Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Role of the Academy

I was wandering around the blogosphere a bit tonight and ran into this comment posted by Jamie at emergent voyageurs:

"Many students, once leaving academy and entering into church ministry seem to stop thinking theologically, falling into business models of church structure and leadership. A gathering was held to explore why this happens and what can be done about it."

It caught my attention because I am in the "academy" right now hoping that I am thinking about things theologically and with a mind to listen to God in the midst of all this. I'm also thinking about the structure of church and how it should be changing. I thought about it a bit and made the following comments.

I have a couple of observations. I want to apologize ahead of time for the length of my ramblings and the simplistic generalizations. I hope they don’t offend.

The academy should be a place of blue sky biblical thinking - wondering what God wants to do with the church, imagining how the world can be changed because of a church that is doing what Jesus is calling them to do. It should be preparing people to understand their culture and see it with the eyes of Jesus. Instead the academy is often trying to prepare people for what the church looked like 20 years ago. So when students graduate from seminary they are often unprepared for the reality of church and culture as it is.

My experience upon leaving the academy was that it didn't prepare me to be relevant in the world or the church. It didn't prepare me to do theology in a real world environment. It didn’t teach me what people were really like or how to talk to them. It didn’t teach me about suffering and it didn’t tell me how much administration was involved in running a typical church. It didn’t tell me how political church life could be.

It did teach me to believe that the meat of the Word was a correct understanding of Reformed theology instead of humility, servanthood, death to self and learning how to hear and obey the voice of God. It taught me to preach theologically correct sermons instead of a message that changed my heart. It taught me that it was possible to study and understand the Bible in the original language and still be far from, and cold towards, the Word of God.

The academy lives in an ivory tower and the church has created an imaginary world in which to live. The church’s imaginary world parallels the business world in that they are both removed from real people. The business world’s success is measured by the bottom line and whatever it takes to get ahead. It uses people to make money and beat the competition. It needs effective leaders to make the tough decisions to grow the company – even if it means firing a few people or closing a few factories.

A church’s bottom line is often growth, measured by attendance, large buildings, many programs and a big budget. To accomplish this a good leader needs to be in place to make the tough decisions – even if it means firing a few people or eliminating some programs. Churches often use people to improve their bottom line. The leadership (pastor) is expected to put in lots of overtime to make it happen. The organization’s health and success is usually more important than the welfare of a few people who may become disgruntled. So a CEO type leader can be effective at running a large church. Firing staff when he needs to, getting people to run programs they are not gifted at (because we have to have a nursery/Sunday school/bus ministry/etc.) even if it means people are hurt or burned out in the process.

My response is that churches can learn much from many of the business models out there – especially the move toward teams and flatter, smaller organizations. However I think we made it the ideal that churches are to be big organizations instead of smaller organisms. A big organization needs a well-trained CEO. Most pastors are not effective in that role. A smaller group needs a father or a shepherd. The role of the academy is to dream. The role of the church is to disciple people to pastor in their place of business so that businesses can fulfill their role of providing honourable and equitable employment that gives value to people.

1 comment:

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

Thanks for the shout out. Check out my most recent post, which continues on this discussion.

Peace,
Jamie