Friday, May 05, 2006

Missions Ministry and Baptist Bureaucracy: Can Both Mutually Exist?

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 the administrative and missionary bureaucracy of the IMB. These problems are in no form or fashion an indictment of any person or persons. Rather, these five issues are a direct result of my personal observation of the system and contact with missionaries on the field. I am thinking through possible solutions and would invite suggestions. I also welcome any correction from anyone who feels I have misread anything.

When I say the problems are systemic I mean the problems "affect the entire Board, not just a part of the International Mission Board." Systemic does not mean the the problems are in every region, or even that the problems are in a majority of the regions of the IMB. Systemic means that if the problem exists in even one region, it affects the entire Board. I know of some regions where not one of the following problems is present, and I believe that because we have some of the finest people in the world working with the IMB, these problems I am about to articulate may not be prevalent as they could be, or possibly one day will be. For remember . . .

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. IMB bureaucracy potentialy leads to . . .

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 far more difficult to accomplish.

For instance, churches and denominations that are bureaucratic often find themselves susceptible to tyrants. Because of the incredibe power and control of the "higher" persons of authority in any organization, those who are on the bottom level of "power" had better hope and pray they are allowed to have a voice.

Communication is not just the placing of words on paper or electronic mail. Good communication is the spirit behind the words. A tyrant will not permit questioning. Tryanny is often the result of bureaucracy.

Benjamin Franklin gave a speech during the 1787 Constitutional Convention where he said . . .

"There are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power and the love of money. Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but, when united in view of the same object, they have, in many minds, the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall, at the same time, be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it."

I am grateful for a President of the IMB who selflessly serves the International Mission Board with grace and humility and who gives his extra salary as President back to the Lottie Moon offering. He is the epitome of a servant leader. He listens, he responds.

But since we are now so large as an IMB, I feel it can be dangerous when others are given powerful authority without corresponding accountability. Somehow I feel there must be an empowering of field missionaries to enable them to have a sense of being able to hold their superiors accountable. The business world often uses a 360 degree review. I am suggesting that something needs to be done to enable missionaries to be able to freely speak their hearts, share their frustrations and voice their concerns to their "superiors" without fear of reprisal. A good man will always listen to those "underneath" him, but it is much better to trust in a good system so that men with dubious character can't take advantage of a weak system and unjustly punish missionaries who question direction or leadership.

If someone objects and says, "But there is a chain of command! There IS accountability for EVERY supervisor!" To whom? "To his immediate supervisor!" But if the field is the place of ministry, then what The President has a great deal of accountability to the trustees. But begin immediately underneath him and work down, eventually all the way to the field, you may discover that everyone in a position of higher authority must trust the word of those immediately under them, or the structure is broken.

Because we have a structure that recognizes and glorifies administrative leadership, and that leadership is often greatly dependent on the work of those missionaries under him/her, there is . . .

2. Pressure to produce quick results and to report significant numerical gains leads to frustration and fear among field missionaries.

I remember once preaching at the largest youth camp in the world. Every night after the evening service, before I could even get back to my hotel room, the numerical report of that night's "decisions" was posted on the outside of my door. It was a spreadsheet with the results of the previous night's totals, the previous week's totals (a different preacher), and the previous year's results of the same night (again a different preacher). Every preacher's name was mentioned and I couldn't help comparing myself with them. Then I thought to myself, "Why am I comparing? God saves sinners." It just so happened that week's decisions for Christ were the most of any week for the previous five years, but what does that information do for the preacher? Nothing but make him proud.

When the jobs of higher levels of authority are evaluated on the "numbers" and "statistics" of missionary efforts on the field, then the bureaucracy will put pressure on the missionaries to perform. How can they not? The system demands production. The problem as I see it is the evaluation of field missionaries might need to change. Is it possible for the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole to put more emphasis on holding pastor's missionaries, and other denominational leaders to faithfulness, integrity, perseverance, etc . . . ?

William Carey served YEARS in India without ONE convert. Had he been answering to a bureaucracy he would have been fired after the first year without producing one convert. As it was, he served over a decade before there was even one convert. But William Carey reported on his work diligently. He emphasized his passion for his call, his perseverance in building relationships, his faithfulness in sharing the gospel, his dedication in learning the language and translating the Scriptures. The Baptist Mission Society maintained their support. Today, Carey is a national hero in India, and the Christian people of that country are in debt to this great man.

(2). The very missionaries who are at the ground level of reaching a people group are left out of strategic decisions involving personnel and ministry.

Remember, this is not true

I have a belief that leaders actually lead. Not that they should lead or ought to lead, but that they are under the scrutiny of others and are in fact a role model.

In my mind, the question is never ARE you leading, but are you leading well or poorly?

Interregnum and Bowden McElroy of a Salaried Bureaucracy

by Benjamin Franklin
Speech given during the Constitutional Convention

There are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power and the love of money. Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but, when united in view of the same object, they have, in many minds, the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall, at the same time, be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.

the tyranny of the rulers

The lack of Biblical standards of evaluation (faithfulness in the performance of assigned tasks, persistence in communicating the gospel to the people group to whom the missionary has been called, openness to the Spirit's leading in ministry, openness in gospel witnessing, which could, in an unquestionable way, ascertain success or nonsuccess in the performance of a missionaries duties creates insoluble problems. It kills ambition, destroys initiative and the incentive to do more than the minimum required. It makes the bureaucrat look at instructions, not at material and real success.

were worried in the 17th & 18th centuries about the dangers of a standing army. They feared an unlimited monarch would use it to intimidate opponents. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the danger comes from a standing bureaucracy. Officials’ jobs are to find new ways of extending their benevolent power over their heedless & irresponsible subjects.

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