Church near Junction City, Kansas. ca. 1942. John Vachon, photographer. US Library of Congress collection.

Elliott Jaques on the Problems of Church Organization

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Many of the work-levels people have worked with churches on their organizational issues. This includes the Church of England and the Illinois association of American Baptist churches. (Anyone know of more?) Let’s take a look at what some of them have said.

Elliott Jaques, who coined the term “mid-life crisis” and was an accomplished psychoanalyst in addition to be a landmark organizational thinker, dealt with the issues of church very briefly in A General Theory of Bureaucracy:

A similar problem [to that of universities] arises in the case of church organization; here again there is a tendency to think of the organization of clergy in bureaucratic manager-subordinate terms. This view fails to take into account that a church is an association and that the clergy are members of that association, members of the church, and not merely its employees. Once the clergy become regarded as employees within a manager-subordinate bureaucracy, the congregation come to be regarded as the customers. The sacred relationship between clergy and laity will be completely lost.

Most churches over the centuries have overcome this problem by providing effective life tenure for clergy, often underwritten by the local parish. Under these conditions the sacred relationship between priest and parishioner can obtain, [sic] without managerial interference or control but within ecclesiastical policy and central monitoring. The organization is best though of as horizontally differentiated (on a geographical basis) rather than in terms of a vertically differentiated hierarchy.

Jaques continues briefly, noting that hierarchy comes from the Sacred. I checked with the Online Etymology Dictionary that “hierarchy” comes “from ta hiera ‘the sacred rites’ (neut. pl. of hieros ‘sacred’) + archein ‘to lead, rule.’

It’s interesting that the very churches that eschew hierarchy seem to be the ones following the Great Man. I don’t think that this is a mistake but the function of natural human grouping processes. The same thing happened in the Reformation. Think Munster.

Ralph Rowbottom had already done consulting work with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) at this point. Gillian Stamp would do her dissertation on the organization of the Deanery in the Church of England (a new type of organization for them), which is available from the GO Society archives. Others would work with the Illinois Association of Northern Baptist Churches and more with the Church of England, including some in Australia and Canada. John Morgan uses Requisite Organization principles in his pastoring of Pinon Hills Community Church, a large evangelical congregation in the American southwest.

Let’s remember the difference between Associations and Management Accountability Hierarchies.

It’s still interesting that Jaques is unaware of the pure congregationalist model, liked by Baptists, where there is no external oversight. This is the model that dominates American Protestant churches that are growing and one that we need to deal with.

Image Credit: Church near Junction City, Kansas. ca. 1942. John Vachon, photographer. US Library of Congress collection.

Comments 0

  1. In A General Theory of Bureaucracy Elliott describes how an Association brings an Organization into being. An association of shareholders incorporating a company and designating the CEO quickly comes into mind.

    He specifically brings up churches, universities and hospitals as special cases. In the church there will be an association of the clergy who formally or informally develop and hold religious doctrine. In many churches this is highly formalized with annual meetings of bishops (or whatever), in the muslim world I gather that there is little formal structure, but that there are meetings and seminaries that have influence.

    At universities and hospitals professors, doctors etc belong to an association by profession and by training, urologists all over the world meet at conferences and hone their profession. Elliott writes how collegiates are formed at hospitals and universities recognizing the equality of all.

    Most clergy, academics and hospital doctors belong to an employment hierarchy, an organization (church, hospital or university), that is owned by an association of some sort. All these people have double accountabilities, an organizational accountability to the employment hierarchy and a doctrinal accountability to the collegiate.

    I find Elliotts descriptions of associations and organizations as useful instruments in figuring out what is going on, particularly seeing that there are two possible associations in place at the same time. To understand these complex organizations one needs to sort out the association of doctrine and the association of organizational ownership and the employment hierarchy organization.

    There are probably huge differences in how doctrine evolves and is determined in a megachurch, a baptist church, a quaker congregation and a muslim congregation. But is a vital perspective to analyze as well as the formal legal entity and it’s employment structure and accountabilities.

    I guess that in some churches that are “one-person shows” doctrine and organization is determined by one person.

  2. Post

    I figured that you would do a better job of explaining this that I would.

    Yeah, organization changes a bit across the perspective. Why is interesting. The one-person show does that, and seeing why can show us how human groups change with size, and possibly why. That should have something interesting to say about organizations broadly, although we should always keep in mind what EJ said, that groups like churches are different because any leader is always part of the association.

    I hadn’t thought about Islam before. I wonder if that’s another example of how if you believe in the Single Great Man idea that your groups will increasingly go more and more radical. Or it could be a function of what the Megatrends guy describes under globalization, why nationalism issues are going to increase.

  3. The Swedish Church is an illuminating case.

    The Church has 1800 congregations. Each is an independent legally formed association, and as part of the Swedish Church, bound by it’s doctrine. The congregation every four years elects a council, by voting for a party (usually identical to the political parties). The council employs the vicar, other clergy and staff and demands accountability from them as to organizational issues including rota for services etc.

    On a national level the church is governed by the Church Meeting, which has 251 members elected directly by all congregation members. Invariably clergy are selected. The Meeting meets twice annually and is responsible for doctrine.

    The dioceses have the explicit task of supporting the congregations. The diocese is governed by a council directly elected by members.

    So what we have is a membership association where the smallest unit, the congregation, basically is autonomous, within the doctrine. Doctrine is developed and maintained on a national level in a democratic way.

    I was active in the scouts for 35 years. Similar construction there, troops autonomous within doctrine, which is decided at national level and has to conform with international standards.

    On the other hand there are completely independent churches, usually started by a breakaway clergyman, determining his (!) own doctrine and gathering a congregation. When he dies sometimes the church survives, but usually diminished as it has lost it’s charismatic leader.

    I gather that muslim churches and congregations are far more free-floating. There are no national “churches” deciding on doctrine. A mullah has to find his own congregation or the other way around. Doctrine is more tied to the seminar at which a mullah is educated and at “conferences”, not dissimilar to how medical practise is formed and developed.

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