Friday, July 20, 2007

How to Turn Your Church Into an Orwellian Nightmare

Last weekend I had the good fortune to read a very entertaining book called "Who Moved My Blackberry (TM)?" by Lucy Kellaway. Written primarily from the perspective of the fictitious Martin Lukes and set within a multinational called "a-b glöbâl", the book is a satirical look at corporate culture in which the author ridicules office relationships, mindless corporate slogans and vaulting ambition. Perhaps one of the more interesting subplots in the book involves an initiative that a-b glöbâl develops to retrench a sizeable proportion of their employees in a period of falling profits called "Project ABC". The rationale of Project Uplift is to divide the employees into A, B and C workers with the intention of firing the C workers. Responding to concerns within the company an executive responds:

Hi everyone, As chief morale officer, I have been tasked with ensuring that the knock-on morale implication of Project ABC are phenomenally positive. I know some of you have surfaced some issues wikth the process, which I hope this FAQ will solve!!
Q: Are the people who are As, better than the Bs and Cs?
A: No way! Everybody in this company is a uniquely talented individual. All we are saying is that the talents of A workers are supremely well aligned with our core purpose. Bs are well aligned, and Cs are not so well aligned.
Q: Are the Cs being fired?
A: I'm glad you asked that! The Cs are NOT being fired! We love them and we are deeply appreciative of all the fine work they have done here. However, we believe that in their own best interests they would be happier working someplace else.


Far from encouraging teamwork and open communication, Project ABC produces a work environment which becomes a veritable cesspool of backstabbing and doublespeak. Because all of the employees are concerned with consolidating their position within the company, they look out only for themselves - even to extent of making "gracious" criticisms to undermine their fellow employees. And because it is the executives that will be doing the grading, employees start to engage in a process of insincere sucking-up to curry favour with them and prove just how well-aligned they are with the core purpose of the company.

One of the criticisms levelled at the book is that it essentially fails in its attempt to be satirical. Primarily this is because satire is meant to exaggerate the absurdity of its subject and it is simply impossible to exaggerate the already manifestly absurd nature of corporate culture. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to satirise the political dimensions of a Boy Scout troop or a cricket team. Or maybe even a church. Ironically, I discovered an article about a church that developed a Project ABC of its very own and extolled the virtues of doing so. Let me provide an extract of the article, the full version of which may be found here:

Craig Groeschel at LifeChurch.tv has an interesting series of blog posts on getting people to leave your church. It seems completely counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. If people aren't moving your church forward, they're dead weight (which is kind of scary--am I dead weight?). And it's not just about helping your church, it's also about helping those people find the church for them.

Craig gives an example where he preached on the church's vision trying to get everybody on board. If people weren't on board with the vision, he asked them to find another church. He even offered brochures from 10 other churches he knew and recommended. It was a serious challenge and 500 people ended up leaving. Most people would freak out at that thought. Not Craig:

The next week, we had about 500 new seats for people who could get excited about the vision. Within a short period of time, God filled those seats with passionate people. Many of those who left our church found great, biblical churches where they could worship and use their gifts.

Everybody won!

That's why I sometimes say, "You can grow your church by asking people to leave."


Pretty funny, isn't it? Except that this is no satire - these guys are actually serious. It would appear that the church has discovered the techniques of corporate culture and has begun to implement these types of initiatives to facilitate church growth. Growth (as the minister defines "growth") is the key and those who do not contribute to this growth are simply "dead weight", as the article so graciously expresses. The value of a person becomes determined not by who they are in Christ, but what they can bring to the table to offer to the program.

So, what advice can I offer (in a satirical sense, of course) to those who want to remain within such a church rather than politely be ushered onto "greener pastures":

1) If you have any problems with the direction of the church or of the leadership therein, just keep quiet. In fact, make sure you complement your minister and tell him regularly just how much you believe in him. After all, you want to make sure that you are known as a team player.

2) Make sure that you attend church each Sunday come hell or high water. You might be sick, but don't you really want to show that you're so committed to the vision of the church that such difficulties don't prevent you from attending?

3) If there's a project that the church is undertaking make sure you volunteer, regardless of whether such a project falls within your talents, interests or capacities. You don't want to arouse the suspicion of your minister about your commitment to the church by being reluctant to volunteer, do you?

4) Don't allow work, personal interests or family to get in the way of serving the church. If you play indoor cricket rather than attend Bible Study on the one night a week you have free, people are going to know that you're really not very interested in promoting the Kingdom of God (and more importantly, the church), won't they?

5) Whatever you do, don't admit that you have struggles and that you sin. The church is a place for winners and people who are committed to their own spiritual growth. Quite frankly, if you're not going forward, you can't take the church forward and you're no use to anyone.

Of course, did it ever occur to these people that if you're staying at a particular church, you must at least on some level value its vision?

8 comments:

emblazoned said...

you should read this site:

www.signposts.org.au

I have been a major critic of the 'corporate' church for some years now.

Also:

www.myspace.com/case4change_at_hillsong

David Castor said...

Hey Emblazoned - thanks for the links.

Just out of interest, what can you tell me about the NCCC guys?

emblazoned said...

NCCC?

Do you mean NSCC? (As in North Shore Christian Centre) or do you mean another group?

David Castor said...

NCCC as in Northern Community Church of Christ - the guys who do the Signposts site.

emblazoned said...

Oh...

Don't know too much about them. They don't do much of the talking on the site...almost none in fact. They are very 'open minded' Christians.

Most of the people on the site are ex-hillsongers or ex-CCCers

Such as myself.

Messy Christian said...

How loving!

This philosophy is not new to me. :) One pastor in my first church said that out loud when people asked why a certain family had left.

"If you don't agree with the vision of the church, just leave!"

Suppose it makes sense, if you're a corporation. /sarcasm

David Castor said...

Hey Liz - thanks for coming over to my blog and thanks for contributing!

As I'm sure you've recognised and encountered, ministers who are goal-oriented in this sense are not always unloving people - that's the dangerous thing. I think that there is often the genuine belief that implementing such a vision is truly in the interests of all parties concerned. However, it is my belief that it simply turns church into a performance-based rather than a grace-based environment. If there is one place where you should be able to be your true self without fear of recrimination it is the church - unfortunately it often doesn't work out this way.

Messy Christian said...

You're welcome!

Though since that pastor said that with a sneer, I had doubts about his loving nature. ;)

But you're right, I've encountered pastors who are loving and dedicated to God who, unfortunately, just don't get that it is the people of God that comes first, not their vision for the church or the vision of the denomination. They often do not realise that their passionate words for the organisation/denomination/church end up hurting a fellow Christian.

It breaks my heart to see them blind to what they're doing, but all you can do is just love them anyway, despite the immense difficulty of doing so.

BTW, I love your article Christianity at the Margins. :)