In Praise of the Inefficient Church

By Paul Koch

Over the years I have read quite a bit about the influence of Scientific Management in our schools, corporations and military but I had never really thought much about its influence in the church. Scientific Management views efficiency as the highest good. So if you want a good and well-oiled society the best way to get it is to engineer it to be as efficient as possible. Schools need to track students and guide them to fill a specific role in society and so people are viewed as part of a machine, each providing a crucial piece and working with the highest efficiency. Such things don’t happen by chance; they need to be scientifically managed to reach the best outcome.

Efficiency then demands hierarchy. If things are going to work at peak efficiency there must be managers to make sure everything runs smoothly and willful subordinates to fulfill their roles. If you have ever read Huxley’s Brave New World this is essentially what you find in the “Alpha” through “Epsilon” classification of people. The “Alpha pluses” and “double pluses” being the managers of all those beneath them. Everyone has their place and is working toward the same goal. The engine of society runs efficiently.

The thing is, this love of efficiency has a firm hold in the church as well. It rears its ugly head every time the hierarchy becomes the center of conversation. Whether it is a conversation about how much we love (or don’t love) our current president, how we need to make sure we get this or that memorandum on the ballot at convention, or how we ought to support one recognized service organization over another. In a subtle yet distinct move, our attention and hope is shifted from the actual people of our congregations and the application of God’s Law and Gospel in their lives to the demands of efficiency.

It is fascinating that every time I find myself in conversation among a group of pastors the conversation will undoubtedly shift from the heart of our vocation, preaching and teaching, to the call of efficiency, the bureaucracy. Success, however it might be defined, is wishfully placed in the right form or type of managers within the church. What pisses me off, and ought to piss you off, is that this nod to the altar of efficiency has a way of stifling honest conversation about becoming better preachers and teachers. Our pastors are encouraged to think more about proper management rather than proper distinction of Law and Gospel.

I believe the church does her best work when the management fails her. When either out of disgust or exhaustion the church turns away from the call of efficient organization she tends to focus instead on the heart of her existence – the task of killing and making alive. When the management takes a back seat (or is completely forgotten) that is when churches and pastors thrive. For when Scientific Management is kicked to the curb they are left to speak about things other than conventions or the latest techniques of efficiency. They are instead left mired in the inefficient and broken lives of the body of Christ.

Now sure, the inefficient church will probably never be very big. It will never meet all the needs of the community and never come up with clever programs that wow the management. But the inefficient church will have people and it will focus them on proclaiming the Word of God. The inefficient church will clumsily break down and bind up the saints over and again. The inefficient church will remind us all that we are not cogs in a machine but are the living breathing body of Christ.

The inefficient church might just dare to do what is necessary and not simply what keeps things running smoothly!

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One thought on “In Praise of the Inefficient Church

  1. . You have given those of us in the pews an excellent insider’s perspective on management and bureaucracy within the LCMS. I think we suspected it was true that large church denominations and synods also have the same managerial models as a running business, even though it is in the business of saving lost souls and nurturing the body of Christ. And then there is the unavoidable and annoying factor of church “politics” to consider as well. I honestly think the twelve Apostles experienced these things in some manner, walking behind the Master Himself. Our Lord assigned them specific tasks as they organized into the first New Testament ministry. Perhaps, there was competition for the Lord’s attention, some wrangling over tasks and methods, some unhappy campers complaining about the duties they were given, while other members did less. The first church organization in the Acts was a microcosm of all the churches that would forever follow….efficient to some degree, imperfect as well. In any case, like you suggest, the managerial is tied to the practical ways we organize time and performance, but we should never lose sight of the importance of the mission and the fundamental purpose for which we have been called as workers in God’s vineyards.

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