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Meaning business

09 August 2013

Mike Starkey reads tips - and jargon

101 Great Ideas for Growing Healthy Churches: A MODEM guide
John Nelson, Michael Lofthouse and Anton Müller, editors
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50 (Use code CT485) 

FOR two decades, MODEM has been helping Christian leaders distil the best insights from commerce and management. The present volume, MODEM's fifth, is a multi-author collection of bite-sized insights into how churches can be helped towards health and growth by principles from secular management theory.

Most of the contributions are a couple of pages long, beginning with a Bible text, a Top Tip, and a Business Perspective that explains the commercial principles behind what is to follow, ending with questions for individual reflection and group discussion. Other contributions are significantly shorter.

The best contributions succeed admirably because they do exactly what it says on the tin. They offer, in a short space, a great idea that could make a real difference in a church. Paul Davies, a vicar in Sunbury-on-Thames, describes two community arts projects undertaken by his church - what was done, who was involved, and how church and community alike were helped.

Mike Breen, a pioneering British minister now based in the United States, makes a compelling case for every church's needing an effective plan for making disciples rather than leaving discipleship to personal whim or chance. He writes: "There is not a leadership problem in the Church in the West. There is not a missional problem. There is a discipleship problem."

Likewise, some of the pithy one- and two-line contributions invite deeper reflection. Keith Lamdin of Sarum College writes that there are three essentials for every leader: discontent, vision, and courage. Much writing on leadership has tended to focus on the second of these, but Lamdin is surely right that creativity and innovation begin in a dissatisfaction with the status quo, and that the best leadership has the courage to stick with a good idea until it becomes a reality.

Other contributions are of uneven quality, mainly because they fail to deliver on the promise of the title, an ironic failing in a book so besotted with modern marketing principles. Some pieces are little more than homiletic truisms, with no obvious application. Others read like randomly generated strings of business jargon (clergy are "required to engage in an ongoing hegemonic discourse with customers to establish and maintain quality thresholds"; most church leaders "fail to disaggregate the organization leading to aggregated decisions that are bounded by individual preference").

More seriously, the commercial tail sometimes appears to wag the Christian dog. A foreword claims, with no obvious irony and no further explanation, that there is "only one measure" of effective church leadership, which is "a profitable church". In an item on marketing the church, we are told categorically that "perception is more important than truth." And what on earth would the Apostle Paul have made of Lofthouse and Müller's definition of a congregation as "a collection of individual customers who demand individual service"?

Canon Starkey is Vicar of Llanidloes and Llangurig, in Bangor diocese.

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