To Search for Excellence

Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday of Easter.

Back in 1994 I took a seminar entitled “Quest for Quality”.When the seminar began, I thought that I would gain an understanding of the “TQM” process and its application to church management.

It was a time when the “search for excellence” was being applied to every process one could imagine, from standard business processes to educational processes.

While I was working on my doctorate at the University of Iowa, I was aware of the national study that produced indicators of excellence in science education. (Penick, J. E., Yager, R. E., and Bonnstetter, R. (October, 1986). Teachers make exemplary programs. Educational Leadership, 44(2), 14-20.)

So I saw this seminar as a chance to improve my own skills and become more knowledgeable about the quality process.

But by the middle of the second day of this three-day seminar, I was convinced that something was not quite what it seemed.

And as we were wrapping up the seminar that third day, it occurred to me that I had learned nothing new.

In a flash of insight, much like the noted Yankee philosopher Yogi Berra once noted, it was “déjà vu all over again”.

What I thought was to be a new an exciting venture was nothing more than a rephrasing of the statistical quality control methods that my father had used throughout his career in the Air Force and work in the private sector at McDonnell Aircraft and RCA.

I spent three days relearning what I already knew and what had essentially “paid” for my undergraduate college education.

I also never did get an appreciation for why or how this approach, which focuses on the “bottom line” of manufacturing processes, could be applied to church management.

And today, some twelve years after this seminar, I am not sure that businesses or individuals understand what quality or excellence mean.

Even the term “TQM” has been replaced by the terms “Six Sigma” or “ISO 9001”.

But though the names change, the processes remain the same.

But “reinventing” statistical quality control does not mean that a business or organization understands the basic premise of the process; that for the method to be successful, everyone, from the top management positions to the last person on the assembly line, must be involved.

Management cannot simply state that the company is going to invest in quality processes or be an excellence-oriented company; they must demonstrate the application of the process in what they do as well.

It is probably a big leap to say so but the differential between executive pay and employee pay, which has been increasing over the past few years, should be an indication that upper level management practices a “do what I say, not what I do” type of management.

Such a management process can never result in excellence or quality for it shows that management does not care for the worker.

Now, I am not saying that an approach seeking excellence or quality control is not appropriate for church operations and/or management.

What does the Gospel reading for today (John 10: 11 – 18) say?

Does not Jesus indicate that He is the Shepherd and that He is willing to look for the single lost sheep?

In how many of the parables that we learned as children do we not see God as the “manager or CEO” who has an interest in what is happening in vineyard or plant?

It is clear that with Jesus, God decided to change the way in which He managed his enterprises.

Within the framework of the Old Testament, God had used the prophets to communicate and he had used the religious hierarchy to maintain society.

But the people did not listen to the prophets and the hierarchy seemed only interested in maintaining their positions of power and privilege.

It was clearly a time for change in management style.

To me, the Gospel reading for today indicates that God was not happy with those who had been appointed with looking out for the flock.

Does not Jesus say in today’s Gospel reading that those who were supposed to look after the flock left at the first sign of trouble, abandoning the flock to the dangers of the world?

How are we to understand this paragraph except in terms of a religious establishment that failed the people they were supposed to lead and protect?

The other management principle that I learned from quality control was that everyone was to be involved.

It is clear from the reading of John’s letter to the people (1 John 3: 16 – 24) that we, the people of the church, are also responsible for the work of the church, “Let us love, not in word or speech but in truth and action” wrote John; later, he wrote “we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us.” Peter, when asked by what authority he was able to do his ministry, replied that it was through Christ.

Again, what we have is the essence of quality and excellence passing from the top of the management all the way to the lowest member of the church.

Churches should be looking more at what they can do in their neighborhoods and communities, not trying to see if they can be the biggest group in their neighborhood or community.

Instead of looking at the statistical norm in a group, churches need to focus on those on the outer edges of the group.

These are the ones that Jesus referred to as the lost sheep, the ones the shepherd went out to find.

There is a need for specialization within any organization; we would not expect the regular parishioners of any church to be experts in theology, nor would we want the pastor to be the “on-call expert” in case the air conditioning system breaks down.

But what we do want is everyone to realize what the mission of the church and how each member of the church can meet the mission of the church.

Today, we know, as Peter told the crowds, the cornerstone of our faith is Jesus. In this day and age where we hear a cry for quality in our lives, where we seek excellence at all levels, perhaps we should look to how Jesus conducted his ministry and how it represented what true excellence in an organization was achieved.

We are asked to carry the quality of the mission through what we do, what we say, and how we act.

In doing so, we will strive and achieve excellence.

10 thoughts on “To Search for Excellence

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