Religion (especially Christianity)
in Organisation

Opening Proposition

This webpage concerns the iteraction between business organisation theory and religious bodies. From a business organisation view religious groups are voluntary associations and that means human relations authority. Religious organisations should gravitate towards the human relations authority model of organisation because:

The arguments why human relations authority:

People give their time for various reasons, which may include making the world a better place by some small series of practical measures. Perhaps in the case of religious organisations they are seeking a base for that expression. Nevertheless they expect a high quality of association one with another, a friendliness and social contact which will be a significant motivation for attendance. This means an ethical element and fellowship motivations for gathering; this can be sociologised into an association grouping and theologised into understanding the nature of humankind.
Humankind has an essential equality about it, even if there is spiritual inequality. Everyone has basic human rights and enhanced social and psychological needs and benefits. Religious bodies are there to enhance the nature of being human. People freely gather together for that enhancement, which can only take place if there is a fundamental positive equality about every person. Most religions regard participation as a matter of freedom, some regard it as an obligation.
Buddhism as a reform of Hinduism promotes the potential of every person, should each one carry out spiritual practices, even though it has a spiritual inequality. Hinduism does itself undermine equality through the this-life rigidity of the caste system. Some people cannot enhance themselves at least in this life through the yogas. Eastern religions are ambiguous because human relations authority assumes the educated and responsible human being in a setting of liberty and democracy. It is Western. Caste and even any form of traditional priesthood undermines such equality.
Actual operational units tend to be small in most religious organisations, and decentralisation of responsibility is not unusual. Strategy and tactical work (e.g. mission) may originate from higher in an organisation but the translation takes place lower down, especially when people are indeed volunteers, and have local knowledge and direct input into what will be done.

The arguments why not human relations:

The first is that religious bodies are invariably to some extent or other traditionalist. They can have holy orders which bind the organisation along sacred and traditional understandings. In Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the priesthood is very significant in terms of control. In Anglicanism there are more checks and balances, but still there is an understanding of apostolic succession in a synod system. Methodists have both lay and ministerial authority but its District Chairpersons are as though bishops and its Conference has wide ranging powers. The URC combines Presbyterian higher levels with congregationalist authority forms. Outside Christianity, something like the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order have local autonomous groups but the Western Buddhist Order itself is a focus of co-ordination. Most Buddhist sanghas are monastic. All these forms of organisation have been justified according to the equivalents of ecclesiology, and so what democratic forms that do exist are combined with sacred understandings of authority, whether that of the priesthood or a priethood of all believers. There is usually a sense that elders of one form or another in religion are those who have earnt their place through many years of religious loyalty and striving. People who have authority according to tradition have it becaues it has been conferred. They may be competent or incompetent in human terms but the sacred touch has taken place.
There is also the place of charisma as well as tradition. Charisma is related to the quality of the people who are in positions of authority. It is the original means of authority of the attracting personality and prophet, and a reduced routine charisma is evident among the first following leaders. However, wherever integrity and the worth of the person is important, a religious pastor and prophet should to some degree have a charisma about his or her person. It is also about regenerating something of the original religious vision (compare with Rudge, 1976, 149). People have vocations: their personalities and experiences combine with the role; bishops indeed have their charism.
In the Weberian system, religion gives way to secular rationality in organisational terms. First comes the origin with charisma, then comes routinised charisma on the way to tradition, and after tradition comes bureaucracy. This presumes there is no place for bureaucracy in the religious organisation. There is also a question about the more flexible bureaucracy of systemic authority.
Peter Rudge thinks the mechanistic approach in its superordination and subordination "seems to offend against what is essential in Christian experience and its scriptural foundations" (Rudge, 1976, 159). Bureaucratic or classical authority is relevant however in that denominations and Churches have set up rational means for effective governance, especially regarding Presbyterian and Methodist systems of control within Christianity. The religious justification is not the only justification for governance; the New Testament does allow for varieties of authority, as well as critical approaches to the New Testament, and much in the way of governance expresses the age in which systems were set up. The Methodist system, for example, was very much focussed on the class and going from the bottom up, but nevertheless having top-down integration, whereas congregationalist systems reflect the liberty of preference and necessity (systems established before full toleration in 1689). Even the Church of England system of bishops, priests, deacons, lay offices and synods can be justified on rational grounds, as can having the parish system, and checks and balances operating so that no one has overwhelming power. The rationality is that there are offices and a hierarchy, and when a decision is made at the appropriate place, it is seen as right or open to challenge within the system, and decisions are carried out by those below. Only the most liberal systems undermine this, but even there the congregation tends to be the centre of gravity and decisions are made by the committee duly elected or trustees duly appointed. The person with authority in this understanding has it because they have been elevated into the proper position. Whereas in the charisma understanding the person was right and the office given, here it is the slower climb of a trained person who gains office and authority. Incidentally, such a person may be capable of managing regardless of any expertise regarding belief and the tradition. Like in all bureaucracies, the ability to run the show is not the same as expertise in the show.
In some cases the rationality of a system may be pyramidally authoritarian. Some sects have a strongly hierarchical decision making system. The Bahai faith with a liberal gloss has its literalism and democratic centralist system of authority, with closed archival records, and with each layer electing the next one up, and without election campaigns, it keeps very conservative long term holders of positions in high command. There are good grounds for seeing the Universal House of Justice as being a rationalist outcome of a failure of traditional authority (no successor possible after the last Guardian of the Cause, the nine men only UHJ should not have existed alone). However, authoritarian command may have traditionalist justification. The issue is how much it is seen as effective, efficient and even rational. Authoritarianism is not necessary for a rational system to take place, because of the proper place of delegating within the system that keeps itself in overall unity (without having to be organic - this is not the issue here).
Then there is the question of systemic organisation. Peter Rudge certainly prefers this over human relations authority because human relations authority missed the "something about the nature of the church that cannot be comprehended by human sciences" and that it "falls short of doing justice to relationships that are divinely inspired" (Rudge, 1976, 164). The systemic understanding seems Pauline, in that there are many parts to the one body and it stakes a claim to be the way to understand a Church from an organisational and theological point of view. The parts are diverse, and the body is organic rather than mechanistic. To follow this view exclusively, however, removes the traditionalism of the sacred, the charism of the importance of personality, the rationality of people in offices (positions) making decisions with due process, and the human values especially in voluntary gathering and in equalitarian judgments about all the people together. Nevertheless a person who carries authority in a systemic understanding does so because of some special expertise or function held by that person to do with the faith. It is not the person as such (though may be), or the office held (though this may be commensurate), but is the acquired expertise of a specialism held in the knowledge of the wider faith. This certainly includes theological knowledge and opinion, though it can also mean ability to preach and pastor.

Churches especially, and religious organisations in general, carry aspects of all these methods of authority in varied parts. So it comes down to which ones are recognised as most appropriate by those in the bodies. This is why recognition of authority types is related so closely to belief types. These patterns most clearly relate to Christianity (because charisma, tradition and rationalist bureaucracy, systemic authority and human relations authority are part of Christian and post-Christian culture) but in fact carry over to all manner of ideological organisations.

Much of heterodox liberalism is academic. This is the place of the expert theologian who does go beyond accepting the incarnation and resurrection as objective anchors, because they are seen as myths too: in fact, nothing is sacred. There are those who focus on Jesus as a human hero, probably a tragic hero and ethical teacher (who commits his life to these ethical and social ideals) and these exemplarists do not regard the objective system as particularly relevant, and God is not relevant. These are almost secularists with faith. There are those who focus on God but for whom Jesus is not its exclusive incarnation (like John Hick). There are those who emphasise the spiritual, and rub shoulders with Eastern faiths (especially Hindu, monastic Buddhism, Shintoism, and carry out Eastern practices, and look to astrology and Neo-Paganism. A new outbreak here is amongst those who mix the discovery of faith with secular cultural traditions of entertainment, such as the liberal charismatic dance culture, a breakaway from charismatic authority (but certainly much charisma still around). Here then is the pluralistic and either clashes of objective values and stances or postmodern.
Conversionism Charismatic Authority
These are the ideological purists and thrusters. The world is against them or at best indifferent, but looking to the future they thrust out into the world to get converts to their view and practice. In Christianity there are the biblical fundamentalists, the evangelicals, and the charismatics. All of these follow charismatic authority. The biblical people do because of those who state right interpretation (forget about literalism: all users of the Bible make selections). The evangelicals do because of the individualism of their stance, the need for people to convert, and this is so even where there is a social and collective element. The charismatics, of course, deliberately live in the Spirit, so this is highly individualist.

Today there is increasing tension between Conservative Evangelicals (fundamentalists - selective literalists) and more Open Evangelicals (mainly evangelicals). The issue of homosexuality has become the presenting issue on which Conservative and some Open Evangelicals will split off and reduce the breadth of the mainstream. Postmodern forms include emerging Church, which is moderately evangelical, even post-evangelical, and looks towards being creative.
Traditionalism Traditional Authority
These are also ideological purists but defenders. The world is against them or at best indifferent, but seeing the purity of the received message they defend the nugget of true faith. There are more traditionalisms than denominations and Churches, because there are some Churches with more than one tradition. The Church of England and United Reformed Church are examples, although mergers always weaken and factionalise tradition. Ordaining women marginalised the most doctrinal and episcopally purist of the Anglo-Catholics, leaving often Affirming Catholics who one might call orthodox Liberals. There are plenty of invented traditions, such as the Victorian response of the High Church and widespread Gothic that has its myth of stretching back into the Middle Ages (an identified pure period). Invented traditions and their myths give legitimacy and authority to leaders in the Churches. Whilst usually upholding realism, a postmodern form is the Christendom-like Radical Orthodoxy.
Orthodox Liberal Bureaucratic Authority
These used to be the ideological compromisers and negotiators, if somewhat defensive. The world may be different from the faith, but they look for essential points of contact and ways of speaking, whilst seeing that there are faith essentials to hold on to. There are rational grounds for seeing connections, rational in the sense that there is truth to be rediscovered everywhere if we keep on talking. So there is moderation and conversation, and right decisions to be made. Theology is about sifting through the orthodox approaches given in traditions. This approach can stretch to other faiths. Essentials for Western Buddhists are the Three Jewels, the basic practices, samsara and nirvana, but reincarnation may be cultural. Essentials for Christianity would be God, the incarnation and resurrection, but not the virgin birth or bodily appearances. So it is the case that learned and proven people should occupy higher office, as accepted within the religious community (elections being quite legitimate). They are seen in office as carrying authority, and so do their decisions. Negotiating conserves. So although there are different theologies, they all really come down to one thing, a relatively conservative ethos about minimum legitimate standards, having accepted some of the long standing liberal arguments around the details. Bureaucrats they would wish to remain, once running the show, but they have faced problems when there is change. The force of Christianity at the moment is towards more conversionism, more radicalism and defence of tradition.

The problem is that with much traditionalism gone off alone, the old middling and liberal broad Church is now more simply liberal and is less central. Indeed some Open Evangelicals are starting to think that they are in the centre, and that there are people of importance, networks and communions to maintain. When push comes to shove, most liberal orthodox will follow conservative instincts and conform, which is the bureaucratic mentality. They use and resuse the tradition, seen as one package and inheritance. A postmodern form is Yale Postliberalism because it attempts to find an ecumenical version of performed Christianity, the Christian identity judged by what is acted out by the faithful.
Heterodox Liberalism (Orthopraxy) Systemic Authority
In reconsidering the mainstream triangle, all main sections now have postmodern elements. The Heterodox are choosy about their Christian package, and can incorporate elements of other packages (faiths and pholosophies). The Orthodox Liberal used to suspect the Heterodox Liberal for undermining, but now both get lumped together by the Fundamentalist and traditionalist. The inclusive nature of them allows for a certain conservatism of behaviour if not of belief. Orthopraxy takes over from any orthodoxy, and there is a tendency for the Heterodox to divide up into constituent parts of the Trinity and indeed none of these.
Heterodox Libeal (Heteropraxy) Human Relations Authority
This authority pattern implies a breakway into a specialised liberal body, such as either that of the Quakers or the Unitarians. Both bodies stretch their spans of faith into orthodoxy, and both can be conservative about their liberal positions (especially as there is no obvious credal defence, and therefore defensiveness comes in more active ways such as maintenance of Christian practices). Human Relations Authority is acceptance of liberalism first and democracy second as organising factors; heterodoxy in wider denominations and Churches always relates to the institution as a system, as theological and practice justified within. In the smaller group theology is not important at all but rather the claim to individual freedom over any belief.

Summary in a picture and words

mainstream triangle revised

Some Explanatory Points:

The diagram above shows two levels: intellectual above (hugely out of scale) and ordinary churches on the ground, and something of a distribution among rural, suburban and urban areas. Despite its supposed orthodoxy, Yale Postliberalism and Radical Orthodoxy, like non-realism, is intellectual only. Any actual individual could stand anywhere on this triangle.
So Churches then are a matter of perception regarding authority and this is determined or determines a compatible belief. Human Relations Authority relates to a voluntary, democratic and liberal organisation, a perception of authority, rather than its application (which is perfectly relevant) to voluntary work and high human values.



Rudge, P. F. (1976), Management in the Church, Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Book Company (UK).

WORSFOLD, A. J. (1989), New Denominationalism: Tendencies Towards a New Reformation of English Christianity, University of Hull, Ph.D thesis.


Adrian Worsfold