Managing Christianity Into Impotence

The difference between managers and leaders lies in the conceptions they hold, deep in their psyches, of chaos and order.
09/05/2017 09:02 am ET Updated Sep 05, 2017

The industrial revolution brought with it a business term that dominated the twentieth century as corporations began to seize control of even culture itself. The term is “manager,” a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization. Managers brought about systems of order that governed every aspect of business life and eventually were assumed by nearly every organization in Western civilization, including churches, schools, finance, and especially the law.

The Google Ngram below shows that the term “manager” used in books over the last 200 years shot up in the early part of the century and continued to rise in the decades after.

Mentions of the word “manager” in books from 1800 to 2000 AD
Mentions of the word “manager” in books from 1800 to 2000 AD

In 1973, John D. Rockefeller III wrote in The Second American Revolution, Some Personal Observations:

“An organization is a system, with a logic of its own, and all the weight of tradition and inertia. The deck is stacked in favor of the tried and proven way of doing things and against the taking of risks and striking out in new directions.”

And so the era of the manager in the West was best suited to a conservative personality that governs by process, rules, systems, rationality, and control. The institutions of the Twentieth Century each adopted this concept, including much of Christianity and especially Evangelicalism. Churches embraced the risk-free, tried and true, and through marketing and management science, applied techniques that gave the best chance for growth. We did this at CBN in the 1980s, and you’ll find it in most churches today.

In 1977, the brilliant Abraham Zaleznik of the Harvard Business School noticed that managerial development was missing key personality elements that could add a certain dynamism to corporate culture. He published a remarkable paper, “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different,” in which he (rightly) identified what was missing in the era of the manager. Here’s the way the Harvard Business Review described it:

The difference between managers and leaders, he wrote, lies in the conceptions they hold, deep in their psyches, of chaos and order. Managers embrace process, seek stability and control, and instinctively try to resolve problems quickly—sometimes before they fully understand a problem’s significance. Leaders, in contrast, tolerate chaos and lack of structure and are willing to delay closure in order to understand the issues more fully. In this way, Zaleznik argued, business leaders have much more in common with artists, scientists, and other creative thinkers than they do with managers. Organizations need both managers and leaders to succeed, but developing both requires a reduced focus on logic and strategic exercises in favor of an environment where creativity and imagination are permitted to flourish.

It was my great honor a week ago to speak to a small gathering of Christian Republicans about my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP. The event was at the home of dear friends in Colorado Springs, and the people present were representative of the group I’m trying to address most with the book - namely those who use their faith and the Bible to justify a political position on the far right. It was fascinating for me, and I learned a great deal about what I can say and what I really shouldn’t say in order to pass along the message of the book. I knew this going in and was promised an audience that would probably not agree with me.

When the question and answer period began, one of the first people to respond gently took me to task for intellectualizing spiritual matters, specifically comments I’d made regarding chaos and order. I had quoted Henry Adams “Chaos is the way of nature; order is the dream of man,” to which he responded that “God is a god of order, not chaos.” The whole room lit up when he made that statement, which inspired him to press on amongst the “that’s right” and “amen” responses.

Christians who make this claim usually site Paul’s writing to the Church at Corinth (I Corinthians 14:33) which says that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” All right. Let’s look at this. This phrase is taken from the middle of a portion of Paul’s letter regarding people in the church talking over each other in a service while speaking in tongues or prophesying. This was disruptive, so Paul wrote the following to provide order during worship (NIV):

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

The point here is there is a vast difference between Paul’s simple instructions and the concept that “God is a god of order.” God is not a manager, nor is He a part of any anthropomorphized management theory created by humankind, and I repeat Henry Adams’ statement that “order is the dream of man.” The very concept of grace is chaotic, for there is no path, no formula, no system, process, or set of rules that can access the grace through which we are saved. Perhaps you disagree.

Order serves the one who claims it for himself and no one else. It’s the passageway that guarantees entry into “civilization,” and against which there is no defense other than to be labeled a rebel, an anarchist, or even a terrorist. Order is the weapon of managers; leaders appreciate the value of order but they will never be a slave to it. Order is manipulable by those who sit atop its pedestal, for that is one of its key purposes - to keep in power those who make the rules. Order is the tool of empire builders, and it’s overrated as a cultural necessity. Oh of course we need order, but what we don’t need is to make a religion out of it, for the reason Jesus was born was to remind us that we cannot live by rules alone. “There is none righteous, no not one” and “The just shall live by faith.” We are selfish and self-centered at core, and if given the chance, we’ll take advantage of whatever we can - including order - to better position ourselves against our neighbors.

Christianity disrupted the status quo in the beginning, and not because it was a religion of order. Its power to change hearts was in its demonstration of unconditional love in the face of great cultural corruption. It was up close and personal with individual sacrifice at its core. Its power came not from words but from the actions of its followers. Today we have often magnificent buildings with neat rows and orderly worship processes that allow for two or three services on any given Sunday morning. There is a stage. There is an audience. Every task is greeted with an organized program. There’s a program for evangelism. There’s a program for funding this or that. There’s a program for the young, for the old, for the married, for the single, and even those to assist in the helping of others. Growth and bigness are signs of health. Chaos is the enemy, but does such sterility really serve the task we’ve each been given?

The Law of Moses and the Prophets depicts a God of order, but the redeemer reveals a God of grace. If Heaven is your goal, which would you prefer? Grace is deliberately chaotic in order to prevent people from building a ladder to it, so as to secure it for themselves. Grace doesn’t care if we agree or disagree. The favor of God cannot be earned, and where is the order in that? It’s just so unfair to those of the manager culture and those who’ve used management development practices to create enormous worship centers that tickle the ears of believers and feed their appetites for emotional fulfillment and a warm sense of belonging. In so doing, however, it takes the very life out of Christianity as represented by the red words in the Bible, those chaotic words meant to destroy the idols of man, including order.

The Light of the world has been managed into darkness, and so it goes.