Is efficiency a virtue in the church?

The monarchial government of many seeker-driven churches is certainly efficient. When a leader is supported by a board of subordinates whom he has appointed, and can just as easily remove, he is well placed to Get Things Done. Nevertheless, is efficiency a virtue in the church?

In a reflective, thought-provoking piece entitled Is Efficiency A Virtue In The Church?, Dr. R. Scott Clark suggests that a desire for efficiency can militate against the very means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works in Christ’s church. Here is an extract:

It’s not obvious from Scripture that our Lord is much interested in efficiency. He established an institution (the visible church) to which he gave the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16) and slow, even cumbersome system of church discipline (Matt 18) that, in execution, may take a long time to work out. My argument is that was intentional because the church is populated by sinners who, in an “efficient” system would be more apt to use the church not to love and serve one another but to hurt them. There are benefits to efficiency in business. A product that is produced more efficiently is probably going to be less expensive and more affordable for a greater number of people and government is rarely efficient and that wastes tax dollars and sometimes even human lives. Nevertheless, one of the calling cards of twentieth-century totalitarianism is that it was efficient, that it made the trains run on time. That experiment did not end well.

Loving people, caring for them takes time. People are sinful and sin results in brokenness and restoring (e.g., in church discipline) them takes time. The preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments takes time. In the ordinary providence people might have to hear essentially the same message 10 times before it sinks in. The Spirit works when he and where he pleases. Ministry is much more like farming than it is like factory work. Perhaps that’s why Scripture tends toward agrarian metaphors of planting and harvesting.

I also think I understand the attraction of efficiency and church-growth thinking. It’s a subtle form of rationalism. Ministry, after all, is a mystery. Why does that one, who seemed to show so much enthusiasm and so much fruit suddenly apostatize and how is that the other one, who never seemed to “get it,” who was late for church, who was never going to be a leader in the church, turn out, on his death bed to have been a fundamentally faithful, grace-filled believer? That’s a mystery. There’s no way to fix or speed up the work of the Spirit through the Word and sacraments. So, when so someone comes along with a slick plan that seems to make ministry that much more “rational” (that was a buzzword in government and business in the first half of the 20th century) it’s hard to resist. It’s something that elders, who might also be businessmen can understand and support. It seems to build bridges but it also, subtly perhaps, puts us just a little bit more in control of church and ministry and tends to marginalize the Word, sacraments, and Spirit (were that possible).

Photo credit: Ryan McGuire.