Shifting Values, Structural Monuments?

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?

6 thoughts on “Shifting Values, Structural Monuments?

  1. I wonder if one reason the UMC keeps adding detail to the Discipline is that we find it so difficult to agree on core practices and values. Maybe it’s “easier” to go into moralistic and legalistic detail instead of wrestling with what we believe and do that really makes us who we are. Just the first thought that popped into my head when I read your post.

  2. I think you’re right John. As the core withers, the periphery expands exponentially.

    I also think the Discipline represents clinging to a modern way of approaching the world: have a problem –> make a rule, write it in the rule book = problem solved. *ugh*

  3. Matt, you left out fight over the rule in the judicial and legislative arms of the church.

    I love your observation, here. I’m not sure what it would look like in practice, though.

  4. Looks like Bishop Schnase shares some of your feeling on this. Here’s from his latest post:

    The United Methodist Church at every level—local, district, conference, and general church—must become more agile, flexible, nimble, and quick to adapt and to change and to respond. Vibrant, growing, fruitful congregations develop systems and practices that allow quick and creative development from inspiration to fruition, from the seedlings of good ideas to fruitful impact on peoples’ lives.

  5. morning dr judkins…

    it is an interesting thing that, as you note, even in the face of a shrinking core the supporting structure continues to expand…kind of like a star in the red giant stage. what i find so interesting within our annual conference is the ongoing argument over how it is that we are to define pastoral effectiveness. something as basic, as straightforward, as answering what it means to “make disciples” gets lost in a maze of rules and regulations. Our membership, our number of confirmands, and our number of professions of faith may be dropping like a rock…but at least our probationary deacons and elders don’t wear their stoles. sheesh…

  6. John – you’re right, that fight is a weird power-struggle over the right to lead from a top-down modernist perspective. It misses, once again, the whole point of the shifts taking place in larger culture.

    Thanks for sharing Bishop Schnase’s thoughts. Good stuff. Let’s see how it plays out in practice.

    RDS – Now, now, we’re not “tenured” just yet big boy. Sit back down in the boat! haha

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