Religion Today

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Best Training Ground for Democracy: A Business or a Church?

Many successful businessmen and businesswomen in America run for public office thinking their business background is good preparation for a leadership position in government. This is especially true if they managed a company and guided it from humble beginnings to a multimillion-dollar organization.
But perhaps there is a better preparation for government leadership -- namely, being a successful pastor of a church.
Say what?
Put simply, a business aims to balance the conflicting interests of four groups: investors, managers, employees and customers. The investors paid to set up the company and want to make a profit on that investment by selling to the customers the goods or services produced by the employees. Investors want to sell the product at a price that ensures a profit, but not so high the customers won't buy it.
The employees constitute much of the cost. A company needs employees to produce the product or service and so must pay them. Of course, employees want high wages, while investors desire the opposite.
In a successful company, managers balance the competing goals of the other three groups: the customers who want to minimize the purchase price, the employees who want to maximize wages, and the owners who want to maximize profits from the price by minimizing wages and other costs.
In most churches, by contrast, the investors and customers comprise the same group of people: the congregation. Furthermore, apart from the minister herself or himself, most of the "employees" are actually volunteers from the congregation: Sunday school teachers, choir members, ushers and so on. (Of course there are a few other employees: the secretary, janitor, organist and choir director.) "Management" also is volunteer; apart from the pastor, most management tasks are undertaken by committees of congregants.
So rather than the separate, competing groups underpinning a business, a church consists of one group of people who move among roles comparable to a company's four constituencies. Management in a church is not about balancing competition between groups, but about balancing the different interests coming from the same group.
A church needs to maximize products and services to the parishioners as customers -- whether matters of worship, education, social interaction, comforting and counseling, or spiritual uplift and salvation. At the same time, the church's management tries keep down the costs so that the parishioners as investors do not complain about them.
Of course, a church's goal is not monetary profit, but lies in the intangible benefits which the congregation receives. In other words, the products and services themselves comprise the "profit."
A church's management challenge is to provide what the congregation as customers want, for the cost that the congregation as investors are willing to pay through their tithes and donations. If the management fails in this balance, they can be removed.
So, which position is better training for government leadership in a democracy -- management of a company or a church? The management of the organization a government is most like, namely, a church.
In a democracy like the United States, the customers and the investors are essentially the same people -- namely, the citizens. The government provides goods and services for the citizens as customers while the citizens as investors pay for them through their taxes. As investors, the citizens also vote to hire and fire the management from among themselves who, in turn, are responsible for hiring and firing employees from among the citizens.
Why does a church provide training for democratic leadership? Because the similarity in organization gives ministers experience in the same human dynamics the government encounters.
In a business, management can play off the interests of customers against those of investors against those of employees. And if managers fail, only the investors can fire them.
In a democratic government and a church, the customers and the investors are the same, and the managers and the employees are just a subset of them. On the one hand, if the customers-investors are unhappy about either products or cost, they can fire management.
On the other hand, significant changes in management and employees impacts the welfare of the customers-investors. A reduction in investment (taxes) means a reduction in the number of employees who can function as citizen investors. That, in turn, forces reductions in goods and services to the citizen consumers who need them, which makes them unhappy and desirous of voting out management.
In the end, good democratic management skills are not those that pit different groups against each other, but those which understand that there is only one group of people who exhibit those differing interests.
(The ideas in this column were inspired by Paul Krugman's Jan. 12 column in the New York Times, "America Isn't a Corporation.")

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Seeking the Essence of Tim Tebow in the Midst of Controversy and Ridicule

The Denver Broncos football team made the second round of the AFC playoffs, despite having only an even win-loss record during the regular season (8-8) and losing the season's last three games. This is thanks in large part to the Broncos' young quarterback, Tim Tebow.

Since Tebow rose to the Broncos' starting QB position in mid-season, he has become the most infuriating QB in the entire league. In most games he has played three quarters of middling-quality football only to pull out a win in the last quarter (or overtime) with a combination of spectacular plays and good luck.
But to judge by the reaction of football fans, the sports media and the Internet, the most infuriating aspect of Tebow is his religious beliefs and actions. Tebow often punctuates media remarks with thanks to his "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," and will bless those with whom he talks. Sometimes he has written his favorite Bible verse, John 3:16, on the black patches under his eyes.
His most widely known religious act is that after each touchdown, Tim goes down on one knee in prayer. This move has become known as "Tebowing" and has spawned a range of YouTube videos of people Tebowing in front of famous world sites and local hotspots, and doing flash-mob Tebows.
Needless to say Tim Tebow has become a controversial figure, partly because of the way he plays football and partly because of his evangelical Christian persona. Many who weigh in on the debate think the two do not fit together. Why does he thank Jesus for the way he plays football when his play is clearly so mixed? Why does he so unabashedly and overtly act as an Evangelical when football is so tough, so seemingly against Christian values?
The answer lies in who Tim Tebow is, at the core of himself. Good athletes perform best when they are centered, when they have put all distractions out of their minds. Tebow lives, eats and breathes his religious beliefs -- not as a conscious act, but as part of his unconscious character. This character was developed over the course of his upbringing.
Tebow was born in the Philippines to Baptist missionary parents. His father is a pastor and his mother homeschooled him throughout primary and secondary school. He grew up almost solely within an Evangelical world, with little influence from non-Christian sources. High school football seems to have been the primary exception to this observation. But he did not attend the school he played for; before practice every day he attended his family's home school.
Tebow's religious personality and activities began to gain national attention when he was the quarterback for the University of Florida Gators. Even when he won the Heisman Trophy, as a sophomore, he was already gaining notoriety for the verse references on his eye black. This evangelizing action has been seen by many as a stunt.
But whereas many evangelicals secretly fear evangelizing (because they do not like to be embarrassed or ridiculed anymore than the rest of us), Tebow's upbringing made it an unquestioned part of his inner personality. He evangelizes when he is playing well. It is not a distraction that prevents him from getting in the zone and staying focused.
So how should we understand Tim's Tebowing? Most commentators, as well as the ridiculers, have seen it as part of his evangelizing. They understand it as part of his evangelical actions of trying to use public attention to win people to Christ.
I think it stems from the inner essence of his being. That is a fancy way of saying that Tebow has his moment of prayer because that is who he is. By pausing to connect with his God, Tebow recenters himself. In the midst of celebration and struggle, he takes a moment to connect with his core being, a being who believes unquestioningly that his first priority is his God, not his football. One does not have to have the same beliefs as Tebow to understand that he is sincere.