Can ministers see the future of the church?

I’m reading two works in tandom: Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (you might have seen him on The Colbert Report earlier this month) and Yochai Benkler’s “Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm” (The Yale Law Journal; full texts available through link). Both concern technology-empowered participation and networking as an alternate mode of organization from the classic dichotomy of market and firm. And by firm, you can also read church. I’m reading them for their insights about church organization.

I’m getting language that reinforces my gut feelings about how churches (particularly new ones) and the Unitarian Universalist Association are burdened under the fixed costs of their own existence. More about that when I’ve finished and digested them.

But Shirky has a passage (p. 58) that suggests that professionals aren’t made to recognize seismic changes as a characteristic of their professionalism:

Much of the time the internal consistency of professional judgment is a good thing — not only do we want high standards of education and competence, we want those standards created and enforced by other members of the same profession, a structure that is almost the definition of professionalism. Sometimes, though, the professional outlook can become a disadvantage, preventing the very people who have the most at state — the professionals themselves — from understanding major changes to the structure of their profession.

So, in an aside to the ministers out there, what do you think? I think he makes a good point. Feel free to comment.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Maybe we need to have a system like the Methodists where we are moved every 4 years. I think it is easy to see issues early on in a ministry, but much harder to see it once you become ensconced and you become an issue as well. Or at least it is maybe easier to ignore the issues because it would up set the patterns and systems that you have become a part of. There are very few ministers who have been at the same church for over 20 years these days and the ones that do work very hard to reinvent their ministries.

    I would love to hear what your thoughts are on church systems as this is an issue that I think many of us re dealing with and how we come out the other side will really show what sort of future our (institutional) faith will have.

  2. I would take it to the next level: rotate out of the parish or ministry settings every four years. Impractical, even hyperbolic, but these last 4.5 years have really made me change my assumptions about church and ministry.

  3. I also think that because we ministers are trained to work efficiently in a certain system, we have a hard time envisioning other ways for working. But this is perhaps true of every profession. For example, how many teachers can picture education outside the standard age-graded, “desks in a row”, model of teaching?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.