As I continue to explore Elder polity and structures in the church, I thought it might be a good time to introduce you to Josh Packard. He is a PhD student doing some interesting work on Organizational Theory. The goal of Packard’s research is summarized as follows.

My organizational interests focus on people who attempt to construct organizations which can manage to coordinate complex and repeated activities, such as worship services, without becoming institutionalized or relying on taken for granted patterns of thought and behavior. I call these organizations resistant organizations. Organizational theories suggest that as an organization grows or persists over time, its activities and structures will gradually come to resemble those of the dominant organizations in the field. I argue that it is possible to resist institutionalization by intentionally utilizing specific structures, organizational processes and developing ideologies which guard against the establishment of taken for granted patterns and routines. In the course of identifying these specific strategies and mechanisms I work toward a theory of organizational resistance. The result is a more accurate understanding of the range of organizational possibilities.

Packard goes on to describe some of the results of his early research into what he calls the labor force of the willing.

A labor force of the willing consists of three distinct components. First, activities are initiated by the congregants. Second, the activity is maintained without interference from the official church staff. Finally, in order to avoid institutionalization, the activity is allowed to end or dissolve when there is no longer sufficient interest from the organizer. In other words, relying on a labor force of the willing means that programs are not continued because “that’s the way things have always been done…”

Creating this kind of organization also requires a different approach to staffing.

…these congregations employ resource focused staff. Official staff positions are kept to a minimum and their job descriptions rarely place them in charge of a specific congregational activity or segment of the congregation. These congregations do not hire people to be youth ministers, family ministers, or Sunday school coordinators. Instead, the staff are focused on resource development. This involves creating and developing resources that people in the congregation can use, rather than programs that they can attend…

Changing the nature of church staff from people who’s primary duty is to consume resources to people who are charged with creating resources for others helps to encourage a labor of the willing and ensure that programs are not sustained simply because someone’s job, position, or prestige relies on the delivery of the program.

  • Have you been a part of a church like this?  If so, what was your experience?
  • What do you think, is it possible to have organization without the institution? 
  • What impact would this Packard’s approach have on your church? The way you do ministry? And the structure of your leadership?

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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