Sunday, November 30, 2014

Service and Administration

Yours truly engages in administrating — not.
Thank heaven we work for someone smarter than we are.

If I wanted to cite a cautionary tale in that regard, I’d look no further than the corporation that employs me (which will remain nameless, since I am grateful for a weekly paycheque). For the last decade or so — not trying to be unkind, but merely truthful — the company has been afflicted with near-systemic administrative incompetence. Even a worker bee can see that dwindling market share, increasing debt load, layoffs by the thousands and an inability to attract investors are not positive indicators.

I’ve been around long enough to see four major internal initiatives implemented and subsequently scrapped. These are programs put in place by the smartest people in the company (and when they need somebody smarter than they’ve got, they simply go out and hire them). They are implemented with the best of intentions, a drive for success and a massive budget in every instance (in one case nearly US$6 million), after hundreds of hours of analysis and the counsel of the best outside consultants money can buy.

Each has failed spectacularly.

More Examples of Failure

Now I’m not saying I want an upper management job. It’s tempting to think that because you are inclined to notice the flaws in a system you could come up with a better one yourself and carry it out more effectively. But I’m not sure my ideas are all that much better than management’s. If you ever want to know your own limitations, try taking on a major responsibility. You’ll find out quickly enough.

And the business world is merely the tip of the iceberg. I look at what my own government and the governments of other nations have done over my lifetime to advance the causes of their people, and while I see endless examples of greed, cowardice, pandering, exploitation, shortsightedness, manipulation and abuse, what I notice above all is … yes, systemic incompetence.

Failure after failure after administrative failure.

A Single Success Story

Relax, I don’t want to run the country either. Sure, some ideas are obviously better than others, and I’ve idly considered many of them over the years. But implementing those ideas successfully in the lives of thirty million, or three hundred million people? Not a challenge I’d want to take on.

But I work for another entity entirely unrelated to business or government. This particular entity is destined to be so successful in its aims that even the gates of hell will not ultimately prevail against it. Within it I occupy the lowest place on the totem pole, I’m delighted to report. I’m not its prime minister, elected representative, CEO, manager or even supervisor.

I’m a servant, period; not only a servant of Christ, but a servant of those to whom I carry his message.

The apostle Paul could say, “… what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”.

The Nature of Service

Being a servant does not mean that I work in marketing, trying to figure out how make the One I represent attractive to a particular demographic in the coolest, most bleeding-edge way possible. Our marketing department is actually not located on this planet and their marketing campaign for the last couple thousand years is thematically based around the contrast between the “foolishness” of our message and the “wisdom” of the world. Of course I have a responsibility, like every other servant of Christ, to behave myself maturely, faithfully, peacefully, uncontentiously, kindly and patiently, among other things, in order to conscientiously represent my master. But this is merely our “dress code”, if you like, not the substance of my job. It is not required of me that I spend my time on earth fretting about the image of Christianity in the world, notwithstanding the handwringing of other believers or the disingenuous platitudes of TIME magazine.

Being a servant does not position me as an accountant trying to calculate how to best accomplish a set of goals within the budgetary constraints imposed on my department. The budget is limitless. After all, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” and “every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills”. I have the responsibility, like every servant, to manage wisely the personal resources allotted to me, looking to get the best value for my master. But it is not required that I spend my time on earth engaged in fundraising for the advancement of the Kingdom of God, notwithstanding the convictions of others in this regard.

Least of all — thank the Lord — does being a servant mean I am engaged in policymaking. “I will build my church”, said the Lord, and I take him at his word on that. My relationship to him is compared to that of a body part to the head. A hand, foot or even an eye is not engaged in making policy for the body, it simply responds to the brain. With all due respect to the clever folks involved in the Lausanne 2004 Forum on World Evangelization Center for the Study of Global Christianity, I’m not sure their sort of thing is either necessary — or even our business.

No, our job is dead simple. Follow orders. Serve.

What a relief.

It doesn’t mean I get to turn my brain off, of course. But I’m not, as Paul says, proclaiming myself. I don’t need to figure out how to promote myself, how to implement my self-promotion campaign or how to pay for it. I’m proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. So I proclaim. The big picture is the responsibility of someone else.

Established in Steadfast Love

We might well ask the question Why is it that human administrators, regardless of level, never seem to be up to the job?

Isaiah draws a contrast between Jesus Christ as Lord and every other administrator in human history. There is a day coming when, as Isaiah tells us:
“… a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.”
If Christ as Lord is destined to rule the entire world successfully in a future age, establishing his throne, seeking justice and doing righteousness, then surely we can have full and complete confidence in him to orchestrate the administrative affairs of his church in this age as we seek to humbly serve as directed. He is able to manage infinitely more effectively than the wisest among us.

Undoubtedly that wisdom will be a significant feature in the establishment of his kingdom, but that’s not the first thing Isaiah thinks about when he describes the reign of the Lord. He says, rather, “a throne will be established in steadfast love”.

Which makes me wonder if the biggest contributing factor in the failure of administrators at every level may not be a lack of wisdom after all. It may be a lack of love.

That would certainly explain a lot, wouldn’t it.

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