Thursday, December 9, 2010

Do church leaders expect to be held to a lesser standard than teenagers serving them coffee in a fast-food restaurant?

My last posting discussed putting the newspaper next to the Bible in order to live the gospel, serving people in their present condition.  Part of people’s present condition is their job environment.  What is the predominant business culture people experience and how does this culture influence people’s relationship with the church?

Statistics from the U.S.’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) indicate services contribute 63.4% of the world’s GDP as compared to 30.6% from industry and 6% from agriculture.  Consequently, most people work in jobs providing services.  For example, 84.6% of jobs in the U.S. are in the services sector. 

It is safe to assume most Catholics also work in service related jobs since countries with the ten largest Catholic populations mirror this trend:
  • The U.S., Brazil, Italy, France, Spain and Poland have economies where services contribute higher percentages of their GDP than the world average
  • Mexico and Argentina are just barely below the world average at 62.8% and 62%
  • The Philippines and Colombia are significantly below the world average but still see services contributing more than 50% of their national GDP at 55% and 53.5%
Not only do people deliver services, they consume services.  Thus, the general population is becoming more service savvy.  Granted, secular services have room for substantial improvement.  Nonetheless, many people are learning key service concepts.  For example service workers understand that successful services depend upon teams of people, flexible processes, resources, and partnering with resource suppliers rather than on heroics of one saintly soul.

At work, many people are learning methodologies and frameworks for continually improving services.  They are learning about organizational dynamics required to support this.  Tenets of their occupation include:
·         Thou shall listen so as to understand needs of those you serve
·         Thou shall be open to process improvements to offer better service
·         Thou shall not blindly obey but shall think critically to identify broken processes
·         Thou shall hold no process as sacred hiding behind “tradition” lest it not serve optimally
·         Thou shall not presume you know but gather data and make decisions based on facts
·         Thou shall communicate openly and honestly
·         Thou shall be held accountable for your role in the process
·         Thou art a team member and shall value ideas from your teammates
·         Thou shall deliver and accept constructive criticism without becoming defensive
·         Thou shall seek people of diverse backgrounds so as to serve diverse people

However, at church people have practically no voice as either a service consumer or provider.  In many parishes, parish councils are supposed to represent people’s needs.  However, pastors tend to select their supporters to serve on those councils.  Therefore parish councils charged to be conduits for learning people’s needs, instead often become mutual admiration societies.  The result is that many people believe the church sub-optimally serves the community’s needs. 

If people raise concerns or offer improvement suggestions as is encouraged in their work culture, they often find themselves dismissed, patronized, pushed to the fringes of their parish, removed from teams or in extreme cases demonized by priests or priest-groupies.  Unlike in their job environment, blind obedience is preferred over critical thinking.  

If they act like a full member of the team, offer criticism, or hold leaders accountable, they are told they lack humility.  If they try to communicate openly, they are told they lack charity and understanding.  If they identify gender discrimination, they are told they just don’t understand God’s plan in the differences between men and women.  Instead of being co-creators in their church as Vatican II suggests, they become pawns, moved to the strategic advantage of church leaders.

Some parishes have tried to embark on process-based thinking but more often greatly lag secular service organizations in understanding process methodologies.  Frequently they also choke on the egalitarian nature of service improvement.  A friend of mine once was hired by a monarch to help his country become more democratic.  Upon realizing that being democratic required him to accept election results even when he didn't agree, he fired her.  In a similar vein, some pastors trying to embrace service concepts stop short when they learn their "pastoral discretion" must humbly yield to data, facts and insight from multiple knowledge workers. 

In their jobs, Catholics learn about service, service quality and service improvement.  They also drank the “Jesus Kool-Aid” about serving others and assume Christian service should far surpass what’s expected of them in their secular service work.  Instead, they see many church leaders who are internally rather than externally focused, emphasize serving them rather than others, ignore or neutralize rather than seek lay voices, marginalize rather than embrace diversity, presume rather than ask, work in secrecy rather than openness, rebuff rather than desire criticism, fear rather than seek continual improvement, and skirt rather than face accountability.    

As has happened throughout history, secular and sacred cultures again intersect with great dissonance.  Even teenagers flipping hamburgers in a fast-food restaurant sense the dichotomy.  However, this time, their secular jobs seem to understand service better than their church. Do church leaders expect to be held to a lesser standard than teenagers serving them coffee in a fast-food restaurant?

People working in secular service-industry jobs know that when their organization renders poor service, people leave.  Should the church expect any different reaction?

1 comment:

  1. I've often thought what a welcome improvement it would be if I could enjoy the same level of respect in the Church as I do in the secular world. The hierarchy is busy condemning secular society when it should be learning from it!