Monday 16 March 2009

Church: Institution & Organisation

Two thoughts from our bishop’s staff reflection with Professor Martyn Percy, using Philip Selznik’s sociological concepts of Organisation/ Institution:
  1. Movements become organisations and then additionally institutions, changing from a kind of second to third gear.

    An organisation is a technical machine for mobilizing energies and achieving aims by devising and enforcing rules, dividing up work and co-ordinating results. It needs managing, based on competence. It gets things done, mainly pragmatically, within the constraints of what can be done and the limitations of the human beings involved.

    An institution is an uber-organization, responsive, adaptive organism, with a script about surviving and flourishing long term. It needs leadership, based on values. In a mature body you need both, but if the long-term Institutional leadership breaks down, the organisation fails. Take football: the organisational needs are fulfilled by clubs and players. Without them there'd be no game. The institutional needs are fulfilled on a Meta level by the rules, referees and administrators. Effective management is no substitute for good reffing. Nor vice versa.

  2. Many snafus with Church, including focus and identity probems among ordinands come from not understanding this distinction. People become frustrated when they expect the Institution to manage, and mostake the local management for the whole institution; which in a sense it is, but in another it isn’t. Neither strategy works, long-term. People who underestimate the organisational dimension lose practical capacity, and tend to fantasy. People who underestimate the institutional dimension tend to pure pragmatism, and easily lose spiritual and world-transforming focus.
I am fascinated by Willow Creek, as a laboratory of the spirit, which after 30 years is now trying to find its institutional feet as Bill Hybels returns to being senior pastor. Compare Michael Dell returning to Dell, or Steve Jobs returning to Apple. Or don’t?


rosie said...

We often struggle with this at supervision. You may engage with the Church as either organization or institution depending on your role. One of the potential challenges is for lay folk who have senior posts in a large company and assume that the management styles are directly transferable into their local church. A grace based institution must not only preach grace but model it in the way it functions. This often involves cutting people a whole lot more slack than Microsoft would ever wish to do.

Anonymous said...

good post, thanks for the information

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Rosie. I like your description of the Church as "a grace-based institution" — and when things go wrong it's particularly sad. I was very heartened to be told by a very able ordinand who's worked his way up the hard way from the shop floor that his experience of Church had been the most useful resource for him in working out how to treat people and interact with them decently and fruitfully at work. Unusual, perhaps, but very much the way I wish things were more of the time!

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