A paper delivered at the 2009 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society
I want to give you today a theology of management. This will consist of six parts.
First, I want to convince you that good management matters. Specifically, I want to convince you that it should matter to you as Christians—whether you are a pastor, in the leadership of a ministry, or a lay person in the workplace.
Second, I want to show you what great management is so that you can become better at it insofar as you may be in a management role and so that you can support its practice in your organizations and churches even if you are not.
Third, I want to use the field of management as an example to demonstrate how we as Christians can think more effectively about how our faith relates to all of life—to typically “secular” areas that nonetheless are very central to our lives. This means asking the fundamental question of whether it is even possible to think theologically about management without depreciating theology and ruining management.
Fourth, I want to show the very neat ways in which a Christian ethic informs this very important discipline. This is some incredible stuff.
Fifth, I want to apply this by looking at what effective management looks like in various organizations – including, briefly, churches. Many of us are scared off from seeing a role for management in the church because of the off-biblical trajectory of the pastor as CEO model. I want to show that that the problem is wrongly applying management. Management can matter to us in the church without being made ultimate, and I want to show how.
To this end, this paper has six sections:
- Why does management matter?
- What is management?
- Is it possible to integrate theology and management?
- What does it look like to integrate theology and management?
- What are some of the main practices of effective management and how does a Christian ethic inform them?
- What does effective management look like in various organizations?
First, management matters because it is an ethical issue. It is an ethical issue because it pertains to how we treat people. Therefore, the way that we manage people – and the type of management practices we approve implicitly and explicitly – is a matter of Christian ethics.
If it is an ethical issue, it is also a theological issue. This is because, first of all, all of ethics ultimately pertains to God, and thus ethics itself is fundamentally theological. What we believe about God shapes and grounds what we believe about the moral and ethical dimension of life.
Management is a theological, second of all, because it isn’t simply about how we treat people (ethics), but how we treat people in the image of God (theology). Management is a theological issue because the fact that people are created in the image of God means that there are certain ways to treat them that are right and wrong, better, and worse.
Third, management matters because it pertains to loving your neighbor. This is yet another extension of the fact that management is a matter of ethics and theology.
A well-run organization serves people, and thus is a fulfillment of the duty of Christian love (Matthew 7:12; Luke 10:27), because it makes their work lives better. Unnecessary friction within the company is removed; there is a culture of trust and an overall environment where they can thrive, enjoy their work, and grow as people. These are good things. And management is the discipline that works to create this type of environment.
One of the points I am going to make here is that many of the best contemporary secular thinkers on management are also making this connection in spades. The awareness that management—and all of our work lives—are about serving is a major trend in contemporary thinking that lines up with the biblical ethic and which we should support, amplify, and build on.
Patrick Lencioni (who is himself a person of faith, but who writes for the general market) makes this point very well at the end of his book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. At the end of the book he has a post-script called “the ministry of management,” where he writes:
I have always thought it was a shame that more people don’t go into “giving” professions. In fact, I have occasionally felt pangs of guilt that I didn’t choose a career that was completely focused on serving others. I have deep admiration for dedicated and hard-working clergy, social workers, or missionaries, and I wonder why I haven’t abandoned my career and moved into one of those kinds of jobs.
While I have not completely abandoned the idea of one day doing that, I have come to the realization that all managers can—and really should—view their work as a ministry. A service to others.
By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families. They can also create an environment where employees do the same for their peers, giving them a sort of ministry of their own. All of which is nothing short of a gift from God.
And so I suppose that the real shame is not that more people aren’t working in positions of service to others, but that so many managers haven’t yet realized that they already are.
And—as a quick aside—therein also lies a key principle that we need to teach more clearly as a church to the 97% of Christians who are working their jobs every day in the general market. (More on that later.)
The second reason that a well-run organization also serves people because it makes them more effective in their efforts. The vocation of management is necessary because of the fact that people organize together to get things done—to get more done than if they were simply working independently. Management makes people capable of joint performance. Consequently, when an organization is managed well, the efforts of each individual are amplified beyond what they would be otherwise. When an organization is not managed well, even the efforts of the best people in the organization have less impact than they would be otherwise, because they aren’t multiplied well by the joint performance that they are a part of.
Fourth, management is important because a poorly run organization is unloving. If it is the case that helping people find fulfillment in their work and enabling them to be more effective together serves people, then managing people and organizations poorly is a failure of love because it doesn’t serve them. Poorly run organizations make life harder for people, make their efforts less effective, cause people to find less fulfillment in their work, and makes them waste time butting up against the inefficiencies of the organization instead of doing what they are primarily called to do.
Lencioni also brings out the negative effects of bad management very effectively, this time through the example of poorly run meetings. In a post-script to his book Death by Meeting, he argues that bad meetings are a cause of real human suffering:
Just as the cover of this book suggests, bad meetings exact a toll on the human beings who must endure them, and this goes far beyond mere momentary dissatisfaction. Bad meetings, and what they indicate and provoke in an organization, generate real human suffering in the form of anger, lethargy, and cynicism. And while this certainly has a profound impact on organizational life, it also impacts people’s self-esteem, their families, and their outlook on life.
And so, for those of us who lead organizations and the employees who work within them, improving meetings is not just an opportunity to enhance the performance of our companies. It is also a way to positively impact the lives of our people. And that includes us.
This is not right. This is not how we want people to treat us—we do not want those who manage us to allow a performance-hindering environment to persist. And therefore it violates the Great Commandment and Golden Rule not to seek to run our organizations well (or hire people who will run them well).
Managing your organization well is a matter of loving your people; managing your organization poorly is a failure of Christian love.
Management is Exciting
Fifth, management matters because it is exciting. You will see this as I describe what effective management looks like below. Management is not what you may have read in a boring or dry handbook. There are paradoxes, dichotomies, counter-intuitive twists, and all sorts of such facets that make the field of management quite fascinating—just like other realms of ethics and theology.
If this is a surprise to you, it’s not your fault. You’ve just simply only ever been exposed to boring management thinkers. Making management boring—just like making theology and ethics boring—is probably a sin.
Sixth, management matters because, just as it is often said about theology, we can’t avoid it. Everyone has a theology; the question is just whether they have a good theology or a bad one. So also with management. Everyone is affected by management; it’s just whether you are affected by—and implicitly (or explicitly) supporting—good management or bad management.
One reason people don’t get excited about something is because they don’t see it for what it really is. Things that are engaging and interesting can be explained in dull ways that takes the life out of them. That often happens with management.
But when you understand what management really is, you can see directly why it is exciting and worthy of our attention. The standard definitions of management are true and helpful, but they don’t go to the core, and therefore are frankly uninteresting.
So what is management at its root?
Management is about turning the talent of the individual into performance for the organization. The manager thus plays a catalyst role, speeding up the reaction between the employee’s talents and the company’s goals to create performance. Few people thought and researched more deeply on this than Marcus Buckingham. Here is how he puts it:
The manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance.
This role is best played one employee at a time: one manager asking questions of, listening to, and working with one employee. Multiplied a thousand fold, this one-by-one-by-one role is the company’s power supply. In times of great change it is this role that makes the company robust—robust enough to stay focused when needed, yet robust enough to flex without breaking.
In this sense, the manager role is the “catalyst” role. As with all catalysts, the manager’s function is to speed up the reaction between two substances, thus creating the desired end product. Specifically the manager creates performance in each employee by speeding up the reaction between the employee’s talents and the company’s goals, and between the employee’s talents and the customers’ needs. When hundreds of managers play this role well, the company becomes strong, one employee at a time.
Buckingham adds that this is “a vital and distinct role”—a role that “charismatic leaders and self-directed work teams are incapable of playing.” It is not enough to have a strong vision and effective leadership in the organization. You also have to have effective managers who can create performance in the employee’s by releasing their talents for the goals of the organization.
The role of the manager is thus different than that of the leader. It is not the case that managers are just “miniature leaders” in waiting. A manager may be able to lead and may move into a leadership role down the road, but managing is a distinct and critical role in its own right. It does something distinct from leadership.
The core function of leadership is to rally people to a better future. In order to do this, leaders must discover what is universal and capitalize on it. Leadership involves setting direction, aligning people, motivating and inspiring.
Leaders thus “look outward.” They look “out at the competition, out at the future, out at alternative routes forward. They focus on broad patterns, finding connections, cracks, and then press home their advantage where the resistance is weakest. They must be visionaries, strategic thinkers, activators.”
Great managers, on the other hand, “look inward.” They identify what is unique about each individual and capitalize on it. That is:
They look inside the company, into each individual, into the differences in style, goals, needs, and motivation of each person. These differences are small, subtle, but great managers need to pay attention to them. These subtle differences guide them toward the right way to release each person’s unique talents into performance.
The failure to distinguish leadership and management, and value the role of the manager, is one reason many organizations have solid leadership, but underperforming organizations.
These things also show us that we should not demean the role of the manager. Convention wisdom often “casts the manager as the dependable plodder, while the leader is the sophisticated executive, scanning the horizon, strategizing.” We are told that “the manager role is no longer very important. Apparently managers are now an impediment to speed, flexibility, and agility. . . . In this world, the staid little manager is a misfit. It is too quick for him, too exciting, too dangerous. He had better stay out of the way. He might get hurt.”
This view is off target. The role of the manager is more important than ever because it is unique and essential, different from what leaders do but without which the leadership cannot be effective. The manager, and only the manager, reaches inside the employee and unleashes his or her unique talents for the performance of the organization.
There are four activities through which the manager does this, and they constitute the most important responsibilities of the manager. They are: select a person, set expectations, motivate the person, and develop the person.
When I say that management is important, I am not simply saying that the role of the individual manager is important. There is also an organizational management component here to: you have to create an environment where good managers thrive, and where the over-arching philosophies and beliefs of the organization are empowering and in alignment with the systems and mechanisms of the organization.
So when I talk about the discipline of “management” in this paper, I mean both the role of the individual manager and the role of “top management” in creating alignment in the organization with the structure, policies, and systems with the guiding beliefs of the organization so that the organization functions well and has a climate that supports great individual managers.
Management is a secular discipline. Is it a appropriate to have a “Christian view” on it, and what does that even mean, anyway? Will we destroy the field of management if we allow theologians that are not experts in management make pronouncements on what is and is not acceptable? On the other hand, if theology has nothing to contribute to the field of management, how can it be used effectively (and properly) in churches and ministries?
It is both possible and necessary to integrate theology and management because, as I argued at the beginning, management is an ethical issue. And if it is an ethical issue, it is a theological issue because ethics is based upon the doctrine of man, which in turn is based on the doctrine of God. Ethics is theological, and therefore management is theological.
It is also possible and necessary to integrate theology and management because, as JP Moreland points out, “the lordship of Christ is holistic.” In other words:
The religious life is not a special compartment in an otherwise secular life. Rather, the religious life is an entire way of life. To live Christianity is to allow Jesus Christ to be the Lord of every aspect of my life. There is no room for a secular/sacred separation in the life of Jesus’ followers.
We also owe it to the millions of Christians in the workplace to develop a more integrated worldview of faith and management and faith and work in general. Most Christians go to work every day without knowing how their faith relates to their work. As a result, they question the meaning of their work and whether their faith is perhaps irrelevant to how they spend a good chunk of their lives.
Robert Fraser argues:
Most marketplace Christians feel spiritually purposeless, meaningless, and aimless. They often fail to appreciate their value or understand practically how to bring the kingdom of God into their vocation. Only about three percent of Christians are called to vocational ministry, and yet the current church teachings have not helped the other 97 percent develop a vision for what they do. Instead, they have been told their only purpose is giving financially. In essence, that their role is engaging in the worthless in order to give to the financially worthy. . . . Modern day Christianity lacks a model of passion for Jesus in the marketplace.
It is ironic that the church has not done better at giving Christians a model for thinking about their faith in the marketplace because the best secular thinkers, in fact, are more and more coming to realize that management must relate to “matters of the spirit.” Management must take into account man’s spiritual dimension because man needs meaning.
By not realizing this before, traditional management theories have left workers empty. They have not treated man holistically. But effective management, it is now being realized, must address man as a spiritual being as well as an economic being. This is a theological statement—but they do not always seem to realize it. No one is connecting the dots. The dots need to be connected.
Some of these thinkers include Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni, Tom Peters, Tim Sanders, Keith Ferrazzi, and Stephen Covey.
In the chapter “More than Profits” in their landmark book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras give multiple examples of companies throughout the 20th century that flourished precisely because they recognized that their organizations had a component beyond just making money.
For example, George Merck II, founder of Merck, said “We are workers in industry who are genuinely inspired by the ideals of advancement of medical science, and of service to humanity.” And: “We try to remember that medicine is for the patient. We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear.”
In 1991, Merck CEO Roy Vagelos sang the same tune: “Above all, let’s remember that our business success means victory against disease and help to humankind.” It is these ideals that led Merck to give away the drug Mectizan to cure river blindness in the Third World when they could not find a way to distribute it at a profit. They were also involved directly in the distribution efforts at their own expense “to ensure that the drug did indeed reach the millions of people at risk from the disease.” In contrast, the non-great, non-visionary comparison company Pfizer displayed a “profit-first” orientation.
In Ford’s monumental turnaround in the 80s, the leadership “paused to clarify its guiding principles.” In these principles, they sequenced people, products, and profits, and “it was decided that people should absolutely come first [and products second and profits third.]” Putting profits third did not hinder the turnaround, but is precisely the mindset that made the turnaround possible.
Earlier in Ford’s history, Henry Ford held to the same sequence of priorities, which led to his unheard of decisions to reduce prices by 58 percent from 1908 to 1916 and introduce the $5 work day. Ford was operating not simply from a desire to make a profit, but from values and principles. Incidentally, he was accused of injecting “spiritual principles into a field where they do not belong.”
David Packard made it clear that Hewlett-Packard should be managed “first and foremost to make a contribution to society” and that their main task “is to design, develop, and manufacture the finest electronic [equipment] for the advancement of science and the welfare of humanity.”
Johnson & Johnson’s credo stated that “service to customers comes first . . . service to employees and management second, and . . . service to stockholders last.”
This pattern existed all through their research. As Collins and Porras summarize:
Contrary to business school doctrine, we did not find “maximizing shareholder wealth” or “profit maximization” as the dominant driving force or primary objective through the history of most of the visionary companies. They have tended to pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one. Indeed, for many of the visionary companies, business has historically been more than an economic activity, more than just a way to make money. Through the history of most of the visionary companies we saw a core ideology that transcended purely economic considerations. . . .
Of course, we’re not saying that the visionary companies have been uninterested in profitability or long-term shareholder wealth (notice that we say that they are “more than” economic entities, not “other than”). Yes, they pursue profits. And yes, they pursue broader, more meaningful ideas. Profit maximization does not rule, but the visionary companies pursue their aims profitably. They do both.
Tom Peters and Robert Waterman found the same realities in their study, synthesized in In Search of Excellence:
The top companies, on the other hand, always seem to recognize what the companies that set only financial targets don’t know or don’t deem important. The excellent companies seem to understand that every man seeks meaning (not just the top fifty who are “in the bonus pool”).
Perhaps transcendence is too grand a term for the business world, but the love of product at Cat, Bechtel, and J&J comes very close to meriting it. Whatever the case, we find it compelling that so many thinkers from so many fields agree on the dominating need of human beings to find meaning and transcend mundane things. Nietzsche believed that “he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” John Gardner observes in Morale, “Man is a stubborn seeker of meaning.”
They quote Anthony Athos: “good managers make meanings for people, as well as money” (p. 29) and note that “so much of excellence in performance has to do with people’s being motivated by compelling, simple—even beautiful—values” (37). “Treating people—not money, machines, or minds—as the natural resource may be the key to it all” (39).
Peters and Waterman also do a good job of stating why they take exception to the more traditional view of management:
If there is one striking feature of the excellent companies, it is this ability to manage ambiguity and paradox. What our rational economist friends tell us ought not to be possible the excellent companies do routinely….The problem in America is that our fascination with the tools of management obscures our apparent ignorance of the art. Our tools are biased toward measurement and analysis. We can measure the costs. But with these tools alone we can’t really elaborate on the value of a turned-on Maytag or Caterpillar work force churning out quality products or a Frito-Lay salesperson going that extra mile for the ordinary customer.
Worse, our tools force us into a rational bent that views askance the very sources of innovation in the excellent companies: irrational product champions at 3M, product-line proliferation and duplication at Digital Equipment Corporation, the intense internal competition among P&G brand managers. Alfred Sloan successfully introduced overlap at General Motors in the 1920s. . . . But few rationalists seem to buy it, even today. They don’t like overlap; they do like tidiness. They don’t like mistakes; they do like meticulous planning. They don’t like not knowing what everyone is up to; they do like controls. They build big staffs. Meanwhile, Wang Labs or 3M or Bloomingdale’s is ten new product introductions and months ahead.
So we take some exception to the traditional theory, principally because our evidence about how human beings work—individually and in large groups—leads us to revise several important economic tenets dealing with size (scale economies), precision (limits to analysis), and the ability to achieve extraordinary results (particularly quality) with quite average people. . . . [This is] an upbeat message. . . . the good news comes from treating people decently and asking them to shine, and from producing things that work.
Tim Sanders is the former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo. Fast Company summarized his first book, Love is the Killer App, in this way: “Why faith beats fear, greed isn’t good, and nice guys finish first.” Sanders has given us perhaps the most recent and detailed explanation of the “new way.” He states:
I believe that the most important new trend in business is the downfall of the barracudas, sharks, and piranhas, and the ascendancy of nice, smart people.
Tim argues that love is the new point of differentiation in business. He defines love as “the selfless promotion of the growth of the other.” This may not be exactly the biblical definition of love (which is not his intent here), but this is clearly a good thing.
In fact, note that he is calling for the selfless promotion of others’ growth. This theme runs through the whole book: don’t make things be about you first; your first aim needs to be the good of the other. That is an ethical, surprising message.
These “nice, smart” people that he speaks of are called “lovecats.” Lovecats are differentiated by three things: they selflessly share their “knowledge, networks, and compassion.” And they aim to “always be human.”
Being human means “the ability to involve yourself emotionally in the support of another person’s growth” (18). “Whether we celebrate someone’s accomplishments, or show true sympathy for someone’s undoing, it’s our warmth that separates us from the thinking machines.”
“No matter how technical our workstations may be, because we are all human, the network is at its best when compassion underlies our motivation” (21). “There was a time when people who were unsympathetic, mean-spirited, or unkind could feel secure knowing little could be done about it. The new economy doesn’t allow for this” (18). “In the old days, I would think, Who will pay me for my advice? Now I bestow my advice knowing that it’s the giving that matters, not the tangible rewards” (55).
Now, he is not advocating for “some sacrificial process where we must all love one another come what may” (12). And that’s not necessary in the marketplace per se. Further, he is not at all ignoring the connection between being a “lovecat” and business success: “over and over I have discovered that the people in the bizworld who are most successful, and happiest, are the lovecats,” namely the ones who are “most passionate” and “most generous with their knowledge, address book, and compassion.”
But it is nonetheless a stand-out that he affirms the central role of emotion, being human, and seeking the interest of others.
Keith Ferrazzi has written the best recent book on networking, Never Eat Alone. But what is so distinctive about the book is that he emphasizes that networking is not first of all about what you can get, but about what you can do for others. He is right on the same track as Sanders: “I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. It was about working hard to give more than you get.”
“My point is this: Relationships are solidified by trust. Institutions are built on it. You gain trust by asking not what people can do for you, to paraphrase an earlier Kennedy, but what you can do for others. In other words, the currency of real networking is not greed but generosity” (21). “Bottom line: It’s better to give before you receive. And never keep score. If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit” (22).
“We see that people are not just resources or assets, not just economic, social, and psychological beings. They are also spiritual beings; they want meaning, a sense of doing something that matters. People do not want to work for a cause with little meaning, even though it taps their mental capacities to their fullest. There must be purposes that lift them, ennoble them, and bring them to their highest selves.”
“People want to contribute to the accomplishment of worthwhile objectives. They want to be part of a mission and enterprise that transcends their individual tasks. They don’t want to work in a job that has little meaning, even though it may tap their mental capacities. They want purposes and principles that lift them, ennoble them, inspire them, empower them, and encourage them to be their best selves.”
We’ve seen four reasons that it is right to conclude that management and theology can interact. So, how does theology relate to management? First we need to understand the principles for how theology can interact with a discipline outside of theology, following J. P. Moreland’s very helpful discussion of this in Love Your God with All Your Mind.
Moreland offers five different ways interaction can take place.
First, “issues in theology and another discipline may involve two distinct, non-overlapping areas of investigation.” For example, theology doesn’t have much to say about how many electrons are in a helium atom. And we shouldn’t try to force anything, as this undermines the credibility of theology by trying to make it do what it is not supposed to, and harms the other discipline by imposing upon it unnecessary restrictions from another field.
So “there will many issues in our vocations that Christians and non-Christians view in the same way, and there is no clear way in which Christianity informs that issue” (178). In these areas, we aren’t guided explicitly by the Scriptures as to how to carry out the specific practices (though they are always the framework we operate from, and they govern our motives and goals—on which, see below), but rather simply look to the specific expertise or wisdom of the particular field. “In these cases, we are free in Christ to adopt whatever views or approaches we judge to be reasonable and appropriate” (178).
We don’t need to justify everything with a necessary corollary from Scripture. The realm of creation is a legitimate sphere in its own right, and it is proper to use the wisdom of a field if it aligns with our general theological framework. This is the essence of the Reformation doctrine of vocation. And it is a natural extension of Romans 12:10, for example, where we read to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” This is primarily speaking of cultural practices, but it would no doubt also apply to vocational practices, which are simply a subset of that broader area. There is a respect in Christianity for general wisdom.
Second, sometimes aspects between theology and the other discipline will be complementary. This is when “issues in theology and another discipline may involve two different, complementary, non-interacting perspectives about the same reality such that the whole truth is a combination of both perspectives” (178). For example, you can describe an apple in terms of its shape or color. If the color changes from green to red, that doesn’t affect your description of it in terms of its shape.
Third, “issues in theology and another discipline may directly interact in such a way that either area of study offers rational support for the other or raises rational difficulties for the other” (179).
Fourth, theology can “support the presuppositions of another discipline” or the other discipline can support the presuppositions of theology. For example, “some have argued that the presuppositions of science . . . make sense and are easy to justify given Christian theism, but are at odds with and without ultimate justification in a naturalistic worldview” (180).
Fifth, theology can “fill out and add details to general principles in another discipline and vice versa, and theology can help one practically apply principles in another discipline and vice versa” (180).
So these are five different ways that theology interacts with other disciplines. Different areas will interact with a theological point of view in different ways, and even within the same area there will be different forms of interaction in different spots (for example, theology supports the presuppositions that make science possible, but has nothing to say about how many electrons are in a helium atom).
Moreland gives a good rule of thumb for identifying how much interaction a discipline is likely to have with theology:
The more a field is composed of ideas about the nature of ultimate reality, what and how we know things, morals values and virtues, the nature and origin of human beings, and other issues central to mere Christianity, the more crucial it will be to think carefully about how a Christian should integrate his discipleship unto Jesus with the ideas and practices in that field” (181).
Using Moreland’s framework, I suggest six ways in which theology helps inform the discipline of management:
- It sets boundaries.
- It amplifies the good.
- It lays a more complete foundation.
- It broadens our perspective
- It changes our values and goals
- It suggests ways that we can go above and beyond to make our management even more effective.
First, theology sets some boundaries indicating what is and is not appropriate management practice. In this regard there is one overarching principle which should serve as the governing principle for everything else in regard to how we think about management, and that is: respect for the individual.
This is the governing principle of management because it is the first principle of the most fundamental truth about human beings, which is that they are in the image of God. If humans are in the image of God, then they are worthy of respect—then we owe one another respect.
All management, therefore, must proceed in a way that honors the individual and upholds his humanity. This is, at root, why the scientific view of management, which viewed man simply as a cog in a machine, simply as a factor of production to be maximized and controlled by a management that “knows best” and manipulates his behavior through the carrot and the stick, is wrong. It is wrong because this is not the way people ought to be treated. People ought not be treated like machines. This is not what people are “for.”
The fundamental question of management, in fact, becomes how do you most fully treat people in accord with this principle of respect? It is not merely a “boundary” defining where we would really “like” to go but “can’t,” but is rather an exciting positive reality that points that way.
Good management is already recognizing the centrality of this principle. Respect for the individual is behind the good contemporary views on management that I outlined above. Perhaps the best exponents of this view were Bill Packard and David Hewlett, who made this the primary guiding philosophy of HP:
The HP Way basically means respect and concern for the individual; it says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s what it’s really about.
This is remarkable. Here we have leaders of companies in the general marketplace quoting our own book back to us. They get that the central principle of respect for the individual makes management a profoundly ethical and moral reality. And that aligning with this reality makes a business more effective, not less.
Amplifies the Good
Second, theology can amplify the good that we see in a wise approach to management. The good that it amplifies doesn’t have to be justified by necessary inferences from theological truths and biblical texts. Rather, theology is the framework, and specific practices simply need to align with that framework rather than be determined by it.
When something does align with this framework and is recognized as a good and wise practice, theology can amplify them by allowing theology to fill in more details regarding the meaning of that practice. And frankly, a lot of this stuff is pretty neat.
The contemporary shift to regard employees holistically and the ascendancy of “nice, smart people” are examples of trends we should amplify because of their alignment with biblical principles.
Lays a More Complete Foundation for Some Things
Third, theology can lay a deeper foundation for certain management principles. The best example here is the primacy that HP gives to respect for the individual. We can strengthen that principle by pointing out that this is not something that is simply right for its own sake, but that it has deep foundations beneath it—the fact that humans are created in the image of God.
Broadens Our Perspective
Fourth, theology broadens our perspective because it means we no longer see work as a temporary chapter in a temporary life, to be rewarded with a retirement of peace and tranquility. Rather, work is a temporary chapter in a life that lasts forever. Retirement becomes not the “last chapter,” but the “next to last chapter.” This shifts the whole meaning of work and retirement by putting it in an eternal perspective.
Changes Our Values and Goals
Fifth, theology changes our values and goals. Although the specific techniques and practices of a vocation, such as management, might often be done in the same way by both the Christian and the non-Christian, the real differences—the unseen differences—are immense. The Christian has different goals and different motives. His motive is to work unto the Lord, and his goal is to honor him. This gives the ultimate purpose beyond profit to the work that we do.
And this is especially where meaning comes in. Theology informs us of the true purpose of work, and seeing work in this context—as done for the Lord and not for men, or even ourselves first—infuses it with ultimate, transcendent purpose.
It also means that our work is no loner ultimate to us. God is ultimate, not our work, and therefore we have good reason not to pursue it above all other priorities. We can give proper place to our families. We can rest and have peace because our meaning does not ultimately depend upon the quality of our work and the extent to which we maximize the bottom line. With work no longer as the first priority, it is actually strengthened because it is now in its proper place.
Suggests Ways we Can Go the Extra Mile
Sixth, we should think of ways to practically apply sound ethical principles that go the extra mile.
This is the missing ethical component: we should not just do no harm and show what’s wrong. We should do good and show what’s right. For example, let’s say you are in charge of the process of enabling passengers to board the airplane. Once the plane is fully boarded, you are informed that there is a mechanical problem that will take 2 hours to fix. But the plane has already pulled away, and this counts as an “on-time” departure, and it’s considered a gray area whether to bring the passengers back and let them deplane. If you bring them back, it will hurt the company’s “on-time” departure metric, and the pilots and flight attendants would be paid less.
What do you do? You bring the plane back and have the customers de-plane because it is not good for passengers to have to sit idle on the plane for two hours. You do this because the passengers are in the image of God and worthy of respect.
Further, we do all of our work with joy because we know that in everything that we do for the customers, we are not simply accomplishing company purposes, but serving another human being. We have a reason to be glad in our work. This joy will encourage us to look for ways to go the extra mile to continually improve the experience of our employees and customers because we are the type of people who take delight in doing good for people.
Now, note that when I say that our vocations are an opportunity to do good for people, I mean within the scope of our vocation. An airline should not reason that they should drop their prices to the point where they lose money so that they can serve their customers by offering an amazing price. As Collins says, you pursue more than profit, but not other than profit. This is how we avoid the “temptation to do good,” wherein people end up creating all sorts of havoc out of a desire to do good for people, but doing so by working outside of the role of their industry and thus interfering with the work of others.
Here’s another example: If you make subs at Quiznos, do you work fast or slow? It’s not necessarily the case that working slow is wrong, but why would you work slow when you realize that people don’t value waiting in line forever and it is in your power to make that go faster? So because of a biblical ethic of seeing your work as a way of serving, you seek to work as fast as you can, because that will serve your customers best. And, the company will really value that, because it means they can serve more customers and increase their bottom line.
Trustworthy is competence and character. We glorify God by being trustworthy people, and this means not only that we are ethical, but also good at what we do. You wouldn’t trust a doctor who as impeccably honest but fumbled in his surgeries.
What are some of the main practices of effective management and how does a Christian ethic inform them?
Overarching Principles for Leading Any Organization
Thomas Watson, Jr, former IBM chief executive, in A Business and Its Beliefs:
One may speculate at length as to the cause of the decline and fall of a corporation. Technology, changing tastes, changing fashions, all play a part. . . . But I question whether they in themselves are decisive. I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can very often be traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people. What does it do to help these people find common cause with each other? … And how can it sustain this common cause and sense of direction through the many changes which take place from one generation to another? Consider any great organization—one that has lasted over the years—I think you will find that it owes its resiliency not to its form of organization or administrative skills, but to the power of what we call beliefs and the appeal these beliefs have for its people. This, then, is my thesis: I firmly believe that nay organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. . . . Beliefs must always come before policies, practices, and goals. The latter must always be altered if they are seen to violate fundamental beliefs.
“The HP Way basically means respect and concern for the individual; it says ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ That’s what it’s really about.’”
Visionary companies have a purpose beyond making money. This “guides and inspires people throughout the organization. This purpose also “remains relatively fixed for a long period of time,” allowing the company to become enduring because it has a core identity.
George Merck II, in expressing “the principles which we in our company have endeavored to live up to,” sums it up this way: “We try to remember that medicine is for the patient. We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.”
Pfizer, he comparison company to Merck displayed “more of a purely pragmatic profit orientation than Merck” during the same period (49). John McKeen, president of Pfizer during the same era as George Merck II, said: “So far as is humanly possible, we aim to get profit out of everything we do.”
This is a case where a practice in the field of management illustrates and sheds further light on a reality in theology and Scripture.
The concept behind “preserve the core and stimulate progress” is that any enduring, visionary organization has to have a central, unchanging core that they stand for. This core defines their identity—it is something ongoing and lasting in the midst of all the changes that may come (and which are pursued). Without a core, you can’t last because there is nothing to last. Explain this better in final draft.
Now, if all you do is preserve the core, however, you quickly become out of step with a fast changing environment. You need to adapt and be flexible. How do you do this in all things that are non-core? Stimulate progress. The core—your identity—stays the same. But operating practices and strategies are continually changing. You don’t cast those in stone, but let them be endlessly adaptable.
And this is how an organization is able to last: it has a core that endures, but is flexible in its operating practices so that it can navigate the seas of change and avoid calcification and rigidity.
We see this principle at work in the church. It is descriptive of how the Lord seems to work.
Notice: he has given to the church a core: the gospel, the sacraments, and the doctrine of the Scriptures. But he has left the church free in adapting styles and practices according to need. This is why the gospel is able to go to all nations—we bring with us the gospel, which does not change, but do not have to force people into any particular cultural mode. So we don’t have to fight against culture.
This is what missional Christianity is doing when they seek to “reach out without selling out.” This is what churches do as worship styles change over time. And on and on.
And we see it through the history of the church: the central core of Christianity has endured for 2,000 years. There has been something to endure—something that unites all Christians across the ages. And this core, further, is not simply propositional, but a person—the Spirit who is with the church and gives life.
And here is what is really fascinating: We see this reality of “preserve the core / stimulate progress” in the Scripture as something that will continue throughout eternity.
Ephesians 2:6-7: God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” God will show the riches of his grace to us forever—there’s the core. And apparently, he will do this through continually new displays of his kindness from age to age. There is something ongoingly new—there’s “stimulate progress”—new ways of seeing the same essential kindness of God.
Talked about this above, so I don’t need to talk about this more here.
Covey quote. 4 management paradigms would go here.
Talked about this above as well.
Managing Well within the Organization
As we discussed above, the essence of management is to unleash a person’s talents for the performance of the organization. A theological perspective adds detail to this and helps flesh it out. Let me say two things here.
First, the individual focus of management is in line with the Christian view of the dignity of the individual. Individuals matter, and so it also matters that we help enable them to be effective.
Second, the fact that management seeks to unleash the talent of the individual for the performance of the organization aligns with the fact that we are not simply individuals in isolation. We seek to be more effective not simply individually, but for common goals.
Third, if we value serving, then that means we also would value the particular type of serving that enables others to serve more effectively. Which is what management is about.
A fundamental premise of great management is to focus on strengths, not on correcting weakness. You can only build on what someone has, not what they don’t have. As the gallup management on great managers revealed that great managers know, and as Lloyd-Jones himself pointed out many decades ago, a person’s fundamental personality does not tend to change.
Hence, if your goal in management is to fix up someone’s weaknesses to make them fit the aims of the position, you will be wasting your time. That is an incredibly inefficient—and ultimately impossible—approach.
A much more effective and efficient approach is to not try to put in what God left out, and instead focus on what God did “put in.” Build on a person’s strengths.
Your employees will be effective to the degree that you shape their role (not mainly them!) to call upon their strengths the majority of the time.
To this view we see some very intriguing biblical foundations.
Notice Romans 12:6: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” God has given us different gifts. We do not all have the same gift. What do we do about this? Use the gifs you have, not the gifts you don’t have. “Having gifts that differ…let us use them.” This theme is repeated in 1 Peter 4:10: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” Use your gifts. That is, build on your strengths—not on your weaknesses.
Paul expands on this further in 1 Corinthians 12. There are “varieties of gifts.” There’s individualization—not all have the same gift. But—and this we can’t observe from the field of management—there is one spirit who distributes those gifts in the church. Now verse 7 is very interesting in relation to our definition of management: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Wow. That is echoed (it’s not the other way around!) in “turn each individual’s talent into performance for the organization. Here the context is the church. “The manifestation of the spirit” is our differing gifts (verses 4-6). These gifts are given distinctly for the common good—not our own individual good. They serve a collective purpose, in this case the edification and service of the church.
Paul goes on: “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body” (verse 15). And “if the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were the ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (v. 17). In other words, if you are an “ear,” don’t try to an eye. God has arranged each member as he chose (v. 18). Don’t try to be what you’re not. Now, Paul is not saying “you could be an eye if you wanted, but don’t try.” No, the issue is the ear cannot become the eye. It won’t work. And if everyone had that mindset, the whole body would be impoverished. Now, Paul does say that we should “earnestly desire the greater gifts” (v. 31). But the thing is, you desire the gift, and God may give it to you – but you don’t start operating in that role without the gift. You seek the gift to enable the role.
Every job meaningful
Because people are responsible and adults should be treated like adults.
Bad meetings generate real human suffering.
Being an Employee
We can see from these things that management matters to everyone—not just managers themselves, but also employees. It matters in all organizations—even in churches, and even though it has often been wrongly applied in churches to their detriment. (Understanding management properly—not trashing on it or getting rid of it—is the solution to that.)
And it matters to you not simply when you are in your workplace, but also when you are on the customer side of things. Can see how things can be done better, and you can serve the organizations that are serving you.
Maximize the fact that you are here to serve. Let this fuel creativity and radical action for the good of others. You are a non-profit precisely so that you are not constrained by the need to do things profitably. Make the most of this. So often, non-profits fail to capitalize on this unique distinctive because they are so concerned with surviving. But you don’t exist to exist. Be driven by your mission, and pursue it with radical creativity.
Maximize even more the fact that you are a non-profit. Meaning—and don’t spoil through bad management, because people can be miserable in their job even if it has incredible intrinsic significance if in the day-to-day three things are missing: awareness that their work makes a difference specifically to someone, people are aware of them, and there are no ways that they can measure their effectiveness.
Bring your donors and volunteers into the meaning as well.
- Why seminaries drift: they fail to preserve the core and stimulate progress. Explain.
- We now have the tools to understand tenure properly: the idolatry of tenure is a failure to distinguish the enduring principle, which is right (academic freedom) from a specific practice (tenure) which can create manifold unintended consequences. You can change the method without denying the core value.
- Remember that detached theology is bad theology. Theology can learn from Peters here: “The numerative, rationalist approach to management dominates the business schools. It teaches us that well-trained professional managers can manage anything. It seeks detached, analytical justification for all decisions. It is right enough to be dangerously wrong, and it has arguably led us seriously astray.”
End the tyranny of corporate computer control!
Applying good management in a church does not equal the “pastor as CEO” model.
The stereotype is that of the pastor who is a slick manager, but his effective management practices have become an idol that distracts from the simplicity of the gospel. He is known more for his effective management and clean desk than for being a man of God.
This thinking seems to have a hidden assumption behind it, namely that a pastor who is good at organizing will of necessity fail to embody the simplicity of the devotion that is to be found in Christ.
But if effective management is ethical and a manifestation of the duty of Christian love, this is a false antithesis. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
You don’t have to choose between good management and spirituality. Let’s reject this dichotomy. Let’s not fall prey to the tyranny of the or. Let’s embrace the genius of the and, as we do in so many other areas as Christians.
Let’s value management, and do it in a way that does not call attention to the effectiveness of the management and shift focus away from the gospel. This means that good management will not be the “main thing” in our churches. But it will still be an important thing—understood in a theological context as a fulfillment of the ethical duty of Christian love.
Here’s the thing: we need to realize that business management is only one type of management. It is part of a larger category called “administration,” which is mentioned among the spiritual gifts. There are different types of management depending on your context, each with their own unique set of practices that are suitable for that context.
So if you are in a business, then administration is called business management. But if in a hospital, it’s called health care management. In a non-profit, it’s called health are administration. And in a church, it would be called church administration.
The problem is that so many people have come from business backgrounds and naively assumed that what you do is translate the practices of business management to the church. Wrong. You apply the discipline of administration to the church, in a way specific to the uniqueness of what a church is.
What does the essence of church administration look like, then?
I’ll just say two things here. First, the pastor is not a CEO. He does not become the manager. He devotes himself to the ministry of the word and prayer. But among the church staff, the practices of wise administration are known and effectively applied—again according to the uniqueness of the fact that we are in a church. The pastor needs to affirm and champion this, or it will not happen. But he doesn’t need to do it or even understand it in great detail. Although he needs to know the basics so that he can affirm and support it effectively.
What does this look like in a church that doesn’t have staff? That’s something that I’ll have to address elsewhere, but one fundamental is that you don’t need paid staff, but you do this with church members who volunteer their time, which should also exist in the larger church as well.
- Basing your business first on This is how you bring out the best in people.
- Pursuing more than profit
- Building on strength rather than seeking to correct weaknesses
- Manage from values, not rules. The role of top management is to shape and reflect the values.
- Instilling mechanisms to preserve the core and stimulate progress, which is the fundamental dynamic of any visionary organization
- Results only work environment. There is no such thing as “company time.”
- Organizational clarity
- Discontinuous, breakthrough progress through BHAGs along with incremental, evolutionary progress through “try a lot of stuff and keep what works”
- 20% time
- Clock building, not time telling
- Locking down IT
- Spying on your employees
- Thoughtlessly focusing on cost-cutting over value
- Not challenging your people
- Applying business practices to the church without a thoughtful awareness of the different types of administration
- Thinking that only leadership matters, not management
- Time clocks
- Vacation days
The History of Management
Stephen Covey summarizes well the four stages of management thinking.
First was the scientific management paradigm. It viewed people primarily as economic beings who don’t want responsibility but instead must be motivated through “the great jackass method, the carrot and the stick.” This method managed through authoritarian, command-and-control methods.
Second was the human relations paradigm which acknowledged that people also had hearts as well as stomachs—they were social beings. It was seen that people had feelings, and thus the principle of management here became kindness. But the assumption here still left management in charge, except that instead of managing as an authoritarian, it was as a benevolent authoritarian. Managers in this paradigm could become overly soft and lax in imposing any firm standards and expectations.
Third, the human resource paradigm came to work “not only with fairness and kindness, but also with efficiency.” Now contribution began to matter. People were seen not only as economic and social beings, but also thinking beings. “With this larger understanding of man’s nature, we begin to make better use of talent, creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and imagination.” There is more delegation, and people are not longer seen merely as machines or physical properties, but people. The aim becomes to “create an environment in which people can contribute their full range of talents to the accomplishment of organizational goals.” (PCL, 178)
It is interesting that bringing management practices into the church is often thought to be responsible for taking the pastor’s and elder’s focus off of the core, but that this same reality exists in business as well: “Most top management is ‘lacking a gut feeling for the gestalt of their business.’” (Excellence, 36). “Mangers don’t love the product.”
 Patrick Lencioni, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, 253.
 Patrick Lencioni, Death by Meeting, p. 253.
 Marcus Buckingham, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, p. 59.
 Buckingham explains this very effectively in one of his other books, The One Thing You Need to Know.
 First, Break All the Rules, p. 63.
 First, Break All the Rules, p. 63.
 First, Break All the Rules, p. 63.
 J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind, p. 174.
 Robert Fraser, Marketplace Christianity.
 See, for example, Stephen Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership, 176-178 for a good overview of the four main phases of management theory. Scientific management, for example, treated people almost exclusively as economic beings who are motivated only by the desire for a paycheck. Hence, the manager took an authoritarian model, seeing people as wanting to avoid responsibility and thus seeking to “manipulate an economic reward package” to get the behavior they want.
 Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last, 47.
 Built to Last, p. 52.
 Built to Last, p. 55.
 Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence, p 76.
 Tom Peters and Roger Waterman, In Search of Excellence, xxiii. They make some additional great points later on, pointing out that “the exclusively analytic approach run wild leads to an abstract, heartless philosophy” (45); the rationalist approach as an in-built bias that makes cost reduction become priority one and revenue enhancement taking a back seat, which leads to “obsession with cost, not quality and value” (44); the rationalist approach “takes the living element out of situations that should, above all, be alive” (46); “to be narrowly rational is often to be negative,” with top management believing that its job is to sit in judgment and veto new ideas”; the extreme form of rationality “does not value experimentation and abhors mistakes” (47); “anti-experimentation leads us inevitably to over complexity and inflexibility” (48); it “does not celebrate informality” (50); it “causes us to denigrate the importance of values” and it “leaves little place for internal competition” (51).
 Tim Sanders, Love is the Killer App, 11.
 Keith Ferrazzi, Never Eat Alone, 9.
 Stephen Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership, 178-179. Covey goes on to what this implies for how we manage: “Using this paradigm, we manage people by a set of proven principles [rather than one-off tasks or rigid rules]. These principles are the natural laws and governing social values that have characterized every great society, every responsible civilization, over the centuries. They surface in the form of values, ideas, ideals, norms, and teachings that uplift, ennoble, fulfill, empower, and inspire.”
 Stephen Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership, 179-180.
 J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind, 177.
 Built to Last, 74.
 Quoted in Built to Last, 73-74 and In Search of Excellence, 280. He continues: “In other words, the basic philosophy, spirit, and drive of an organization have far more to do with its relative achievements than do technological or economic resources, organizational structure, innovation, and timing. All these things weigh heavily in success. But they are, I think, transcended by how strongly the people in the organization believe in its basic precepts and how faithfully they carry them out.”
 Built to Last, 74.
 Built to Last, 48.
 In Search of Excellence, 29.