Jim Collins of Built to Last and Good to Great fame has an interesting chapter in Leading Beyond the Walls: How High-Performing Organizations Collaborate for Shared Success. In “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down,” he talks about organizations of the future,
[in the future] the defining boundary will be a permeable membrane defined by values, purpose, and goals; organizations will be held together by mechanisms of connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice, rather than by systems of coercion and control. Executives will need to accept the fact – always true but now impossible to ignore – that the exercise of leadership is inversely proportional to the exercise of power.
These echoes of the one who once said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” led me to compare some of Jim’s other insights to the way we operate in the Church. So when he defines great organizations as places where core values and fundamental purposes stimulate ongoing responsive change in things such as operating practices, strategies, tactics, processes, structures, and methods, I can’t help but sigh. Using this definition, I’m afraid the Church sometimes does the opposite. There are times when we immortalize structures, methods, practices, and operating procedures while watching fundamental shifts in core values and fundamental purposes.
Jim even specifically references great churches who he claims, “understand the fundamental values and purpose of the religion must remain fixed while the specific practices and venues of worship change in response to the realities of a younger generation.”
Could we develop more fluids structures and organization within the UMC? Might we someday realize that the 800 page (and expanding) Book of Discipline is a bit too modernistic and unwieldy for the challenges facing our world? Could we simply and succinctly emphasize core practices and values that are marks of a United Methodist – things that mark ones commitment and connection – while encouraging creativity and flexibility in structural and organizational elements? What do you think?