Why we must resist religious bureaucracy


Some wisdom from David Mills on why we must resist religious bureaucracy.

1. Religious bureaucracy tends to define the mission of the church as the continuing life and success of the institution as it is, which means, that its processes continue to process.

Bureaucratic processes prefer “process people,” people who by personality and usually conviction fit into the system and will not work outside it.

Commissions on ministry, for example, will be thought to work well if they run the needed number of people through the ordination process, even if the strong leaders and entrepreneurs the churches now need desperately (evangelists and church planters, for example) are weeded out because they are impatient with such processes and will not be socialized by them.

Jesus would not have made it through the usual ordination process, nor would any of the apostles save Judas. I am not joking, though this may be unfair to Judas.

2. To the extent that a bureaucracy does define a mission, it tends to define it as a moderated form of liberalism.

Orthodox Christianity requires a set doctrine, but liberalism in its initial stages requires only the agreement to treat the doctrine as open for discussion.

Bureaucracies tend to define their church's mission as a form of liberalism for another reason: They are easily taken over by politically orga-nized groups, both because such people tend to join them to advance their cause and because an organized group can easily be given a place in the process.

3. Bureaucracies must operate by rules objectively and impersonally applied, rather than personal discernment sensitive to individual differences and gifts.

4. In a bureaucracy personal responsibility is diffused while power is concentrated.

Or rather, the structure diffuses responsibility for those prob-lems for which no one wants to be responsible, such as making statements on bitterly disputed moral questions, and it concentrates the power that people at the center want, such as the power to select and ordain clergy and increasingly (in the mainline churches) to appoint them to parishes even over the objections of the parishes themselves.

5. The bureaucracies' decisions, even the least important, demand more time and energy than they are worth, time and energy that would otherwise be given to local projects.

To justify their existence, bureaucratic workers must keep producing reports, proposals, projects, resolutions. Because these come from an official body, they will be given priority in any meeting of the whole diocese.

6. Bureaucracies inhibit the work of the churches is that they make decisions on matters best left to local parishes.

7. Bureaucracies encourage the growth of liberalism in their members and in the churches' corporate life.

The bureaucrat sets up dialogues in which the question is treated as open, at which point, to assert the biblical teaching is taken as “short-circuiting the process” or refusing to listen to one's brothers and sisters.

The energies of the church are then consumed in trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, in dialogues that rarely change anyone's mind, though they weaken many people's faith by saying with the church's authority that the question is open.

This is an edited version from David Mills: Reorganizing Religion.