Friday, February 15, 2008


Well, now that I know I won’t have my job anymore at some point during March or April (or next week, or tomorrow. My Magic 8 Ball is on the fritz, so I can’t actually tell), I figure it’s pretty safe to tell this story. It’s not really a mockery of my company or job, nor is it intended to be one, but it’s an observation I found interesting that requires a silly story about my job. It’s kind of Dilbert-esque, if you catch my drift.

See, I work for a large multi-national corporation. But I work for a division of said multi-national that was formerly an independent, highly respected, 80 or so year-old company which the multi-national purchased about 10 years ago. Said multi-national has been spending a lot of time purchasing various smaller companies and trying to join them together under a single umbrella. For a while, the old companies were basically allowed to keep doing things as they’ve been doing them. Recently, however, they’ve decided that this probably isn’t the best way of doing things as a multi-national (either that or they decided it a long time ago and only now decided to do something about it). This makes a certain amount of sense. There’s no real point in purchasing two companies that were once in competition and do the same thing, then paying both companies to keep doing the same thing. Or, at the very least, if you’ve got two companies and both have a division that does the same thing, for bookkeeping purposes it makes sense to combine them in some way.

I have no sour grapes about things like this. I’m a proponent of globalization and think it’s both inevitable and good (although there’s a massive asterisk on that one, which I’ll get to at a later point in time). I tend to see the current movement towards globalization as being something close in tone to the Industrial Revolution. It’s painful for a lot of people now as we move towards a new paradigm, but things will settle out and in a hundred years or so history books will look at this time as the beginning of something great. Furthermore, they’ll call people who still want protectionist tariffs and whatnot Luddites and have a good laugh.

However, the globalization process is painful and confusing for the people who are actually doing it. And it’s really not helpful when the large multi-national suddenly starts shifting things around with no real explanation and in such a way that pretty much pisses everybody off. Which is how I ended up getting invited to a meeting wherein the VP in charge of whatever division I’m going to be a part of until my job disappears in a month or so explained everything that was happening. Kinda. Sorta.

We sat down and he started talking about the new Mission Statement. I have nothing against Mission Statements, but I tend to believe that a lot of the time spent on Mission Statements could be better spent doing any number of other things (although I’ll bet I could have a lot of fun if I could make some random Mission Statement generation software. It’s times like this I wish I actually knew how to program). In general, Mission Statements are there to be ignored. The VP acknowledged this, but started going on and on about how this time the Mission Statement was really important and it should drive everyone’s work day. I started referring to it as, “The Mission Statement (And This Time We Mean it).” As he kept going, I started to wonder if he’d missed his calling and in another life this VP of whatever would actually be an associate pastor at a megachurch. Then when he invoked the divine right of the people who make more money than other people to make decisions and not have them questioned, I started referring to him as “Bishop.” Somewhere around there I started to think I’d been in that meeting before, but couldn’t figure out exactly when. Then it hit me.

It was every single ministry planning meeting I’ve ever attended. I used to do leadership stuff in various capacities at my old church and later with my school’s chapter of an international campus ministry. They all went the same way.

The leaders gather to try to figure out why they have an apathetic group that doesn’t bring new people to the services. They’ll evaluate the failures and successes of past efforts and often attempt to find things that other, similar ministries did that had success and attempt to modify them or steal them wholesale for the new outreach. They construct a new multi-part program with outreach events. Then they come up with a kickoff event to present the new idea and get everyone excited. Everyone talks about how they “feel god is really moving this time,” because, y’know, last time they said god was moving they were full of crap but this time you can take it to the bank.

Everybody gets really excited and almost everybody shows up for the first big event (generally without any guests, thereby screwing up that whole “outreach” thing). Fewer and fewer people show up for each subsequent event until it’s time to start all over again. But when a new idea comes up, everybody knows that this time god is really moving.

So I was hearing about the Mission Statement (And This Time We Mean it) and basically trying really hard not to laugh. Especially when the new manager got up with a copy of the Mission Statement (And This Time We Mean it) and explained to everyone how he’d been carrying it everywhere and checking everything he did during the work day against the Mission Statement. If it was on the Mission Statement, it was good. If it wasn’t, it was bad. It was nice to see a Bible that had been reduced to a single page with bright colors and bold fonts, really. Although I somehow doubt that the document or what it points to comes anywhere close to the Tillichian concept of a worthwhile ultimate concern.

Then we got in to Six Sigma. Six Sigma is one of those efficiency programs in corporate America. It was designed by Motorola to make sure they weren’t screwing anything up while mass-producing phones. From what I understand, it makes sense from a manufacturing and engineering perspective. The company I currently work for doesn’t engineer or manufacture anything. Yet the folks in charge are all about getting people certified in Six Sigma as some sort of efficiency program.

Herein we hit the problem, though. The purpose, I’m told, of ministry is to get people to come to god or to help people or whatever. Yet when everyone is relentlessly focused on the new outreach program, they’re kind of missing the point. Similarly, at that goals meeting the Bishop kept pointing us to the Mission Statement (And This Time We Mean it) and Six Sigma. It’s supposed to increase efficiency, but in focusing on the “Mission” and Six Sigma, aren’t they encouraging the workforce to not actually do their jobs? Who’s doing my job if I’m spending a month getting efficiency certified?

I think evangelism is something the human race thinks is necessary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a church, an office, a band, or whatever, we seem to think it’s necessary to get people excited to get them involved. Maybe we do in some cases. But if you’re trying to get people excited, doesn’t it at least make sense to try to get them excited about the right thing?

Ah, well. It reminded me why I don’t miss ministry...

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