I’m sitting in my organizational management class right now. That (combined with having just finally finished Lengthen Your Stride, which opened my eyes to the challenge of managing a global organization) has got me thinking about why the church is structured the way it is.
Many attributes of the church that we like to complain about here in the bloggernacle serve very useful purposes in maintaining cohesion across dozens of nations and millions of people. Here are some ponderings, none of which are grounded in anything other than my teacher’s lecturing and my own mental meanderings, so take them for what they’re worth.
- Why is the church conservative? I don’t mean politically conservative, but conservative in its sense of “resistant to change”. Change is risky, short-term loss with no guarantee of long-term gains. Members who disapprove of the change are more likely to leave that non-members who approve of the change are to join. It’s kind of like speaking in general conference — there’s nothing you can say that will get people to join the church, but there’s a lot you can say to get people to leave the church. In other words, people join a volunteer organization for what it is, not for what it’s not — and that means the current membership of an organization is going to tend to be satisfied with the way that organization is. (Of course, that ignores the issue of those who were raised in the church rather than choosing to join it.)
- Why is our Sunday school curriculum so focused on the core, basic doctrines? Of course, from a personal, spiritual perspective, it’s because they’re important to our lives, and we need to understand them, be reminded of them, and live them to receive the blessings of the gospel. Also, from an organizational perspective, accessible, non-controversial messages are the least likely to cause contention. In some sense, boring Sunday school lessons are less likely than interesting ones to cause schism among the diverse, international membership of the church.
- Why does the church shift local and general leaders from position to position and place to place? Again, there is the personal growth and development that we gain from serving in a wide variety of positions. From an organizational perspective, this also prevents any single leader from developing a “personal parish” of followers. This mitigates the risk of schism due to a single charismatic leader attempting to wrest control of his or her flock. I can’t imagine that any single member of our current church leadership would successfully draw a large portion of followers away from the body of the church by starting his or her own church.
- Why is the church so heavily managed by policy and correlation? Correlation and policy are the tools of bureaucracy. For all that we hate the term “bureaucracy”, it really has a lot of advantages. Bureaucracy maintains stability in spite of the individual local leaders’ diverse opinions. This means that members can be reasonably sure what to expect when they attend church each week, and that there is no crisis when there is a change in local leadership.
Languages evolve from complex to simple, and I believe that organizations do the same. Organizational founders are innovators. Organizational successors are clarifiers. I like to daydream about how wonderful it would have been to have lived under the voices of Joseph and Brigham, but it’s easy to forget how chaotic it was. I don’t mean the chaos from external persecutions, but rather the chaos of many the many new religious innovations introduced by those prophets. Almost two centuries later, it’s easy for us to say which of their teachings should be privileged and which should be forgotten, but at the time I imagine the doctrinal life of church members had a sense of wild madness to it.