Archive for March, 2010

Methods vs. Mission- Part II

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Last week I offered Part I of Methods vs. Mission, this week is Part II.  Part II asks the following question, how do you know when an institution has allowed its mission to be co-opted by its methods?  Let me preface this by saying that the process through which an institution’s mission is co-opted by its methods is a subtle one.  Over time it may barely be perceptible.   Amazingly, even obvious signs of decline in productivity and efficiency are not seen as a failure to fulfill its mission but only as a temporary setback that can easily be remedied if the employees would just work harder.  In fact, even in the absence of visionary leadership, the institutional mantra came become “just keep doing the same things, only do them harder.”  Institutions with some degree of longevity and a history of success are difficult to kill, but it is possible.  Losing sight of your mission in the maze of institutional methods is a slower death, but death none-the-less.

So, here are my eight symptoms that may indicate an institution’s mission has been co-opted by its methods.

1) Leaders believe that the institution’s best days are in the past and therefore the institution’s future depends on recapturing or re-forming the past.

2) Leaders are in denial that the institution reached its previous apex of growth, its critical mass, in the midst of a cultural milieu that no longer exists.

3) Previous leaders are assigned the status of martyrs and or saints and holy days are created to memorialize the moments of greatest success and joy in the institution’s history.

4) The institution’s most powerful and significant past achievements are canonized or absolutized as guidelines for the next generation of leaders/workers.

5) An inability to value creativity, innovation, and/or an unwillingness to critique itself turns an institution’s greatest asset, its people, into a maintenance crew.

6) The emergence of a pseudo-history created from the shared experiences of what happened in the institution’s past now defines and shapes what the institution’s future will be or must be. 

 7) The  institution has forgotten that its greatest resource is its people not its structures or methods; once institutionalized, it expends more and more of its time, energy, and resources on perpetuating itself than fulfilling its mission.

 8) Leaders come to believe and communicate that the institution’s survival is the mission.

I started this two part blog writing about observations I made while teaching a course on the Reformation.  What I have described in two parts is a pretty accurate picture of the Catholic Church as it entered the sixteenth century.  The Catholic Church was worth the time and effort it would have required to reform it and restore its true mission, incarnating the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world.  My assessment is that the key element required for this reform to occur was missing.  The key element in the reformation of any institution is leadership.  Reform requires courageous, visionary leaders willing to overcome the fear and resistance associated with losing the institution in order to lead the changes that will allow the institution to recapture and renew its mission.

Lest we become arrogant or judgmental about what sixteenth century Catholic leaders failed to do with the challenges and crises of their moment in time, take a moment and reflect on the crises and challenges facing our own institutions, what choices are we making?  I would suggest Jim Collins’ book as a good read for this topic.

Methods vs. Mission- Part I

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

In reflecting on the Reformation over the past several months I was struck by similar patterns that seem to emerge over the course of history.  I am not referring to the old adage that “history repeats itself”.  I personally reject this  idea unless what we mean is that people in every century seem to be predisposed toward making the same kinds of choices when faced with similar circumstances.  That does not make history the same, it just suggests that people are people regardless of the century.  Anyway, back to my reflections. 

The Reformation offers us a look at what happens when people create institutions that over time take on a life of their own.  Somewhere, someplace back there in time, someone articulated a clear mission, a clear vision out of which emerged an institution whose purpose was to fulfill the mission and to inspire people with the vision.  Then over time the institution became preoccupied with how to get the mission done and thus was birthed its methodologies.   What is curious to me is how many times in history the mission and the vision were co-opted by the methods until the institution was no longer driven by the mission or the vision but became focused on justifying and reproducing the methods.  In some cases the justification and reproduction of the methods became the mission and or replaced the vision.  Of course that does not happen today but it did back then.

I was reminded of a dilemma faced by the American railroad industry at the turn of the twentieth-century.  J.P. Morgan was a financial genius who essentially took over the American railroad industry in the last decades of the nineteenth-century.  At that time it appeared as though the railroad was the future of the transportation business in America and intricate plans were laid to expand rail lines throughout the country in order to keep pace with public transportation needs and with the demands of commerce.  Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 with this expansion in mind.  The railroad industry became an institution dedicated to the advancement of its methods and plans for the future.

Around the same time a guy named Henry Ford was experimenting with something called an automobile.  His goal was to make the automobile both a practical form of transporation and so affordable that every working class American could afford one.  The Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908.  The car was very simple to drive, and easy and cheap to repair. It was so cheap at $825 in 1908 (the price fell every year) that by the 1920s a majority of American drivers learned to drive on the Model T.

The financial giants invested in the railroad industry scoffed at the idea that the automobile would one day compete with the railroad.  Everyone knew that America’s future depended on laying miles and miles of track and consolidating the railroads.  The automobile was a fool’s investment.  The railroad was the true American institution, not the automobile.


So what’s the point?  By allowing the original mission and vision to be co-opted by methodology these men lost their ability to imagine a future different from the one they planned.  You see, what they lost sight of was the fact that they were not in the railroad business, they were in the transportation business.  The future was about transportation in America, not railroads.

Next week I will offer Part II of Methods vs. Mission.  How do you know when an institution has allowed its mission to be co-opted by its methods?

The Jesuit Irony

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

One would think that after the Protestant fragmentation of the church during the sixteenth century that Catholicism would be left broken and floundering going into the next century.  Actually the opposite is true and there are at least two primary reasons for Catholicism’s resuscitation and resurgence:  the Council of Trent and the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits.  The Council of Trent (1545-1563) reasserted and reaffirmed what it meant to be a Catholic by clearly stating where it theologically differed from all the various Protestant sects of the day.  Essentially all Catholics were Tridentine Catholics until the church reformulated many of its views at Vatican II in 1962.  The key to Trent was its implementation and that became the Jesuit mission.  Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits and Pope Paul III approved them as an official order in 1540.


These dedicated and disciplined scholar/missionaries became Catholicism’s answer to Protestantism.  Once a Jesuit completed the full requirements for admittance to the order he took three vows: poverty, chastity and obedience, but there was a fourth vow that a Jesuit could make.  The fourth vow was one of direct personal obedience to the pope and many Jesuits took this fourth vow.  This fourth vow made them powerful allies of the papacy; it also made them many enemies.  This fourth vow was what lay at the heart of the great Jesuit irony. 

During the age of European exploration/colonization the Jesuits traveled the globe from South and Central America, to Africa and Asia bringing Catholic Christianity with them.  Many Jesuits were martyred while trying to penetrate the many cultures they encountered.   They were the first great Christian missionary movement to formulate and implement an indigenous approach to missions.  They assimilated themselves within the culture and allowed an indigenous interpretation of the gospel message to emerge from within the culture rather than clothing the gospel with a European cultural interpretation that forced the people to become quasi-Europeans before becoming Christians.  As a result of their efforts, the Catholic Church entered the eighteenth century experiencing a powerful renewal of its universal claim to be the one true church.  

Clement XIV dissolved the Jesuit Order in 1773.

Exploration/colonization carried both political and religious agendas.  With the Catholic Church’s assistance, the Catholic nation states of Spain and Portugal dominated colonization during the seventeenth century.  Politics in every century have been a necessary and brutal game of negotiated self interest that rewarded and encouraged those with power and wealth.  By the seventeenth century the Catholic Church’s former claims that it possessed both spiritual and temporal power were being dwarfed by these nation states.   In order to survive among the emerging European powers the church made continual concessions and compromises.  Spain and Portugal needed resources to develop their vast colonies.  They needed human resources…slaves.  There were settlements in the Spanish territories of Central and South America that protected and provided for indigenous Indians.  These settlements created a thriving trade in commercial goods to support themselves and they offered sanctuary to all who sought protection from slavery.  These settlements became barriers to obtaining more power and wealth.  These settlements were established and administered by the Jesuits, the same Jesuits who swore strict obedience to the pope until the pope bowed to the kings of Spain and Portugal and ordered the Jesuits to turn their settlements over to these political powers.

They refused.  Under what circumstances does the moral obligation to defend the poor and defenseless in God’s name trump a previous vow of obedience made in God’s name?  That was the Jesuit irony.

 The Mission is the name of a movie that attempted to capture some of this dilemma.

Forgotten Voices

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli, John Tetzel, Pope Leo X, Charles V, are just a few of the  names that we would associate with the sixteenth century Reformation.  We would also recognize these names because they represent the fragmentation and polarization that characterized Christianity after the Reformation.  In fact, most Christian traditions now identify themselves in terms of how they are not like others.  Catholics are Catholics because they are not Protestants and vice versa.  We go even further when we write our various histories to indicate how triumphal we are about the fact that we are the “true church” as opposed to those other people.  You would almost get the impression that there were only two kinds of people during the tumultuous period of the Reformation, Catholics who hated Protestants and Protestants who despised Catholics.  We are almost persuaded that there were no other voices, voices for moderation, reconciliation, unity and restoration, but there were.

Gasparo Contarini, John Eck and Johannes Gropper were Catholics; Philip Melanchthon, Martin Bucer and Johannes Pistorius were Protestants.  From June of 1540 until May of 1541, these men at various times and places met to talk, write, discuss, debate and negotiate in an attempt to hold the church together.  These were the first Protestants and Catholics Together, to borrow a name from a more recent series of meetings.


From April to May of 1541 these men met in the German city of Regensburg to see if they could arrive at a consensus that would prevent the further splintering of the faith.  They made a valiant attempt to navigate their way through 23 articles of faith in order to find common ground for the two parties to begin new negotiations.  By early May they came to a tentative agreement on the original state of mankind, free will, the cause of sin, the nature of original sin and, amazingly, justification by faith.  Cardinal Contarini wrote the final draft on justification by faith.  However, their best efforts at reconciliation could not overcome the issue of authority located in the papacy and church councils and they were finally stumped on article 14 concerning the Eucharist.

So what’s the point?  The point is that they gathered in Regensburg to make an effort that failed because it mattered.  There was no way for these men to know if their efforts would be successful or not.  Each of them risked a great deal to even be there.  Cardinal Contarini was later accused of heresy and died in 1542, but the saddest legacy of Regensburg is that the voices there have been forgotten in the larger history of the Reformation.  It seems that we are too content to write and believe histories that tell us that the church has always been fragmented and polarized and that there were no voices that sought moderation, reconciliation, or restoration.  Worst of all, perhaps we have come to think that this fragmented and polarized church is for the best and that any efforts to talk and interact are just a waste of time and energy.  I am not suggesting that we resurrect the ecumenical movement as the “silver bullet”, but I am suggesting that people on all sides of the faith have names, faces and voices.  Efforts to heal wounds are never a waste of time, even if they fail.