Saturday, February 02, 2008

Dallas Willard on Organizational Vision

Gordon Cosby of the Servant Leadership School at Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. once asked Dallas Willard, "Why do churches and ministries so often lose the essence of their founding vision, to the point that the resulting institution, years later, is quite unlike the original dream? What happens along the way?" This essay is Willard's response to that question:

Whoever serves me must follow me,and where I am, there will myservant be also. Whoever servesme, the Father will honor." Jesus (John 12:26)

When you go to Assisi, you will find many people who talk a great deal about St. Francis, many monuments to him, and many businesses thriving by selling memorabilia of him. But you will not find anyone who carries in himself the fire that Francis carried. No doubt many fine folks are there, but they do not have the character of Francis, nor do they do the deeds of Francis, nor have his effects.

What is true in this case is not peculiar to it. Rather, this is simply one of the more obvious illustrations of a general tendency of human life —and of the spiritual life as well. It happens in the professional world, the world of business, of government, education, and the arts: A person of some great inspiration and ability emerges, and rises far above his or her origins and surroundings. Perhaps it is a King David of Israel, a Socrates, a St. Anthony or St. Francis, a Martin Luther or a George Fox or a John Wesley. In each of these people there is a ... well, a certain 'something'.

They really are different, and that difference explains why these individuals have such great effect, and why movements and institutions grow up around them. It is as if they stand in another world, and from there they have extraordinary effects in this world —as God acts with them. Organization of their activities takes place, and other organizations spin off from them as numbers of talented individuals are drawn to them and make their lives in their wake. But these other individuals —usually, but not always, very well-intending —do not carry the "fire," the "certain something," within them. The mission or missions that have been set afoot begin a subtle divergence from the vision that gripped the founder, and before too long the institution and its mission has become the vision.

This happens in "secular" settings as well. Arthur Anderson was a man of rock-solid integrity, with a crystal-clear vision of Accounting as a profession. He built a magnificent accounting firm on strong moral principles. But eventually the people who ran the firm became obsessed with money-making and success, and then with helping clients make money and be successful. Just that, instead of holding those clients responsible ("account-able") to the public goods they all professed to serve. These people —who acted in the good name of Arthur Anderson, but without his vision —brought disaster upon themselves and upon thousands of unsuspecting people who depended upon them. Had the moral fire burned in them that burned in Arthur Anderson, that would not have happened. But a false fire of greed and ambition burned in its place. The cuckold of 'success' laid its eggs in the nest of service-to-the-public-good, and a monster was hatched that destroyed the nest and all in it.

St. Francis and Arthur Anderson are among the more glamorous and notorious illustrations of a hard reality. In most cases, when the original fire dies out, the associated institutions and individuals carry on for a while, increasingly concerned about success and survival, and then they either find another basis to stand upon, or they simply disappear. (Consider the case of Charles Finney and Oberlin college, which he founded, or any number of other originally Christian colleges and universities.)

For the rest of this excellent article see