Manager or holy person? — part 2

Back on August 26, I asked the question “If you’re a minister, are you more likely to be mistaken for a corporate executive, or for a holy person?” [link] I didn’t have a firm answer when I wrote that post, but I think I’m getting closer to an answer of some kind.

As a minister myself, I tend to work more as a manager than as a holy person. But I’m not much like a corporate executive. Instead, I’m much more like the manager of a small non-profit organization. Managers of small non-profits typically have to be generalists, able to do a little bit of everything. Managers of small non-profits typically have to rely heavily on volunteer resources, because in a small non-profit there’s never enough money to accomplish the organization’s mission. Managers of small non-profits have to be consensus-builders, because unlike a corporate executive managers of small non-profits can’t wield nearly unlimited authority over volunteers and members (and often not even over paid staff whom they supervise). Thus, I have a significantly different set of management skills from the typical corporate executive. You could roughly sum up the differences by saying I am not in an authoritarian, hierarchical relationship with “underlings” and “superiors.” I’m definitely not a corporate executive.

But I’m not trying to be the holy person, either. Why not? Because in a liberal church, everyone should be striving to be holy. Here we can turn to the concept of the “prohethood of all believers” as defined by Unitarian Universalist theologian James Luther Adams:

We have long held to the idea of the priesthood of all believers, the idea that all believers have direct access to the ultimate resources of the religious life and that every believer has the responsibility of achieving an explicit free faith for free persons. As an element of this radical laicism we need also a firm belief in the prophethood of all believers. The prophetic liberal church is not a church in which the prophetic function is assigned merely to the few. The prophetic liberal church is the church in which persons think and work together to interpret the signs of the times in the light of their faith, to make explicit through discussion the epochal thinking that the times demand. The prophetic liberal church is the church in which all members share the common responsibility to attempt to foresee the consequences of human behavior (both individual and institutional), with the intention of making history in place of merely being pushed around by it. Only through the prophetism of all believers can we together foresee doom and mend our common ways. from The Prophethood of All Believers, ed. George Kimmich Beach (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), pp. 102-103.

If prophets are holy people in the Western tradition — and certainly we would want to claim holiness for such prophets as Moses, Elijah, and Jesus of Nazareth — then Adams would argue that in the liberal church it’s not up to the minister to be the holy person. It’s up to every member of that congregation to be part of the prophethood of all believers.

If that’s the case — and I believe that is the case — then my job is to facilitate the members of the congregation becoming part of the prophethood. That’s the kind of skill a good manager should have, setting up institutional structures, and giving individual coaching at times, in order that each person may participate as fully as possible in the prophethood of all believers. I suppose you could say that the minister/manager is then a holy person too, because he or she must also find a place in the prophethood of all believers; but the minister/manager is not the holy person.

Of course, you might argue that you don’t like my definition of what a holy person is, because when you say “holy person” you want someone saintly like Mother Teresa or as meditative as a Zen master. But I still believe in the holiness of all believers, however you define holiness. It’s not my job as a minister to be the holiest person around. It’s my job to help the religious community be a place where everyone can achieve holiness.

Manager or holy person? Both, really, I suppose. But manager first and foremost.