Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Mission Community: A New Image for Church-Related Institutions

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Mission Community: A New Image for Church-Related Institutions

Article excerpt

A major challenge for church-related institutions is to incorporate their fundamental values and commitments into their organizational relationships. So often a conflict exists between the ideals of Christian and Anabaptist theology and the realities of organizational life. This paper suggests that the intentional use of images as a mechanism for understanding, analyzing and shaping church-related institutions is one strategy for working with that dilemma.

Images and metaphors are socially constructed statements of meaning and perception that reflect understandings and perceptions of organizational structure and culture. As such, they shape and form the reality on the basis of which humans take actions and make decisions, and the reality that influences both how people with a stake in an organization relate to it and what those stakeholders expect. The accumulated expectations and actions shape the form, structure, and culture of the organization.

Images are helpful in implementing values because they provide focus for the complexities of an organization. They can be used creatively to shape and form strategies of organizational leadership, relationships among employees, and managerial and action strategies. Leaders of an organization use their image of it to shape their leadership styles. Employees use their images of the organization to set expectations and styles of working. Constituents use images to shape their strategies of participation and support.

I have worked primarily in Mennonite institutions, in tasks of mission, relief, development and education. I have been a staff member at nearly all levels, a consultant and a member of various committees and governing boards. I am also involved in current discussions of Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church integration, especially of mission structures. Along with integration, the Mennonite Board of Missions is working to reshape its organizational culture and its relationships to its constituency. In my experience, Mennonite organizations are much like other not-for-profit organizations, including church-related institutions of other denominations.

Organizational Development

The movement of the Mennonite Church toward doing most of the work of the church through organizations was a fateful one that put it on a collision course with the ideals and theology of the Anabaptist movement. Anabaptism was a movement, not an organization. It existed in a context of persecution that would have made the formation and maintenance of formal organizational structures impossible.

The decades from the 1950s to the early 1980s were a time when institutions flourished in the Mennonite Church. Their number, size and scope increased dramatically. This increase took place simultaneously with significant acculturation of the membership. In many cases the emergence of institutions was a reflection of that acculturation. In other cases the church-related institutions led the move toward acculturation.

In the latter 1980s and the 1990s the relationship between the church and its institutions shifted. If we exclude estate gifts and governmental allocations and adjust for inflation, financial support declined. College enrollments and the number of persons serving in mission and service organizations declined. Some of the decline surely is due to societal changes such as demographic trends and widespread secularization. But change came also as the institutions became highly bureaucratized and professionalized and changed their relationships to their constituencies. Church-related institutions have not responded quickly enough to the societal mistrust of large institutions so evident since the war in Vietnam. Another major trend consists of constituencies focusing on local activities and on activities in which people can participate directly--"hands-on."

Many images can help to capture the essence of church-related institutions. …

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