Helping people work together

How do people work together in today's technological society? More specifically how can church leaders and lay leaders combine their efforts so as to be productive rather than disruptive?

John W. Fowler is president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

America is undergoing a profound sociological revolution following close on the heels of a technological revolution and fueled by the behavioral sciences. Gordon F. Shea says this revolution is ((as far-reaching as any in history, is as fundamental as the emergence of democracy and self-govern and the rise of capitalism."1

This sociological ferment affects how individuals and groups, particularly secular and religious organizations, inter act. Its greatest impact is in the area of management. The development and application of "humanitarian" management principles within organizations stem from this sociological revolution and specifically from the work of social scientists, who are researching better ways for people to interact within social structures. This article will identify some of those humanitarian management principles applicable to the work of the church.

Norman Shawchuck, professor of church management at McCormick Theological Seminary, sees the application of humanitarian management principles to the church as theologically sound and necessary. He writes: "Management in the church is theology in action. The structures and programs of the church give body to the life of Christ within the organized church. Management practice is perhaps the purest form of practical (practicing) theology." 2

Neal C. Wilson, world leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, acknowledged the importance of this emphasis within the church in his reference to the use of "management principles" during his keynote address at the 1980 General Conference session in Dallas.

<p>Leaders' views of human nature often dictate their understanding and application of management principles. Christian leaders will identify more with McGregor's Y than with his X theory of management.<sup>3</sup> The first assumes that people belong to their organization because they sincerely desire its good and are willing to do all they can to see it succeed. The second sees people as lazy and irresponsible. This latter assumption lessens trust and confidence within the organization and hinders effective inter action.</p> <p>Humanitarian management principles in the church are predicated on the belief that Christian people are basically honest, upright, and trustworthy, desiring primarily the success of the organization and the advancement of God's work. While we recognize that people are often driven by fear, anger, ambition, and selfishness, we believe that God's grace is able to hold these negative drives in check and free people to work together effectively for the good of the church.</p> <p>Asserting that management principles must be understood in the context of satisfying and productive relationships in no way compromises performance standards and the pursuit of challenging goals within the church. In fact, just the opposite is true. This approach appears to be the only way to bring the needed commitment, involvement, and achievement within an organization, particularly a church organization. Helping people learn how to work together in a satisfying and productive way is the essence of management practice.</p> <p>H.M.S. Richards, Sr., expressed it well when asked at a workers' meeting in Missouri what he thought about management principles: ">4


Humanitarian management principles

The first humanitarian management principle is consensus. People will inter act effectively and satisfyingly in achieving common goals only if they agree on the goals. We refer to this as goal ownership. If the majority of the group identify with the goals set and are committed to them, they will work to accomplish those goals.

To achieve consensus, leaders must ask certain questions. Once Napoleon was asked how he was so effective in his military conquests. He replied that he had five astute helpers that never failed him: the simple questions What? Why? Where? How? and When? Finding good answers to those questions enabled Napoleon to be one of the world's greatest military leaders. Those questions may prove helpful to church leaders, also. In church organizations, however, the groups determine the answers; church leaders must direct the groups in processing the questions until a consensus develops regarding the answers. This is the only way in an educated, cultured, and at times skeptical society that a consensus can be developed and goal ownership achieved. Sociological studies in organizational development have discovered that any group of workers who feel they are being used to achieve goals that belong only to leadership will resist the goals and consciously or unconsciously sabotage their achievement. 5

Developing a consensus as to what the church is supposed to do and how it is to do it is the first step in building trusting relationships.

The second management principle is delegation. Trusting relationships are necessary to delegation of authority. If the leaders of an organization can delegate authority to the lowest possible level, their organization becomes very powerful. In the church, delegation of authority to the grass-roots level allows an intrinsic motivation to develop at that level, enlisting the willing support of a large majority within the church. If everyone owns the goals and puts his shoulder to the wheel, a powerful drive develops. This is the stuff movements are made of.

In church organizations, leadership needs to develop a consensus concerning the direction the church should take. However, each unit of organization must set its own goals and develop its own action plans within the parameters negotiated with the corporate body.

Upon his return from a celebrated trip to Iowa in 1959, Nikita Khrushchev raved about the production of com as animal feed. For years afterward every state and collective farm, no matter what its climate, had to plant corn. The result was spotty com production and no miracle in animal feed. Communist Party chief Leonid Brezhnev, who followed Khrushchev, learned from past mistakes and "insisted that 'farms should plant crops suited to their local conditions and be allowed methods that suit the conditions.'" 6

The next principle is the development of the human resources of the organization. Possibly leaders' greatest failure is delegating responsibility and authority to individuals without properly training and equipping them. If a person is committed to a particular task and has the gifts and skills to accomplish it, that person will generally be highly motivated and effective in his or her work. Ellen G. White says that the work of the pastor in training the laity is even more important than preaching. 7

Very few churches have developed a comprehensive training program for the members of their congregations. The result is that they have far too few capable, well-trained, experienced lay leaders. If a church has a strong pastor, it does well. With a weak pastor little happens. A similar problem appears to exist at every level of organization. A rapidly changing information society demands continuing education for every category of church employee as well as for the laity. It is time that our denomination seriously address this basic management principle. We laud the efforts being made here in North America; some progress is evident, but much remains to be done.

Our denomination needs a support system that will provide encouragement for each level of organization and specifically for the local church. It must also provide the training opportunities requested by each level of organization. Only then will the members of the body of Christ begin to interact in a satisfying and productive way. This effort will cause each level of organization to focus downward where church growth actually takes place, until finally the total resources of the denomination are made available to the local church. Focusing downward to the unit of organization that actually produces the consumer product is characteristic of successful organizations. 8

The next principle is developing responsible relationships within the organization. People must relate effectively together if they are to achieve the common goals. They must have clearcut goals, abiding principles, and adequate guidelines with which they can evaluate relationships and the behavior of individuals and groups. Relationships of confidence and trust demand a high level of responsibility. A gardener took great pride in caring for his lawn. One year, however, dandelions infested it. He tried every method and product to get rid of them, but nothing worked. Exasperated, he wrote to the Department of Agriculture, explaining all he had done and asking what to try next. By return mail he received the response "Try getting used to them."9 That's basically what has happened within the church. Too often we accustom ourselves to irresponsible relationships and unproductive behavior in both the clergy and the laity.

Responsible relationships in the work of the church demand that a lack of performance be confronted. Accountability is essential. Associates who cannot confront each other effectively will never develop mature and rewarding relationships. Even between the best of friends, one will occasionally do something that bothers the other and threatens to impair the relationship. If they are unable to work out these differences, the relationship will deteriorate and performance will suffer. An information system and frequent feedback are essential to accountability. How irresponsible relationships are con fronted within the church is crucial. However, space will not allow further elaboration of this important question.

Finally, there must be rewards within the church organization. 10 While the church cannot reward laymen or its paid workers with higher wages or promotion as do secular organizations, it can provide them with the greatest rewards possible in this life. A few of those rewards are the continual growth and development of their spiritual gifts, a satisfying and fruitful ministry within the church, a harmonious relationship with their fellow workers, a sense of achieve ment in helping to bring unity of action to the body of Christ, the attainment of goals at every level of organizational structure, and, finally, the continual advancement of the kingdom of God.

Implementing these principles will bring results. However, commitment and patience are necessary. Participative leadership requires a greater sharing of authority and responsibility than traditional methods of church growth. Since the churches have become dependent on church leadership and the church organization, their thinking must be reoriented so they will be willing to assume responsibility for their own growth. Retraining local church leaders, enabling them to give effective leader ship, takes time. There is no quick fix. However, we must not allow the time factor to discourage us. We must make a beginning!

The proof of the pudding

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating." We have attempted to put these principles into practice in the Ohio Conference, and I have seen them produce positive results in three areas. We wanted, for instance, to develop a support system for the pastoral ministry. So we employed Paul Robberson, a Seventh-day Adventist, as a consultant to work with the pastors in identifying what support activities they needed from the conference and how those activities could be supplied.

Desiring a consensus concerning what the pastors are supposed to do, we asked them to write their own job description. This, in turn, formed the basis for planning the conference support system.

The pastors requested that the conference dispense with departments that sell programs to them. Instead they wanted it to provide individuals who would labor alongside the pastors, helping them individually to work through the problems they face and assisting the local churches to create viable programs for growth.

As a result, the conference retrained the departmental directors and reorganized their activities to provide the help the pastors were requesting. The concept of conference consultants, whom we call assistants to the president, was born. The departmental leaders then became an integral part of administration, serving as consultants to the pastors. Some of them were given additional training as consultants--one in nurture, one in outreach, and one in church administration. (When the pastors wrote their job descriptions, we found that all their work fit in one or another of these three major categories.)

At the first workers' meeting where the support system was presented to the pastors, the three consultants shared how they could help pastors and churches. We distributed request slips for their services among the pastors. To our amazement, we received twenty twenty-seven requests for the consultants. Church administration received the fewest because it was the least under stood. However, since then, more requests have come in for help in church administration than in any other area.

Second, we applied these management principles to the conference's planning process. Over the weekend a planning committee comprised of seventy individuals--forty pastors and thirty laymen--met to identify the key result areas in church growth. The seventy individuals were divided into ten groups of seven each. They were asked to develop a list of not less than five and not more than seven key result areas. The key result areas were to suggest the primary focus for planning at the local church level.

Each group worked through the week end, its activity interspersed with the regular worship services, small group Bible study, et cetera. On Sunday morning the groups reported their lists of key result areas. Surprisingly the ten lists were similar. It was not difficult to gain a consensus on five key result areas: nurture, church growth, evangelism, leadership training, and finances. Later we refined the five areas to three basic areas: nurture, outreach, finance. We considered leadership training part of all three.

The conference executive committee, the pastors at large, and the local churches accepted these three key result areas as the basis for each church's planning. It has taken time to educate the churches as to the need for planning. After four years a majority of churches are planning regularly for church growth. (For one church's set of plans, see page 9.)

The final area concerned the conference executive committee. At its latest regular constituency session (spring, 1984) the Ohio Conference enlarged its executive committee to twenty-nine members, a majority of them being laypeople. Primarily these laypeople are professional people with heavy responsibilities in business and industry.

Immediately we set out to develop a consensus on a job description for the conference executive committee and its several subcommittees, including the administrative committee. We also needed norms to guide the committee process. Using questionnaires and small group work, we developed job descriptions. In the same way we established sixteen group norms to guide committee processes. (See box accompanying article.) Reaching this kind of consensus took several months, but within one year the committee began to function effectively. Now we evaluate the committee process periodically so we can discuss our progress or lack of it.

The apostle Paul best summarized the results of practicing Christian principles of management when he said: "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Eph. 4:15, 16, N.I.V.).  

1 Building Trust in the Workplace (American
Management Association publication, 1984),

2 "Church Management: The Architecture of
Ministry," Christianity Today, July 20, 1979, p. 20.

3 The Human Relations Pocket Memo (1980).

4 H.M.S. Richards, St., taped message, Missouri
workers' meeting, 1978.

5 Richard Sennett, "'You Cannot Ever Make
People Enjoy Being Ruled,'" U.S. News & World
Report, April 27, 1981, p. 79."

6 Harry Anderson, et al., "A System That
Doesn't Work," Newsweek, April 12, 1982, p. 37.

7 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1948), vol. 7, p. 20.

8 Benjamin B. Trecoe, "Productivity in
America," AMA Management Review, February,
1983, p. 28.

9 Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of
Enterprise (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.,

10 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church,
vol. 5, p. 467; vol. 9, p. 285; Counsels on
Stewardship (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald
Pub. Assn., 1940), p. 227.

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John W. Fowler is president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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