Life Cycles of Religious Organizations.
The Hope is for Mavericks

10/03

Iíve seen small individuals and families spill their wounded emotions. Iíve seen gifted and talented individuals who at one time helped grow their church aggressively through the years with their entrepreneurial zeal. Iíve see teams of families that were a part. These gifted people, in the area of growing, expanding, and building were mavericks.

Then after a number of years their team rejected them for their lack of "playing by the rules". Iíve seen many of them become outcasts. Sometimes, Iíve seen them reinvent again, use their talents, grow, and add their entrepreneurial zeal. They again rebuild, energize and then are again rejected. Iíve hear the words relayed to me from them from the teams..."Donít let those folks back in; we donít want them. They are free thinkers; they are called lose cannons. Actually they are energized mavericks.

And what are those rules that these folks broke?.. As I have pried for their offense, all I found was their lack of institutional conformity.  As of resent, I have found others who live on the radical fringes of organizations, they have a hard time fitting into a rigid bureaucracy. They are gifted mavericks and need freedoms to fly. I have found over the years, that this can be done within the perimeters of the "Love toward God and fellow man."

One of the greatest things that growing organizations can do is "making room for creative people". Making retreats for oldsters and youngsters. Making retreats for youngsters with fewer old guard. When I run teams, as I do all the time, I challenge them with the question:  Have we made it impossible for bright rising stars and maverick go-getters to live within our organization? When we become too preoccupied with policy, procedure and fine-tuning of conformity to organizational standards, in effect we squeeze out some of our most gifted people. If one looks at the repeated authors (that means the same authors) of their pamphlets, magazines, and articles, you can see the proof of this habit. If you look at the same speakers, on the media, week after week, you can see where this organizationís perpetuity is heading.  Sunday mornings on WGN are filled with such religious evangelists.

Organizations have the nasty habit of becoming institutions. Institutions have the great tendency to fade into irrelevance. Movements can become monuments. I grew out of one such institution. Even today, with the many splits of religious organizations, this tragedy is shortly repeated and repeated. Leaders of various organizations think they were the heir apparent to the previous president. Many think they are "holding faster" to the traditions. Many think they are keeping the best laws.  Many think they are doing the "fuller work." But in doing so, they often repeat the tragedy of this old story. The older an organization gets, the less room there is for the entrepreneurially gifted.

Mavericks are messy by nature, and calcified organizations chew them up and spit them out with their rigidity. Witness the rebirth of Chrysler to see how to use mavericks. Iacocca took an old institution and hired gifted entrepreneurial zeal. He got in the trenches with the assembly people. He came from outside to reinvent Chrysler from the top down. Canít you imagine someone trying to reinvent church leaders from the top?

This is as true in the church as it is in the business world. There is a pattern that organizations follow. They follow a chart. The chart is the chart of life starting at the bottom with birth and going uphill to middle age and declining to death. I will briefly explain each stage. The time when entrepreneuring years of expansion, in childhood and adolescence, and then crests in the adulthood year, the time when organizations need to be "born again".

Birth: One or two families or individuals decide to try something new. They start a business, plant a new church, or embark on some new enterprise that will create the new life of the organization.

Infancy: The fragile new organization need loads of tender loving care and the constant feeding and papering in the early days of survival. And the new parents discover there are many costs and very few paybacks beyond seeing the joy of the new life you have created.

Childhood: The early days of floundering around with first steps, tricycles and falling, amid bruises and bumps that come with childhood. Great learning is taking place. In churches, people go back to the bible to learn instead of others tracts.

Adolescence: The identity crisis always happens once the organization is up and running for sure. It comes sometime between five and ten years out, when the original founding principles are questioned by the growing numbers of the members who were not there at the beginning. Great growing pains happen during this stage of passage and adulthood.

Adulthood: The organization is now prime, fully staffed and functioning with teamwork, the way it was intended to from the beginning. These are great productive years, and things are going right and the goals are being accomplished in great style. Iíve heard comments like "finely tuned" motors.

Middle Age: As in human life, or rather human mid-life, things begin to slow down and some of the zeal and zest for the peak years starts waning. Iíve noticed that settling for limited objectives is very much part of the pattern here.

The Graying Years: In these years institutionalization is taking place, or to put it more bluntly: fossilization. The preservation of the organization becomes the chief end. More elderlies retire. These sap some of the production revenues. Often leaders are spending less time at work and more on health care needs. They should be replacing themselves with youth. New ideas are discouraged since they might upset the established routines of the decades. "Weíve always done it that way" ."It worked best that way in the past". "That way of radio and TV presentation worked best back then." That is the theme song of the graying years.

Old Age: If the organization is still around, it is just barely maintaining a bare existence - with a tiny market share of whatever it does. Nothing is really happening, It is not being noticed much, things are quiet and the orderly hallways and board rooms are moldy with dust, if they even exist. Many churches in our land are in this condition. I was in one of those. These churches can go on for years with the reserves of a few generous estates. Growth is not expected and rebirth is out.

Death: It would be better if more organizations would take this bold move and vote themselves dissolved when they have fulfilled their usefulness. Every man-made organization sooner or later must cease to have life, and we should allow each generation the privilege of creating it own methods to accomplish ideas.

Birth, life, aging and death; is the natural order of creation. What do these life cycles have to do with mavericks? It should be obvious by the new, that the older the organization and its leaders are the less room for the truly creative. In the early years of any organization it takes creative vision. In churches it takes vision to attract young new members or a business going after a market share. It takes creative vision and go-getters to get things moving.

In my years of education, kids ask me about the obvious life cycle chart: "Can the other side of the curve be avoided, or is it inevitable?" I have become more and more skeptical as my years have gone by in what I call the ebb-and-flow of organizational life. There can be rebirth, but a takes a strong dose of young, maverick blood Ė to arrest the slide down on the far side of the life-cycle curve.

Most people who get to know me find that under the professional English facade is a zealous maverick. I do not seek to be the zealot to be a hireling, but I see the need for those young people, younger than me. So why would a 70 year old organization hire a young zealot to run things? I applaud the boards of directors of organizations that face the gamble of putting mavericks in charge. Many approaching warning signs of graying years are appearing in our midst. Often my gravest concern, as we look into the future, in our organizations of graying splits, as we look into the future, is that we should fade into irrelevance.

Letís make room for mavericks. Webster defies maverick as, "a pioneer, and independent individual who does not go along with the group.." Synonyms for maverick include nonconformist, heretic, dissident, dissenter, and separatist. If you think about it, Jesus was a maverick and was eventually destroyed by the institutional religious body Ė the Pharisees Ė He came to redeem. And Iíll bet you thought you had it tough getting your ideas through! The scriptures are filled with men and women who were non-conformists - who did not meet the norms of their society. Moses was an outsider chosen by God to be an insider to bring renewal to His people. Joseph was left for dead by his brothers, as they were so upset that he had weird ideas. Peter was a maverick from the word go. Jesus never cast him aside for his raw edge, but cultivated it. Then there was the great Pharisee of Pharisees, Paul, began in the bosom of the organization and was coloring outside the lines. Before you knew it he was sparking a fresh wind of renewal from God. And his writings were used to instruct us from the bible today.

I fear, and I know others, fear mavericks in our organizations. Fear what they might do next - but not as much as what I fear if we lose them and they are not going to get the chance to do it for us. Most likely they will go ahead and do it for someone else!

Is your Church Leading you Correctly?    Why do people follow other people?

Mistakes Leaders Make    Life Cycles of Organizations    Visionaries    How to put Mavericks in their place    Facilitative Leadership