Why church administration is important, 3

This is the third part of a series on how church administration can be a ministry.

Early on in this series, I mentioned that I believe there is a fundamental connection between theology and church life. Having said that, it’s worth exploring one or two different theologies and their potential connection to church life. Since I’m most familiar with my own tradition of Unitarian Universalism, the theologies I’ll explore are common in my tradition. Specifically, I’d like to explore feminist theology and ecological theology.

(A parenthetical note to my co-religionists: What usually poses as “theology” in our tradition is really religious ideology. Thus, when hard-line humanists engage in power struggles with hard-line Christians, they are struggling over power, not over theology. We can make this obvious in this particular example by asking two simple questions. We ask the hard-line humanists, “You say your theology is humanist, but what kind of humanist theology exactly? –existential, naturalistic humanist, Renaissance humanist, or what?” Then we ask the hard-line Christians, “You say your theology is Christian, but what kind of Christian theology exactly? –liberation, narrative, antinomian, or what?” As the hard-liners sputter and are unable to articulate a clear theology, it will quickly become clear that the labels “Christian” and “humanist” are smoke-screens to hide naked power struggles.)

Feminist theology poses interesting questions for an administrative ministry. Most obviously, feminist theology asks: why is it that men and boys generally have more power than women and girls, even in congregations where women are in the majority? But feminism also asks us to confront some other issues. There’s the continued existence of clergy sexual misconduct in our churches, almost entirely perpetrated by male ministers, and feminist theology asks why this is so. There’s the continued existence of power structures based upon hierarchical male-dominant models, and feminist theology asks if we can’t find power structures more in line with our professed theology. There’s the marginalization of programs for children, where religious education is treated as “women’s work” and nine-tenths of professional religious educators are women who are paid substantially less than ministers, and feminist theology asks we it is that we devalue children in this way.

Feminist theology poses interesting questions, while at the same time offering hope-filled possibilities in administration. Feminist theology suggests that sexual misconduct thrives on secrecy, and it offers hope-filled possibilities for openness and transparency in administration. Feminist theology implies that we can and should experiment with more equitable power structures within our churches, and to the hope-filled administrator it suggests that management by empowerment is a better administrative model than traditional command-and-control management. Feminist theology calls our attention to the marginalization of children and teenagers in our churches, suggesting to administrators that young people should be at the center of our churches, not the margins, and that so doing will ultimately make our churches healthier, safer places all around.

Turning to ecological theology, we find that it, too, poses some interesting questions for an administrative ministry. For example, if administration is concerned with safety, doesn’t that also imply that we should be concerned with the safety of the whole ecosystem around us? Thus, we should be concerned about the toxicity of our church buildings but also about the toxicity of the surrounding community where our church members live. And like feminist theology, ecological theology also asks us to consider the role of power structures; if the current secular power structures have gotten us into such an ecological mess, why on earth would we want to mimic them in our churches? And since ecological theology has pointed out how people of color suffer disproportionately from ecological disasters, it asks us to consider the role of racism in our churches. I have just begun my own exploration of ecological theology, and can’t say as much about it as I can about feminist theology, but I’m sure as I begin to try to answer its questions in my administrative ministry, I will understand it better.

That is, of course, what happens in an administrative ministry. Rather than simply preaching about theology, an administrative minister puts theology into action. Words are powerful, yes, and my own Unitarian Universalist tradition has “preaching to Word” at its historical core. But actually putting theology into action in a church community turns out to be theologically rich: you try to administer theologically, and in so doing you learn where you aren’t quite clear enough in your theology, so you reflect on your theology some more, and then try implementing it again.

To be continued