairs of the church.

Whether in Congregational or Episcopal churches, organizational problems are very similar. This similarity may explain why most pressure in favor of ecumenicity comes from men in the administrative organization. In the different denominations, administrative structure is very much alike and, as far as the administrators are concerned, often much more vital and vigorous than church government. The religious organization man finds similarities in organization far more important than differences in government.

For its work the organization seeks the best and ablest men and sometimes literally robs the church of great and strategic talent. It importunes them through men already in the organization, or on the basis of the task to be done. To recruit the best is only natural since the organization’s problems are difficult and challenging, and the church’s support for its program is really quite meagre.

Tendency To Self-Perpetuation

The second danger of the organization is its tendency to self-perpetuation. The 20 per cent of the ordained ministers of the United Presbyterian Church who soon will be employed outside the pastorate are an example. Since most of these nonpastoral positions are at least partially in or under the organization, the organization thus assures itself a high degree of continuation.

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To guarantee this self-perpetuation the organization has largely captured the theological education of the church. However unobtrusive the pressure may be, the organization nonetheless urges seminaries to reflect the dominant theological views of the denomination, be they liberal, neo-orthodox, or evangelical. Securing conformity is difficult enough, without battling an additional complication of theological diversity. Individual faculties, too, should preferably be of the same persuasion; and in the larger denominations all seminaries are expected to be the same theologically. In the eyes of the organization, seminaries are to produce interchangeable cogs to maintain smooth operation of its machinery. Original independent teachers and unique leaders may be the joy of a denomination; to the organization such persons portend only trouble. “Don’t give the church Luthers or Wesleys,” says the organization to the seminaries. “We can’t use such men.”

Expansion of the administrative organization is quite inevitable. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” says the professor in his humorous book, Parkinson’s Law. Almost any active organization, he notes, will grow about five per cent in any given year even with no increase in output. While Professor Parkinson’s book is hilariously funny, it is sadly apt in describing what is actually happening in the churches.

The religious organization follows a pattern. After a group of concerned ministers or laymen has performed some task for several years as a labor of love, the work inevitably becomes a payroll operation. Then as soon as an executive finds himself with several different types of responsibility, the temptation comes to employ assistants who can be supervised since an administrator’s work ideally should be logical, coherent, and compact. With no check on its Topsy-like growth, such expansion of the organization swallows tremendous material resources.

What can be done about these dangers to the church? Obviously the present mania for organization experiences little opposition in the church. Fundamentalists have no essential quarrel with the concept itself; their discontent centers rather in not having control of the organizational machinery. Both the theologically more conservative denominations and the more liberal communions share similar organizational woes. In their groups, the organization and the organization man operate almost unchecked. In national government Democrats and Republicans look over each other’s shoulders. In business the corporation executive answers to stockholders in his annual statement. If a group in the church, however, tries to organize opposition to the religious organization, it may be accused of opposing either the church or the church government, and is labeled schismatic.

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Actually the organization has devised a unique procedure for dealing with any possible critics. Such persons receive all sorts of honors. Those with prestige are placed on committees, named on letter heads and mastheads, and occasionally assigned some prominent responsibility. They may also be delegates to workshops, seminars, and meetings in distant cities or beautiful resorts. While these techniques require large expenditures of money, they often neutralize potential trouble and discontent.

Some Possible Correctives

Although it seems quite impossible to revert to some simpler period of church life, the present situation is certainly not beyond control. Several persistent questions indicate both the complexity of the situation and also the possibility of its correction.

The central problem is that of the organization’s purpose. Where a church acknowledges Christ as Lord and is governed through the agency of the Holy Spirit, what shall be the function of an administrative organization? Church government arose from a need for doing things decently and in order, but is this need a valid reason for administrative control? How necessary is a centralized executive function and program agency to a church? Can a distinction be made between administration and government in the church? Can administration and government be separated? If the two can be separated, the possible loss of which one would be least detrimental to the church? If there is to be executive organization, shall the church or the organization determine its purpose?

Other related questions quickly follow. How much of the organization exists to support the mission of the church and how much exists to support the organization itself? Is not rigid austerity in stewardship of church money important? Has modem administrative organization effected an improved spiritual condition in local churches? Does the organizational method conform to the discipline of the school of Christ, or does it simply adapt the management principles of industry to the church? Are the values of the marketplace to be the values of the church? Can an obsession with public relations honestly reflect the image of Christ? Does the spirit of competitive self-aggrandizement found in secular business have a rightful place in the Kingdom?

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The organization would probably answer these questions by urging the strengthening of the executive and program agencies of the church to secure greater efficiency and more energetic accomplishment of work. Certainly the church’s work needs prodding; the Christian solution, however, may be not in the organization but in affirming Christ’s kingship in the church.

It is easy but wrong to charge the administrators with the present situation. If there is blame, the whole church is at fault. Even if some may have overreached themselves, administrators as a whole cannot be blamed for aggressively doing their church-appointed tasks. It is the organization rather than its men that is at fault. To change the personnel would provide only temporary improvement; the system itself needs alteration.

How churches should meet this problem is difficult to say because they represent so many differences in church government. Generally speaking, organizations need to be streamlined. Duplication of function should be eliminated and organization policy determined not by its own administration but by church government. Local churches can certainly exercise some initiative in program areas rather than parrot all that arrives in the mail from headquarters. Surely each denomination has areas where its own creative imagination can effect church improvement.

Can the church survive, if it does not control its organization? After all, tremendous resources of material and energy are consumed by the organization. It could therefore provide some of its best service to the church by instituting a self-limiting device for itself. On the other hand, the organization can inspire the government of the church to maintain itself as the Ecclesia semper reformanda.

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