Efficiency and Spirituality in the Church

Is inefficiency a spiritual problem? Or contrarily, is efficiency a sign of hastiness and impatience, hence a kind of spiritual deficiency?

The answer to the questions above depends on which culture you are coming from. We operate according to our respective culture or worldview.

Those who are raised in a modernist culture where efficiency is highly valued often think that ministry in church must be as efficient or even more efficient that works done “in the world.” Some experience God through their serving in church or when they “feel” that the church is progressing with a good momentum. Others are simply used to the way things are in the modern world. They like it fast and efficient. When these are not found in the church they become disgruntled.

The “modern” church has many other problems. John Drane famously outlined them in his book, “The McDonaldization of the Church.”

Very few of us are trained to think from another cultural perspective. Thus, we tend to judge according to our cultural preferences. To prefer efficiency is a cultural preference. Not all culture follows the modernist definition of good life – with efficiency being a part of it for the purpose of production. This is the residue of industrial revolution and modernity.

We should not judge the seemingly inefficiency of the church based on our modernist cultural preferences and habits. The concept of efficiency is relative and not absolute. In some settings, being efficient is not valued, while in another, highly regarded.

So, what is the value of efficiency? Should the church be efficient?

Efficiency concerns achieving a goal within a given time.

Any goal is bound by the factor of time. No goal can be achieved apart from having it set within a time frame. To read the bible is a goal. To read it one chapter a month is a goal set according to a time frame. According to the set goal, one chapter a year is inefficiency. Discarding efficiency is as good as discarding having any goal.

Some will argue that we should just let things “flow” and by prayers, they will “fall into places.” I think that’s fine as long as everyone in the group is agreeable and comfortable. In the church setting, the modernists will move on to other more modernist churches. In normal circumstances, in the context of Malaysian churches, this will be the middle-upper class. But there is a more serious problem.

Inefficiency may seem harmless. Yet it is often a kind of irresponsibility. A parent that fails to feed a child on time is inefficient. If this prolongs, the child’s life will be endangered. The character of the parent is now highly questionable.

There is a thin line between training the child to have patience and abusing him/her.

We must not based our spirituality on efficiency. Yet, we must be efficient. Our efficiency is not to be based on our uncritical, habitual cultural preferences. It is based on our identity as children of God aiming to be more Christ-like, with dependency on God, and grace to accept any inadequacy. So there should be gracious acceptance that things may not be as efficient as we have expected; yet, not to be discouraged as we continue to set goals and aim to achieve them efficiently. Leaders (or servants) are efficient because their goals are set for those they serve. Their efficiency is to provide timely help to those they lead.

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