Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis and Qualitative Leadership

Having just completed my doctoral work on healthy small churches, I'll occasionally be asked: so, um, what makes a small church healthy?

The answer people want to hear is quantitative.  They want numbers and data.  They want a specific program and pattern that is "replicable" and "scalable."  When you think about church like a corporation or institution, that's just how you think.

But a healthy small church is not a quantitative entity.  It is fundamentally, frustratingly qualitative.  Meaning, it ain't how much you got.  It's the character of what you've got.  You measure the health of church in the way that you measure the health of families, or of relationships, or of communities.  

Or music.  Or art.  Or a sunset.  Or the effect your baby has on you when it first smiles at you.

This cannot be quantified.  

Quantitative assessments of those things miss their point completely.  No, it's worse than that.  They destroy the thing they attempt to assess.  They are the wrong tool for the task.  Applying empirical measures to the things that give joy is as misguided as brushing your teeth with a claw hammer.  

This frustrates those who'd approach church leadership as lightly baptized business management, but honey, it's all about the quality.  The health, strength, and purpose of any church rests in quality, which is notoriously hard to quantify.

Wait, you say.  Big churches are institutions, with complex structures.  Maybe in your little Jesus tribe of a church, qualitative measures matter.  But Large needs Quantitative.  Leaders of the large must focus on their organizational dashboards!   They must have metrics!  They must manage!

To which, I would say, look at Pope Francis.

Pope Francis is fascinating.  Here in DC, it's like the Fab Four showed up in town, a Pope being received as a celebrity.  But not just a celebrity.  A Holy Man, someone of unblemished goodness, a beneficent soul, the Papa Di Tutti Papas.  That's the buzz, anyway.

But what makes Francis so wildly intriguing to me is that he's really no different from Benedict.

Honestly, he's not, not quantitatively.  I followed Benedict closely during his tenure, and he said exactly what Francis has said about capitalism, science, and the environment.  Benedict talked in the same way about abuses within the church, and acted to oppose them.  I did not always agree with him, but I had a profound respect for his intent, his intelligence, a respect that was deepened when he had the wisdom to step down once he knew he was compromised.

Francis and Benedict, in terms of policy and theology, were remarkably similar.  There is almost no difference.  Quantitatively, that is.

The difference is tonal and qualitative.  Francis understands, instinctively, what faith leadership is all about.  It's about manifesting a particular value into the world, in your person.  It's about the care of little details--not management details, but interpersonal details.  The feeling of a relationship.  The timbre of a voice.  The twinkle of an eye.  A genuine laugh, or a long hug.  Loving others, in a way they can feel.  Those things are hard to teach.  They are not the stuff of tests and metrics.  They're the stuff of soul work and personal transformation.

These things matter in the small church.  They are its life and breath.

But they are also the heart of every church, at every size.  Look at the impact Francis has had on his little church, if you doubt me.

The Way we walk is qualitative.

When the leaders of the church forget this, the heart of the church dies.