By Mark Kelly
If you would indulge me, I would like to share a brief – and mostly hypothetical – story.
It seems a corporation experienced a reversal of fortune and found itself struggling financially. The CEO persuaded a majority of the board to implement a new business model, one which had successfully turned around thousands of companies in similar straits. Unfortunately, three years later, the corporation’s financial situation had not improved, and a group of directors made plans to oust the CEO.
A business reporter who heard about the corporate coup attempt began working on a story. She learned that the CEO knew almost nothing about the nuts and bolts of the business model he had recommended – in fact, he misunderstood it at the most basic level. He had no experience with the model, had never attended any training related to it. He actually had read only part of one book about the model – and a few unrelated columns in a women’s magazine written by the progenitor of the model.
Question: Would the reporter’s story criticize the business model for creating division among the corporation’s directors? Or would it focus on the CEO’s attempt to implement a model about which he knew practically nothing? If, on further investigation, the reporter discovered that a significant segment of the corporate directors had opposed the CEO’s hiring from the beginning and were waiting for an opportunity to fire him, would that bit of background affect the way she viewed the root cause of the situation?
The Nightline segment this past Wednesday didn’t delve into the Wall Street Journal’s Sept. 5, 2006, front-page story, “Veneration Gap: A Popular Strategy For Church Growth Splits Congregants,” but the opening moments of the Nightline piece showed the newspaper headline, and the criticism of Purpose Driven leveled by that article was the focus of Martin Bashir’s investigation.
Now a church is not a business, and a pastor is not a CEO, but what the WSJ article did was, in effect, criticize the Purpose Driven model for mistakes made by church leaders who were trying to implement a ministry paradigm they knew virtually nothing about.
The reporter illustrated the article with an anecdote about an unfortunate situation in a Mississippi church that resulted, in part, because a pastor attempted to change a congregation’s worship style from traditional to contemporary. The effort ended in a tragic division among the members of the church.
The article blamed the Purpose Driven model for that division, despite the fact that the pastor was quoted as saying he had read only part of Pastor Rick’s book, The Purpose Driven Church – and a few of his columns on the purpose-driven life that appear in Ladies' Home Journal. As far as we could tell, none of the three pastors prominently mentioned in the article ever received any training in implementing Purpose Driven principles. All of them appeared to misunderstand it at the most basic level.
To her credit, the reporter quoted Pastor Rick as saying: "Probably 10% of all churches are in conflict at any given point, regardless of what they're doing. [That] is not just symptomatic of changing to purpose-driven. It would be symptomatic in changing to anything."
However, she failed to follow that lead and explore the history behind the conflict in these congregations. As I said in my last post, anyone who understands interpersonal and organizational conflict would not be surprised to discover a history of disagreement between the principals – and that the issue over which division occurred was merely the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Misunderstandings and rumors inevitably circulate about issues and people in the spotlight. It’s unfortunate when those misunderstandings and rumors find high-profile public expression on the front page of an internationally respected news journal. We appreciate people who refuse to take rumors at face value and instead make an effort to find out whether they are true.
Veneration Gap article on WSJ.com (subscription)