We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lessons from NATO

In May, the Atlantic Council published a report entitled, "Change Management and Cultural Transformation in NATO: Lessons from the Public and Private Sectors," written by Nancy DeViney and Edgar Buckley. It discusses and evaluates reforms being made by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in response to NATO's changing mission in a changing world. This report is also a good reminder that organizations and institutions other than mainline American churches faces substantial challenges in our ever-fluid 21st century world. In many cases, the challenges are similar. DeViney and Buckley could have been writing about mainline denominations when they state of NATO that,
Culturally, NATO’s default behavior patterns no longer match its vocation and mission. The fundamental cultural problem is that it has not adapted its political approach and military means to match its modern role as an international security  organization with responsibilities going beyond simple defense.

It remains a bureaucratic organization which prioritizes process over substance, hierarchy over results, and accounting over value-for-money. It is far too inflexible and resistant to change–a constant source of frustration to successive NATO Secretaries General, who have had responsibility for organizational efficiency but little power to manage in the business sense. The entities’ business is also a key consideration: what is the mission, what are the key assets, where does the value reside?  (p. 2)
That's us!  Culturally, the Presbyterian Church (USA), its agencies and councils, and most of its local churches behave according to a set of "default behavior patterns" that no longer reflect the realities of their callings.  They have not adapted to their modern role as a counter-cultural movement rather than cultural institution.  PC(USA) remains massively bureaucratic in its approaches and thinking and continues to give inordinate amounts of attention to process, hierarchy, and budget.  Although there is clearly a desire and struggle to change in many corners of the denomination, it remains markedly inflexible and resistant to change.

In terms of addressing the need for NATO reform, the report advises that, "NATO can learn from best practice in the public and private sectors, where the central tenet of organizational efficiency is that structure, mission, and culture should be appropriately aligned." (p. 3)  So easy to write, so difficult to achieve—at least, when it comes to church renewal.  It is true, however, that mainline denominations and their churches can learn from the best practices of other agencies and institutions.  It is also true that their denominational structures, mission, and culture need to be in alignment.  Speaking more precisely, they need to be aligned with the person of Christ described in the gospels and with the spiritual realities of the 21st century.  So easy to write!  So difficult to achieve!

One thought: it is likely that church renewal starts best with spiritual rather than institutional renewal.  It is very difficult to re-form the church by reforming its structures.  It is more likely that we will discover new life for the churches by focusing on their spiritual re-formation.