Saturday, May 06, 2006

Baptist Bureaucracy and Ministry: Are They Compatible?

Though it should go without saying, I find it beneficial every now and then to remind people that this blog is only the opinion of one person --- mine. I do not officially represent any organization, including the International Mission Board or even my church. However, I do attempt to write from with heart with thoughts carefully sorted, and intentionally worded, in order to engage Southern Baptists to help better our convention ministries.

I am fastidious about addressing what I believe to be the pertinent issues and I stringently avoid attacking personalities. This blog is about possible solutions to convention problems and at times, honest praise for outstanding convention ministry. I write with passion, and of course, I always desire to write factually. There are some who would say I should not write because I don't know enough to legitimately express my concerns, but frankly, if I waited till I felt I knew everything I needed to know, I would never write. I am willing to learn along the way and find myself advancing in knowledge daily.

With that introduction, I would like to articulate five systemic problems within a bureaucracy. These problems are in no form or fashion an indictment of any person or persons, or for that matter any agency within our convention. Rather, these five issues are a direct result of my personal observation of different bureaucracies with which I am acquainted.

When I say the problems are systemic I mean the problems "affect the entire organization, not just a part of it." One of the reasons Christian organizations should not find systemic problems within their bureaucracies is because we have Christian people in charge --- good people by the grace of God. And as it has been said . . .

1. A good man in a bad system will not abuse the bad system, and

2. A good system can deal with a bad man and curtail his power, but

3. A bad system eventually attracts, encourages, and protects bad men.

Bureaucracy is a way of organizing work. It involves hierarchy, in which people at higher levels are bosses of those below, and so on down the chain. It also involves the division of labour, in which some people do one thing and others do other things.

I am ruminating on the following problems that arise within bureaucracies, and if these problems are in any of our convention bureaucracies, I am open for suggestions on how to correct the problem.

Here are my personal observations . . .

1. When power and authority become too centralized in a large organization, good communication with the grass roots worker, and proper accountability for the administrative superior, are both far more difficult to accomplish.

2. Superiors often put pressure on field workers to produce quick results and to report significant numerical gains in order to compare favorably with other divisions within the organization or to produce reports that reflect well on supervisory positions, and as a result, this focus on results often leads to frustration and fear among field workers.

3. With a division of responsibilities in a bureaucracy, decisions that affect the field are often made by superiors or managers who have little or no contact with the field, and as result, the attempted implementation of new policy which is often counterproductive to the work on the field causes frustration among workers.

4. When the wishes and wisdom of field workers is ignored, and when the support and encouragement of field workers is withheld, then the organization begins to crumble because the foundation is not properly maintained.

5. The larger an organization becomes, the longer it takes to turn the organization around, and as a result, any change in philosphical, missiological or methodological direction of any large organization is best initiated from grass roots workers, with an understanding that only major, inviolable principles will be codified across the organization to allow for maximum freedom and flexibility and to prevent sporadic and frequent change from the top down which damages the best work of field workers which often requires time, persistence, and dedication.

Some possible solutions coming Monday on how ministry and bureaucracy may possibly be compabitable.

In His Grace,



Phillips Lynn said...

Pastor Wade,

Amen! Great post! I appreciate your willingness to share your insight. I have personally witnessed these very things.

One of the greatest problems that I have seen during my years of service is the placement of friends or connected people into positions of administration who lack the background or training for their particular position or in numerous cases do not have the gift of administration.

These individuals do not relate well to the regular "field hands" for many different reasons including:

*a perceived threat to their position by someone under them possibly knowing more than they do.

*a hierarchy structure in place that prohibits "field hands" from interaction or input in decision making processes.

These are just a couple of reasons there are many others.

It doesn't matter how gifted the "main overseer of the field" is, if he has surrounded himself with unqualified or under-qualified individuals, because in most cases there is great demand for "the main overseer's" time from outside sources which requires him to be away from the field a majority of the time leaving the decisions to be made by the administrators mentioned above. The "main overseer's" absence from the "field" causes him to lose touch with the "regular field hands" and the day to day operation of the "field."

The situation doesn't create a healthy work environment and often results in bad stewardship though costly mistakes or poor judgment. I feel there needs to be a greater accountability.

I look forward to your next post. Thank you for your time and willingness to seek ways of improvement. Hopefully those in "overseer" positions will also read your post.


art rogers said...

Good points all. I thought the first three about the reasons for addressing bureaucracy were particularly salient.

Didn't you ask for shorter comments at SBC Outpost? There ya go.

Anonymous said...


As Ms all over the world who have remained in IMB service the past 10 or more years read your post, many, many, many will be nodding their heads in agreement. The bureacratic symptoms you describe are so on target, it's as if you are writing from a firsthand perspective.

That is not to deny the tremendous advances in reaching many new people groups and seeing a few house church planting movements that has resulted from New Directions/SD21.

We cannot undo the ways things were done and people were managed. But how can we move forward in such a way that builds on the advances while moving the missiological leadership back to the local field worker?

Anonymous said...

Hey Rex,

I'm current on the 4/26 post. Where are you man?

Anonymous said...

One answer: Luke 22:24-28 Jesus washed the disciples' feet, and in this passage contrasted those who "lord it over" others with how his disciples should be: "the leader like one who serves". I doubt framing this passage and hanging it in the office of anyone high enough in the organization chart to have an office would solve the problem but it couldn't hurt.

Administrators should realize they coordinate and enable (serve) the work of others - those who are doing the actual work. Some do both, work and supervise their helpers. Either way, there should be humility in knowing that when this is done right all are working toward a goal, whether it is spreading the Word or spreading knowledge or providing a good and useful product or service; it takes the efforts of all to do it well. Workers who are not treated well will not do good work, no matter their commitment to the goal, because bad management hinders good workers.


Bob Cleveland said...


In Luke 17, Jesus was talking to His disciples .. the guys who had cast out demons, healed diseases, walked on water, etc. He said to them:

Luke 17:10: So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"(NIV)

I don't think He was writing a script. I think He was prescribing an attitude. An attitude we see today in people with whom the Holy Spirit is having His way.

Everyone is quick to say all glory to God, etc., etc, but the attitude He demonstrated and prescribed would negate most of the problems you cite.

Could it be that the IMB and perhaps the SBC have been a "nation at ease"? Jeremiah had something to say about that.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the leaders of the Southern Baptist understand what it means to lead Like JESUS Lead.
There is a new book out that shows how a Servant Leader should lead.


Anonymous said...

This was taught in the OLD DAYS.
The London Confession of Baptist Faith, Chapter X

Of Effectual Calling
I. Those whom God hath predestined unto life, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call,[1] by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ;[2] enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God;[3] taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh:[4] renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ;[5] yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.[6]

1. Rom. 8:30; 11:7; Eph. 1:10-11, II Thess. 2:13-14
2. Eph. 2:1-6
3. Acts 26:18; Eph. 1:17-18
4. Ezek.36:26
5. Deut. 30:6; Ezek.36:27; Eph. 1:19
6. Psa. 110:3; Song of Sol. 1:4

II. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all forseen in man, nor from any power or agency in the creature,[7] being wholly passive therein, being dead in sins and trespasses, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit;[8] he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it, and that by no less power than that which raised up Christ from the dead.[9]

7. II Tim. 1:9; Eph. 2:8
8. I Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:5; John 5:25
9. Eph. 1:19-20

III. Infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit;[10] who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth;[11] so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

10. John 3:3, 5-6
11. John 3:8

IV. Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit,[12] yet not being effectually drawn by the Father, they neither will nor can truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved:[13] much less can men that receive not the Christian religion be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess.[14]

12. Matt. 22:14; 13:20-21; Heb. 6:4-5
13. John 6:44-45, 65; I John 2:24-25
14. Acts 4:12; John 4:22; 17:3

Anonymous said...

Hey Brother.... Keep "scrutinizin' " the issues..... It's so refreshing! I don't get the idea your trying to build a following..... Well, maybe for Jesus!
There have been many in the past, and occasionally some will remind us.... concerning who the "Main Man Is!" ......and what The Main Thing Is!" I get the feeling you've been listening to HIM!

J. Guy Muse said...

Even though the IMB is a huge organization with all the bureaucracy, our own experience as a missionary family has been an excellent one through the years. We feel blessed to be a small part of what God is doing through the S. Baptist missions vision. Yes, there are problems and things not to our liking, just like in any ministry/work situation, but the world doesn't revolve around my likes and dislikes.

My observation on your excellent analysis as it relates to the IMB, would be the following:

1) It would seem most of the organizational "disconnect" is occuring more at the level between the BoT, IMB RVA leadership, and SBC consituency. Not so much between field M's and their immediate leadership. We seem to understand each other much better than I think BoT understands situations and the reality of global missions on the field.

2) It would appear that it would behoove the BoT to have more open and direct contact with field missionaries who are out on the cutting edge, and hear the hearts of what M's have to say about "defintion of church", CPM, New Directions, GCC's/partnering, recent IMB BoT policy changes, etc. Of course there would have to be assurances that people could "speak freely."

3) I often feel that field M's and their leadership are living more in the present realities of global missions, while BoT and even much of the SBC constituency are living missions and church as it was back many years ago, expecting their M's to do likewise. The world has changed and even from region to region there are differences that require different approaches instead of universal policies. I wonder sometimes the difference it would make if every BoT member had to serve at least two years overseas before qualifying for being named a trustee.

4) More than ever the parameters need to be broadened (not narrowed) to be able to move with all the Spirit of God continues to do in today's world. He is described in John 3 "like the wind." How do you set policy, definitions and rules on the wind? It would seem in my simple way of understanding, we need to spend 2/3 of our time "listening and waiting upon God" for direction and insight, and 1/3 of our time talking, deciding, voting, policy-making, etc. (2-ears, 1-mouth.)

Keith Price said...

Pastor Wade:

I’ve had a lot of dealings with bureaucracy and overhead. Some thoughts…

Points 1-4 are visible in a lot of organizations, of various sizes, everyday. These happen because of point 5. There is where the answer lies.

First, design, adopt, implement and hold people accountable to major, inviolable principles that allow for maximum flexibility and freedom. Then hire good people who know, understand, and believe in those principles and then trust them. If you cannot trust them, don’t hire them. Otherwise get out of the way and let them work. Yes, we need accountability. We need to “inspect what we expect,” but, what we expect is the major, inviolable principles. What is the goal? That needs to be fixed, secured and then left alone.

An owner, of a very successful company that I worked for told me that his philosophy was to push as much of the decision making process as far down the “chain” as possible. He thought it prevented mistakes, offered flexibility and encouraged his employees. He said the most important people in the company were those in the plant “putting the carrots in the bag.” He was right, his company just sold for over $1 billion.

I’m also not sure I buy the “any change in philosophical, missiological or methodological direction of any large organization is best initiated from grass roots workers” in total. I’m ok with the methodological and missiological directions pieces, but the philosophical directions can hit too close to the major inviolable principles. Also, supervisions responsibility is to provide those in the direct work with whatever assistance is necessary to achieve the goal and maintain the major principles. Good supervision should be able to recognize and champion those changes that are necessary to help ensure the productivity of those in direct work while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the major principles.

I could go on, but enough for now…