Control or Commitment in the UMC

February 14, 2008 at 8:43 am 4 comments

In my last post, I reflected on some of Jim Collins’ insights from his chapter in Leading Beyond the Walls: How High Performing Organizations Collaborate for Shared Success. Jim’s chapter is the best in the book, so it merits another post (don’t buy the book on this basis, by the way – just read his chapter in the store).

He begins his second point with these words,

…executives must build mechanisms of connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice, rather than relying on systems of coercion and control.

Think about United Methodism (and most organizations for that matter). Do we rely on connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice or do we rely on systems of coercion and control? From administration to evangelism, I’m afraid that we often rely on the latter. Jim describes his high-powered research team and talks about the way he recruits people for that team,

…as a precursor to all our mechanisms of commitment and connection, each person invited to join the team receives a written and verbal orientation on team values, purpose, and performance standards and is asked to join only if he or she can commit to those principles. Before joining, each person is told, “If you have any doubt about whether this is the right place for you, then it is in our mutual interest that you decline this opportunity.

I don’t know about you, but this kind of rigorous introduction to the values and purpose of the organization reminds me of the old Christian catechism. Is it sad that becoming a member of Jim’s research team is more stringent and commitment laden than becoming a member of some of our churches?

It goes back to the basics here. If you don’t have team values, purpose, and performance standards, you can’t present them to people, and you sure can’t ask for commitment. Can you imagine having a clear, confident, and concise statement like that defining the mission of your local church? You could hand this to new visitors and say, “Here’s what we’re about, and everyone here is committed to it. If you have any doubt, it is in our mutual interest that you decline this opportunity.” Talk about true connectionalism!! This could be the same for clergy. Our connection could be in our adherence and commitment to core principles rather than in bureaucratic structures.

People often ask, “How do we get individuals to share our core values?” The answer is, “You can’t.” You can’t open somebody up and install new core values in his or her belly. The key is to find, attract, and select people who have a predisposition to sharing the core values, and to create an environment that consistently reinforces those core values, buttressing it with mechanisms of connection and commitment.

Interestingly, the predisposition can really be linked to the Christian concept of calling. I don’t twist arms to get people to join our congregation. My thoughts are that if they see what we’re doing and want to be a part of it, then they are welcome to invest their lives in our congregation and live our their faith in our community. If you have to be coerced, you won’t be committed.

Of course, God is the one who does all the calling and attracting. Once we have a little more faith in that, we can define and develop our core values more clearly.  Then we won’t have to rely so much on mechanisms of power and coercion. Only then can we describe and develop mechanisms of true commitment and true connection.

Jim write, “The minute you feel the need to control and mold someone, you’ve made a selection mistake.” We’ve been so vague about what people are committing to that we have to develop more stringent control methods and we end up arguing and spending valuable time working on power structures. On the other hand, a core of people committed to Christ, called by God, and enlivened by the Spirit will be thoroughly committed to the ongoing mission of the Church. Control and manipulation would just stunt the vibrant stuff that would come out of these folks, be they clergy or laity.

There’s a lot more I could say on this, but I don’t want to short-circuit the ideas that you’re coming up with. What are our core values? Once we articulate those, what mechanisms of connection and commitment could we implement to replace our mechanisms of power and control? Can the United Methodist Church survive thrive using a model that went out the window with cassette tapes and VHS? What do you think?

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Entry filed under: Practical Theology, United Methodist. Tags: , , .

Shifting Values, Structural Monuments? Blazing Pulpits

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Meunier  |  February 14, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Is there a word other than “core values” that works here?

    What did Wesley say? We are open to all those who wish to flee from the wrath to come.

    I like to reverse the spin on that statement – we are open to all those who wish to draw closer to God.

    Once you are in the door, then we start talking about deeper levels of commitment. Wesley and his “front porch” of faith are probably too modernist though for the kind of approach you are trying to develop. He was big on systems.

    Reply
  • 2. Matt  |  February 14, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Maybe a more Wesleyan term would be core practices.

    I think Wesley’s openess to those who wish to flee from the wrath to come was also focused on embracing core values/practices/commitments. For Wesley, the very act of fleeing, I believe, was an embrace of new levels of discipline rather than simply walking through an open door.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating closing ourselves off. It just seems that we’ve worked out of this metaphor (door, porch, etc.) for years and all it has done is crowd the porch. How’s that for trying to instigate more discussion?

    Reply
  • 3. John  |  February 14, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Jim write, “The minute you feel the need to control and mold someone, you’ve made a selection mistake.” We’ve been so vague about what people are committing to that we have to develop more stringent control methods and we end up arguing and spending valuable time working on power structures.

    Collins’ model only works so far. Our response is supposed to be that of encouraging people to grow in grace.

    On the other hand, a core of people committed to Christ, called by God, and enlivened by the Spirit will be thoroughly committed to the ongoing mission of the Church.

    Collins expresses this also in Good to Great, when he argues that you should not hire people unless they’re already top-tier. When in doubt, don’t hire. But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to church with the people that you have. Even committed believers (including clergy) have growing to do. If we wait to have perfected believers before we do ministry, we won’t be doing any ministry at all.

    Reply
  • 4. Kevin Watson  |  February 14, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Matt – I really resonate with what you are saying about fleeing the wrath to come actually being an embrace of a new level of discipline. As my Methodist History and Doctrine professor pointed out, it was very easy to become a Methodist, but it was much more difficult to remain a methodist. The General Rules (do no harm, do good, practice the means of grace) were the plumb line Wesley used to see if people were really sincere in their desire to flee the wrath of God/draw closer to God.

    You can preach about a crowded porch all day, and I will be right with you! Maybe forcing that a step farther, we need to figure out how to move our worship service from the front porch into the house!

    Reply

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