Church TQM

Back when I was an engineer, most all of the employees in our company were trained in TQM (Total Quality Management). If you haven’t heard of it, feel free to websearch it now. I’ll wait.

Okay. Anyway… an aspect of it has to do with analysis of problems. In it, one focuses on Process rather than People. That is, when a problem occurs, rather than trying to figure out “Whodunnit” and then fire the person, one looks for ways to improve the process. Even in cases where it was clearly one person’s fault, it generally makes more sense to look at what processes led to the problem.

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For example, suppose Bryan was making widgets, and installs the whatsit in backwards causing it to glorph dangerously leading millions of dollars of damage. In a People-oriented analysis, the goal would be to figure out who to blame (Bryan) and then punish him… probably fire him.

In the process-oriented analysis, the focus would be on what processes led to a failure leading to a defective product coming out the door. Do changes need to be made to the inspection process? What about training? What about oversight/supervision? What about design? As a former engineer, this last one is most important to me. The fact that the whatsit could be installed backwards in the widget suggests the need of a redesign so that installing it wrong is impossible. If it cannot be made impossible, design could be changed so that manufacturing it the correct way would be clearly identifiable as such. And if that is impossible, perhaps design a test that would identify the problem easily before it gets out of the door.

But what about in a church situation. If there is a problem in the church, should one focus on people or processes? Churches commonly focus on people— identify the sin, identify the sinner. That seems like it is the way it is supposed to be. The Bible clearly focuses on sin, correct?

Curiously, in the first church (Jerusalem) the first two recorded problems were handled in different ways— the first is focused on the person, and second on the process.

Person (to Blame) Focus is found in Acts 5. This is the story of Ananias and Sapphira story. In it, a problem was identified… and the focus was immediately on who to blame for the sin and who is thus worthy of punishment.

Process Focus is found in Acts 6. In the story, Hellenistic Jews were concerned that their widows were not being cared for as well as were the widows of Hebraic Jews. This is actually a much more serious of a problem than in Acts 5. In chapter 5, there was personal issue of lying… but in 6 is the charge of systemic bigotry. However, in the case of Acts 6, there seems to be no attempt to find out who to blame. No attempts to divert blame either. Rather, they immediately go to changing the process. They chose 7 men (6 Hellenistic Jews and 1 Gentile Proselyte) to provide oversight of the care of the widows to ensure they are treated as well as their Hebraic counterparts.

Since both problem analysis methods are used (problem-focused and process-focused) in the Bible, does it mean that both are equally valid?

I would argue that the Process focus is the preferred one in the Bible. There are three reasons I believe this. First, the Ananias and Sapphira event is a most unique case in the NT church. Only rarely is there a “Who’s to Blame” attitude found. Most often in the Epistles the focus seems to be on Prevention of problems, or finding Redemption after problems. You may agree or disagree with me on this, but study and decide for yoyrself. Second, relatedly, sin is not a major emphasis in the NT church either. The emphasis is more on the transformation we have now in and through Christ, and how that is to be demonstrated in our actions and words. In other words, greater emphasis is on the processes of edification and supporting each other, towards godly virtue, than on pointing out sins.

Third, Luke appears to editorialize the events a bit. After the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:15 says,

“Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

On the other hand, after the resolution of the problem in Acts 6, Luke writes in verse 7,

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Luke as editor appears to see the process focus more positively than the person focus.

In TQM, one of the goals is to “drive out fear” — fear of judgment/blame/punishment. The presumption is that “the problem is the process rather than the person.” It seems to me that the Bible shows a preference towards this as well… especially in the New Testament church.

Re-reassessing David

When I was young, David was a larger-than-life character in the Bible– the killer of lion, bear, giant, and “his ten thousands.” He was a shepherd boy who became a king, and “the writer of the Psalms.”

But then came a time of reassessment. Much of the Biblical record of David’s later life was pretty bad— murder, adultery, and a frankly rotten husband and father. Even his early life was not without its flaws. While some like to point out that David would not lay his hand on the “Lord’s anointed,” much of his behavior would fit normal definitions of treason and racketeering. And then I learned that there was doubt as to whether David wrote all of the Psalms, or even some of the Psalms. (I would like to think that some were written by him.)

My dad, a Sunday school teacher and deacon of our church

Thumbnail image from the Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University
“King David the Penitent” by Albrecht Durer

gave an opinion that I had to share. He struggled to see why David was described as a man after God’s own heart.

Frankly, the Biblical record seems to put King Saul on a pretty even footing as David. Saul had moments of religious fervor that would remind one of David. Additionally, Saul’s fall from grace, not fully destroying the captured Amelekite booty, seems pretty minor to some of David’s indiscretions. Even Saul’s last great sin, seeking divination from the “witch of Endor,” while clearly wrong was actually motivated by an earnest attempt to get wisdom from Yahweh, and his mentor, the prophet Samuel.

My time of re-reassessment really began 4 or 5 years ago as I became more involved in pastoral care. As I looked at the life of David, his many flaws were clear, but there was something else. David was willing to humble himself and admit his failings to both God and man.

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW RARE THIS IS?

I work with pastors… many who have fallen into sin. All to often, sins are minimized, and discipline avoided. This is not just a pastor thing. Men of power rarely admit their failings… much less, admit them with sincerity. The quality is almost without exception missing from other leaders in the Bible. Even Paul only seems able to admit failings in the abstract (in Romans) while possible concrete examples (his handling of John Mark in Acts, and Peter in Galatians) go unaddressed.

David could admit failings to all, and accept God’s grace, despite the pride that power breeds. To eschew pride as a king, repent, and accept God’s grace… well, that could indeed be a man after God’s own heart.

Living in a time of “Christian superstars” who have an allergic reaction to admitting failings about as intense of politicians, maybe we do indeed need a few more Davids living today… flawed but forgiven… real and repentant.

 

 

Herodotus and Monumental Hubris

Herodotus (born around 485BC) was a Greek traveler and chronicler of stories. He was quite open to sharing tall tales… intermixed with solid history. In his book “An Account of Egypt” Herodotus recounts his conversation with Egyptian priests. In that account, the priests tell the story of the building of the great pyramids of Giza, especially the pyramid of Cheops (aka Pharaoh Khufu, 2589–2566 BC)  gpgoodshot

According to the priests, Cheops was a heretic and a tyrant.

“Egypt was excellently governed and very prosperous; but his successor Cheops (to continue the account which the priests gave me) brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labor as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken over by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labor to build the track along which the blocks were hauled– a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself, for it is five furlongs in length, sixty feet wide, forty-eight feet high at its highest point, and constructed of polished stone blocks decorated with carvings of animals.”

The story goes on as far as the extravagance of the pyramid for his own sepulchre and pride. According to the priests, he even had his daughter prostitute herself to get more blocks of stone for the pyramid. (Yes, this sounds more than a bit apocryphal… though not impossible.) According to Herodotus, between the reign of Cheops and his son, the temples were closed for 106 years. This is most likely an exaggeration, but regardless suggests a great audacity and lack of concern for the people. The Egyptians of old were highly religious. This religion manifested itself in concerns for the future, and the sacrificial system and rituals maintained by the priests gave the people a sense of hope and control over what lay ahead. The shutting down of the temples, and shifting of all forms of labors to building a necropolis to himself, arguably suggests that Cheops saw himself more than simply being part of the divine cycle of Egyptian theology. He was, rather, above and more important than the pantheon. It also suggests that his own well-being, especially in the afterlife, was more important than the well-being of the entire population of Egypt. There has been a disagreement as to whether the pyramids were built by slaves or by freemen. The story of Herodotus suggests a mediated position. The workers were commonly not slaves in a legal sense, but served as slaves in a practical sense as conscripts.

Herodotus goes on to speak of Cheops and his son Chephren:

“The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren, so great is their hatred of them; they even call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who… fed his flocks in the neighborhood. The next king of Egypt after Chephren was Mycerinus, the son of Cheops. Mycerinus, reversing his father’s policy of which he did not approve, reopened the temples and allowed his subjects, who had been brought into such abject slavery, to resume the practice of their religion and their normal work. Of all kings who ruled in Egypt he had the greatest reputation for justice in the decision of legal causes, and for this the Egyptians give him higher praise than any other monarch; for apart from the general equity of his judgments, he used to compensate out of his own property any man who was dissatisfied with the result of his suit, and so leave him with nothing to complain of…”

Diodorus Siculus (90-30BC) was a Sicilian historian who added to the stories of monuments in Egypt.

“It is generally agreed that these monuments [the pyramids] far surpass all other constructions in Egypt, not only in their massiveness and cost but also in the skill displayed by their builders. And they say that the architects of the monuments are more deserving of admiration than the kings who furnished the means for their execution; for in bringing their plans to completion the former called upon their individual souls and their zeal for honor, but the latter only used the wealth which they had inherited and the grievous toil of other men.”

There is something rather refreshing in the Egyptians’ attitude. Despite granting divinity to their rulers (which is quite a thing to grant), they found ways to undermine their leaders’ hubris. For Cheops and Chephren future leaders avoided using their names, and referred to their pyramids by the shepherd who lived in the vicinity. They also noted that the architects and the workers were more deserving of praise than those that sought praise by forcing others to design and build these structures for themselves. For Pharaoh Mycerinus, who also had a (smaller) pyramid built for himself, he is given praise two millennia later, not for his monuments, but for his compassion and justice for his people.

It is rather a shame that we lack such wisdom today. Even in Christian circles (or perhaps ESPECIALLY in Christian circles) we commonly feed the hubris of those who seek to build monuments to their own gods… themselves.

In line with that, I will offer two bits of literature

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Stature Fragment of Ramesses II in the British Museum

on Ozymandias (Ramses II). The first is Diodorus (again), and the second is the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Ten stades from the first tombs… in which, according to tradition are buried the concubines of Zeus, stands a monument of the king known as Osymandyas… beside the entrance are three statues, each of a single block of black stone from Syene, of which one, that is seated, is the largest of any in Egypt, the foot measuring over seven cubits, while the other two at the knees of this, the one on the right and the other on the left, daughter and mother respectively, are smaller than the one first mentioned. And it is not merely for its size that this work merits approbation, but it is also marvelous by reason of its artistic quality and excellent because of the nature of the stone, since in a block of so great a size there is not a single crack or blemish to be seen. The inscription upon it runs: “King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.”

Ozymandias
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

<The quotes, except for the poem by Shelley were from Herodotus and Diodorus, as quoted by Leonard Cottrell, The Horizon Book of Lost Worlds, 1962, starting around page 288.>

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Leadership Benchmarks from Polycarp

polycarp

Consider the quote from St. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (Chapter 6):

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man; abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself. Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offense, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.

St. Polycarp (69-156AD), the bishop/pastor of the church of Smyrna, describes qualities that are to be expected of spiritual leaders within the church.

Spiritual leaders are to be compassionate and merciful to all, just, good and faithful servants, holding onto what is true.

Compassionate and merciful to all.

  • Seeking to restore those who have fallen away doctrinally or morally
  • Visiting all the sick
  • Caring for those in need, such as widows, orphans, and the poor.
  • Being merciful in judging or making decisions
  • Being quick to forgive others.
  • Maintaining control of one’s anger

Just.

  • Not showing favoritism to certain people because of, for example, their wealth or status
  • Avoiding the temptation of dishonest or self-serving judgments/decisions
  • Not being greedy or motivated by desire for others wealth or status.
  • Not quick to believe bad things about other people (even if it is tempting to think so)
  • Recognizing that we all are guilty of sin at times

Be a good and faithful servant

  • Serving God with fear and reverence,
  • Obedient to the commands of Christ, the words of the apostles, and the Old Testament Prophets.
  • Pursuing zealously that which is good.

Holding onto what is true.

  • Not actively or passively causing offense or confusion in the church
  • Avoiding apostasy and those who confuse people in the church with false doctrines.

These seem like good benchmarks for spiritual leaderhip both in of the church and out.