Manager, or holy person?

While I was reading up on alternative worship, I happened to run across the following. It hit home for me….

In his book Dining with the Devil, Os Guiness writes of an alarming observation made by a Japanese businessman: “Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager.”…

As CEO pastors, we are taught to lead the church as we would a corporation. We sit behind desks in our offices writing out vision and mission statements and lists of our church’s top ten values. We form management teams and executive steering teams. We run our churches efficiently like we would run a company, with cell phones on our belts and Palm Pilots in hand, walking with a purposeful CEO gait. –Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Zondervan, 2003) pp. 238-239.

Administration is central to who I am as a minister, so this caused me to ask myself some questions about what it means to be a manager-minister. I didn’t come up with any answers, but my questions reminded me of a talk Barbara Merritt gave in June, 2004. Merritt, the senior minister at First Unitarian in Worcester, Massachusetts, addressed the annual gathering of Unitarian Universalist ministers, asking us:

I am wondering, “Does being a religious leader work for you? Does it work for me? When you imagine religious leadership, what role does grace play? What is it that you control?”

That is the subject I wish to consider with you today. Is being a strong minister, or a responsive leader, or an entertaining religious leader enough? I don’t mean, “Is the ministry a satisfying profession?” or, “Does it pay your electric bills?” or, “Is it an honorable way to make a living?” I am not asking whether the liberal ministry is an effective or helpful agency of change in people’s lives, or to the larger community. (My answer to all those questions is “Yes.”)

What I mean by my question is: Does our ministry work as a spiritual practice?…Is the exercise of religious leadership a spiritual practice that is taking you where your heart and mind want to go?…

Merritt takes her questions off in a somewhat different direction than I want to go. But now I want to know what it is that manger-ministers are trying to control. I also want to know if we manager-ministers are exercising our leadership so that we are going where our hearts and minds want to go. And I would like to know why Christian and post-Christian leaders look more like corporate executives than holy people.

I’d love to know what you think. If you’re a minister, are you more likely to be mistaken for a corporate executive, or for a holy person? If you’re a member of a congregation, what about your minister(s) — corporate execs or holy people? If you don’t do organized religion right now, would you be more likely to join a religious institution that has a manager-leader, or a holy-person-leader?

On to part 2

5 thoughts on “Manager, or holy person?

  1. John Cullinan

    My pastor growing up was the director of vocations for the diocese. He attributed the decline in new priests to the rise of the CEO-pastor model. Who’d want to take all those vows just to be a corporate leader?

  2. ms. m

    I’ve got something to send you on the very topic…ok, well, it’s tainted with the whole” why on earth are we doing the sunday school management behavoir modification thing” rather than ministry…

    pity this is the sort of thing we’re both writing on, saturday night…hmmm…

    more soon…

  3. Jean

    You ask: “If you don’t do organized religion right now, would you be more likely to join a religious institution that has a manager-leader, or a holy-person-leader?”


    I spend enormous hours every week working in an educational institution, where we have manager-leaders and passionate-teacher-leaders (as well as a lot of disorganized folks, burnt out folks, followers-not-leaders, etc etc.). When I consider spending another couple of hours in another institution — religious or otherwise — with similar challenges of leadership, burn out, fatigue, growth, membership, retention, attrition, etc etc etc (and I have considered it; there’s a UU fellowship an hour or so away) I can’t get up the enthusiasm to do it. Recently, I spent a couple of hours talking with some Indy UU’s, and while I liked them very much and made some vague promises to go visit their church, I don’t think I’ll do it. Our conversation about their church centered not on ideas or big questions or anything remotely holy, but on issues of growth (their church is growing, okay good) and the pains of growing, and management styles of ministers (they have a new one). Yes, I know, these are all important issues, but why go to church if that’s what we’re going to talk about? I do that at work all week, and on the weekend too. It’s important at work too, but growth and management questions are not helping me address the larger questions of spirituality, faith, and religion which, as agnostic as I tend to be, I do have. I find more responses — not answers — to the “holy” questions at the barn with the horses than anywhere else lately.

    I suspect I’m not unlike a good deal of potential UU’s — smart, busy, ambitious…pick an adjective — who are not drawn to the church because, frankly, it looks a lot like the workplace. If I need a “third place” in my life (home is first, work is second, X is the third place ), that third place is somewhere I want to go for fellowship, retreat, a community of like minds that both supports and challenges me to grow. A lot of people go to a bar, go bowling, play golf, play poker. Or, go to the barn. I don’t know. Why should I go to church? I ask myself that now and then, but am never really compelled to go, even though I do sometimes feel that there is a spiritual/religious void in my life. Horses are wonderful, and they are wise, and do have things to say about the big questions, but it would be nice to have a little human interaction about these things as well. Hmm…maybe a barn-church. There you go.

  4. kim

    I remember once (about 1971?) talking to the minister’s wife at coffeee hour. We were
    talking about those big spiritual questions, and she looked at me and said, “You know, I
    think this is the first time I’ve talked religion in a UU church.”
    It’s still not a common topic of conversation….
    –all that committee work we do at coffee hour….

Comments are closed.