by Ronald D. Anderson
Resources Publications, Eugene, Ore. 256 pages
REVIEWED BY WILSON GUNN
The field of “organization development” brings insight into the dynamics of human organizations. Though our faith sees the church as an organization birthed and directed by God, it is nonetheless sufficiently tainted by us human beings (sinners that we are) that these very human sciences are also applicable. In Scripture, Paul addresses such regularly. Thus the church benefits from the same principles of leadership and social dynamics as any other organization. The language of organization development, however, is not our language, though the constructs, for any who study the discipline, find remarkable ecclesiological resonance. This is the gift that Ron Anderson’s book offers the church. He presents a bridge by which the ordinary pastor can understand organizational sciences applied to the local congregation. He translates these social science constructs into biblical/theological language that is practical and applicable. It also would be important for any organization development specialist who works in a church system to be able to translate the constructs in the other direction as well. Church systems are generally well versed in the family systems thinking fostered by Kurt Lewin and extended most popularly for congregations in the work of Edwin Friedman. Anderson offers a fuller picture than just that offered by the regnant Lewinians. There is, after all, a broader field than just Friedman’s work to draw upon for the benefit of congregations.
Anderson invites us into that broader application of the discipline of organization development for the edification of the church and the effectiveness of its leaders. He does this through a series of conversations between a somewhat frustrated pastor (called “Kevin”) who is encountering resistance to changes he proposes. Kevin engages in conversations with an organizational consultant, certain resources he reads and a seminary professor who provides the biblical foil for him to frame his interaction with the system he attempts to influence. He confronts his own temptations to coast rather than lead. This interaction gives insight into the complexities of the church as a system and the role of its leaders. Complacency with the status quo is always a temptation for both pastor and lay leaders. With input from Kevin’s self-awareness about his dissatisfaction (even in the midst of an overall contentment with his life as a pastor), he reaches for new learning, new communities of support and a redefinition of his role. In the story of his quest, Anderson illumines the organizational principles at play in many congregations. He explores how complex change can be in church systems and how leveraging certain “self-organizing” (in contrast with “bottom-up”) movements of the Holy Spirit within the church foster a culture of transformation that can lead to the revival and refocus of the congregation on its mission.
Anderson brings a beneficial conversation for the practicing pastor leading congregations who embrace biblical authority. The ecclesiology Anderson portrays is not particularly new or fresh, nor are the organizational principles he employs, however the conversational intersection between the two is valuable, especially set as it is within a story of a good pastor seeking to be an even better leader for the benefit of God’s mission in the world through the congregation.
WILSON GUNN is the executive presbyter of National Capital Presbytery.