Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bottom-Up or Top-Down?

Corporations, governments, agencies, denominations, and pretty much any organization that is trying to accomplish something are all discovering that in our contantly changing, frangmented, information-overloaded world, that the people who know best about many things are not found at the top of the organizational chart. It's the people who are trying to carry out the work who know the most about how things are working and what's going on.

I experience this every day at Olive Garden. Olive Garden is a multi-national corporation, broken down into different districts and regions. Every restaurant is measured against every other restaurant in the corporation, in the district, and in the region. Cooks in Italy design our menu and tell us step-by-step how to make it in our restaurant, and the corporation tells us how long it should take to cook it.

The problem? The instructions we're given have no connection with reality. According to our corporate headquarters, an order of kids chicken fingers should take three minutes to cook. If I followed their directions, our restaurant would become a hotbed of salmonella poisoning because no chicken finger has ever cooked through in less than six minutes ever since I started there. But I can't even get our kitchen manager to admit the corporate information is wrong. Information from above is never questioned in our corporation--information from below is never heeded. It's a top-down structure.

Our denomination has undergone a reorganization in the last couple years. What once was a top-down system--where churches had to follow the latest fad program that the denomination endorsed... until the next one came along--is now a bottom-up system. The denomination headquarters serves as a support team to equip, empower, and uphold local churches as they seek to carry out their mission locally. The denomination still sets the broad parameters within which churches must work, but they give churches wide latitude in the manner in which they carry out their work. And they seek to come alongside churches and help them in whatever way they can with whatever resources they have at their disposal.

I would love for our church, too, to be a bottom-up church. I envision a time when small groups and ministry teams will see needs--both inside and outside the church--and simply move to meet those needs. I picture neighbors working together to reach their other neighbors for Christ and invite them to our church. I see people greeting newcomers with more than a handshake but taking them out to dinner, or inviting them over to their house, so that they can sit down and talk and really get to know one another.

In other words, a place where ministry just happens--not because some committee created a program, or the pastor said to, but because each member has a passion for the kingdom of God, and we all love to be a contributing part of it.

There's nothing that would stop this from happening right now. Our structure would definitely support this. It's not a violation of our mission, vision, or values; in fact, I think it's a better expression of them. It doesn't run counter to the philosophy or theology of our church.

And yet, it seems to me that we are stuck in a formalism. Everyone wants to come to me and ask my opinion, and get my permission to do stuff. Or ask the Church Council for their permission. Church, I want you to know--you are empowered! Go do it! Whatever God has laid on your heart, GO FOR IT! We want to be a bottom-up church. I'm confident that you have many more wonderful ideas than I do. I couldn't possibly come up with everything myself. There are situations that only you know about. There are needs that only you can meet. So I want you to know... you have my permission--go after it!

Bottoms up!

There will be no blog posting for the next two weeks. I will be on vacation from 11/19 to 11/26. So I'll see you again here in December. Have a great Thanksgiving!

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