let me introduce you to Sharon. She is a change agent, a questioner, a critic. She asks “why” a lot, and suggests alternatives to almost everything we
do – even things we have done the same way for years.
She’s usually polite, but sometimes she’s uncomfortably
direct, even a bit sharp and impatient.
And Sharon is persistent. If she doesn’t get a satisfac-
tory answer, she sometimes drops the matter temporarily,
We’ve decided, for the good of the
group – you know, the sense of unity,
co-operation, common vision, cama-
raderie – Sharon has to go. She will be
terminated this Friday with the quick-
est and quietest exit we can engineer.
Now let me introduce you to Greg.
Frankly, Greg is a charming failure.
He’s always ready to say hello, eager
to engage in small talk and quick with a smile. He works
long hours and listens well to everyone. He promises to
make amends when mistakes or shortcomings are pointed
out to him, and he never directly challenges anyone.
His work, however, is actually pretty bad. He consistently fails to meet targets. He has alienated many of the
people who work most closely with him because of his
incompetence. The job is clearly too big for him, although
he never acknowledges it is, and instead always seems to
have an excuse at hand.
We’ve decided, for the good of the group – you know,
the sense of unity, co-operation, common vision, camaraderie – we’ll keep putting up with Greg. We’ll work around
him, put some of his responsibilities on others, and set
lower, more reachable goals for him.
Some organizations prize innovative thinking, “
creative disruption,” straight talk and a quest for excellence.
Others value mutual reinforcement of the status quo,
avoidance of conflict, soothing euphemisms and a quest
for “comfortableness.” Why does it seem that the latter
culture is far more common among Christian organizations than the former?
We Canadians generally have a culture of pragmatic co-operation going back to the compromises and connections
necessary to produce Confederation almost 150 years ago.
More of the Same?
Can we truly flourish without innovation?
There is a lot to be said for not pushing the envelope when
resources are hard pressed, the stakes are high and another potentially murderous winter is coming.
So we cut off the tall poppies. We fear novelty, resent
ambition and reward conformity. If improvement is absolutely necessary, then it will be carefully modulated so
as not to make anyone else feel criticized in the process.
Layer onto this culture of moderation (some would
say “mediocrity”) a dose of “Christian speak” as well as
a fundamental confusion over metaphors and models –
running a Christian mission like a family, for example,
or a Christian school like a church – and the likelihood
increases drastically that we will ostracize the Sharons and
keep validating the Gregs.
To be sure, love requires us to
treat everyone with compassion and
forbearance, including the Gregs.
But neither Jesus nor the apostles
sacrificed the good of the mission
for the sake of an individual who
refused to change, however sweetly,
and who stubbornly impeded the
Let’s look at the state of Christian
institutions in Canada today, then,
Or are we replete with organizations barely surviving,
poorly funded, staffed by those who couldn’t get hired elsewhere, plodding along the same paths, and generally in
need of serious reconstruction, if not closed doors? Do we
need to loosen the reins a lot more, challenge ourselves and
each other to think new thoughts, and experiment with a
whole wide range of alternatives to business as usual?
Business as usual isn’t getting the job done very well.
And changing our institutions starts right here, at the
micro-level – listening to, and empowering, the Sharons
in our midst as gifts rather than threats.
And disciplining, or firing, the Gregs. FT
JOhN STacKhOuSE teaches at regent College,
Vancouver. his next book Need to Know: Vocation as the
Heart of Christian Epistemology will be released in June
2014 by oxford University Press. read more of these
columns at www.theEfC.ca/ChristAndCulture.
christ&cultureincanada n BY JohN G. STACKhoUSE Jr.
Neither Jesus nor
the apostles sacrificed
the good of the mission
for the sake of
an individual who
refused to change.