Anglicans Online banner
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 200 000 readers More than 10 000 links Updated every Sunday


New This Week
Everything new is here.

News Centre
News archive
News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Start here
Anglicans believe . . .
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
New Zealand

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
Awards and publicity
Beginnings, AO today
About our logo

Support AO
Shop for AO goods
Thanks to our friends

Our search engine


Hallo again to all, in Holy Week.

The story of Palm Sunday — the entrance to Holy Week — seems to have a component of administrative ineptitude. Not surprising: nearly everyone we know who is more involved with a church than just Sunday attendance has a tale of horror about bad management, bad politics, influence peddling, incompetence, and sometimes even worse, such as the sexual misconduct that made news in Australia and the USA last year. A common reaction by the uninvolved is 'Why didn't they DO something?'

The problem seems to us to be a mixture of job skills and accountability. Vicars and bishops and primates (oh my) are generally chosen for their pastoral and theological excellence and not for their management ability or experience. In reviewing the qualifications of candidates for bishop, we see more attention paid to DD and MPhil degrees than to MBA or BA (Econ). This isn't necessarily a bad idea: Pilate seems to have been an excellent administrator, and Caiaphas probably was, for his era, well focused on theology, leaving the administration to Pilate.

That's the job skills part. The accountability issue is more subtle and, we think, more important.

Picture of a clownHistorically, any organisation of people that is not subject to outside review has, over time, reached a stasis of bureaucracy, ineptitude, and frustration, its focus more on preserving itself than on doing its job. If the purpose of the organisation is to make money, then in time, failure and bankruptcy will thin the herd. It is easy to measure whether or not a profit making business is succeeding. Universities, aware of this issue, use systems of accreditation, visiting committees, and outside peer review. Most modern governments have some sort of system of checks and balances so that one part of the government is subject to review, or at least scrutiny, by others.

Churches have none of this. There is widespread disagreement as to what it even means for a church to be successful. If you judge a church by its wealth, you run the risk of simony, of selling indulgences, of offering prayers for money. The poorest, shabbiest church can be the best, in a fashion we not only cannot measure but can hardly describe. You cannot measure the quality of a church organisation; you can only have opinions about it, and those opinions often differ. An entrenched church organisation can deflect any criticism, accurate or not, by issuing a press release announcing that the criticism is misguided. As long as no one breaks the law, as by stealing money or molesting children, an entrenched church organisation is like a cockroach, easy to revile and nearly impossible to eliminate.

If we now combine the job-skills issue with the lack-of-accountability issue, the problem can be even worse. If the bishop who is running a diocese or a province is a superior preacher, a memorable pastor, and interviews well with reporters, there is nothing really to be done if he ignores the management of his organization. If that bishop renounces the trinity, or says that Jesus was mythological, there is likely soon to be a search for a new bishop. But if that same bishop pays no mind while senior staff hire incompetent friends and relatives, bring in expensive outside consultants, spend vast sums on pointless travel and meetings, and utterly bungle their jobs, no one seems to mind at all. And since the incompetent staff are not accountable to anyone, they learn quickly that they will neither be rewarded for good performance nor Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkeydisciplined for bad performance. In fact, church staff members who waste time doing their job well, rather than on spending all of their time protecting their jobs, seem to be at a disadvantage.

Most high-level church organisations might well be improved by sacking all employees and starting over — this time with a professional manager and not a bishop ultimately in charge. That manager, of course, would need to be accountable to an outside review committee whose composition the manager could not influence. But of course there is always 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' ('Who looks after the lookers-after?') looming over all human organisations this side of heaven. We witnessed much finger-pointing and blame-allocation in the Passion Gospel most of us heard on Palm Sunday; as well as the Gospel, Nicolò Machiavelli described this behaviour 500 years ago. None of it should surprise us, even if it should properly enrage us.

No matter what muddles our churches get themselves into, no matter what messes we make of our lives or our church organisations, no matter what the depth of despair or darkness in the world, hold on to the fact that the victory has been won. The ending of the story is 'happily ever after' — that blessed third day proclaims it so forever. This week we shall all walk together as a rag-tag band called Christians towards the end of that story, even though at times the blackness will be very thick indeed and we'll seem to lose our way. Keep your eye on the light...

See you next week, dear friends, on the other side, in the sun of Easter joy.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 4 April 2004

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2004 Society of Archbishop Justus