Another Christian tradition uses holacracy concepts


Reorganizing the Church to allow for change

“Holacracy aims to organize a company around the work that needs to be done instead of around the people who do it.”—Jena McGregor, Washington Post

Holacracy calls for serious restructuring.


The Church is all about structure. The temptation will be to dismiss its ideas because it’s not the way we do things. But historically Lutherans addressed these concepts ages ago—and abandoned them.


Post 1 addresses how holacracy fits into Lutheran tradition—at least how it used to be practiced. But there is another Christian tradition that practices many of the principals of holacracy.


Most denominations presume pastors are a given. Quakers have no clergy.


The Quaker tradition revolves around meetings. There are Meetings for Worship. Quakers gather in silence and wait for members to speak as they are moved.


There are also meetings for other purposes, including Meetings for Business.


My son attended Quaker School for 13 years. I’ve attended Quaker Meetings for Worship. I am less familiar with Quaker Meetings for Business—although my son talks about them. I had an early encounter with the Quaker system for settling disputes that was impressive.


My five-year-old son had a beef with his gym teacher in the opening days of kindergarten. He told me very little—only that he was never going to gym class again—ever.


I informed his classroom teacher that I thought there was a problem. She responded immediately—no time for things to fester and deteriorate. Three parties had a mini-Quaker meeting. My five-year-old. His 60-year-old classroom teacher. His Olympic gold-medalist gym teacher. I had to wonder if my little guy stood a chance! I was not present.


All ended well. Peace was almost immediate.


The five-year-old had his say. The gym teacher took responsibility for a miscommunication and apologized. The focus was on the problem—not on who was the boss.


This is the approach of holacracy. The focus is on the work, not the structure and certainly not on personalities.


This is worth exploring regardless of how difficult it may be for those who depend on church structure for status and income.


  • How much talent lies dormant for fear of stepping on toes?
  • How many ideas are unexplored because they don’t fit into a committee structure?
  • How many people don’t bother with church because they don’t feel they can make a difference?
  • How many members feel they have “assigned” roles and can’t contribute outside those roles?


To create change and foster innovation, today’s churches need to engage more skills than one pastor is likely to have. But the authority structure focuses on one leader.


The Lutheran Church was already addressing this leadership problem when it gave the highest governing status to the congregation council—not the pastor.


Many congregational members wrongly assume that the pastor or even the bishop is “the boss.” A great deal of church conflict stems from failure to define the role of pastor, assuming authority based on traditions of other, better publicized denominations.


Very messy indeed. The mess leaves us unprepared to face today’s culture.


Recent years have shown that world-changing innovations are more likely to come from the dorm room than the board room.


Church is not structured so that the voices outside of approved ranks can be heard. Laity tend to receive recognition for their ability to follow—not lead.


The attitude of the Church toward ideas that come from outside rostered leadership is a bit like Nathaniel’s smart-alecky biblical quip. “Can any good come out of Nazareth?”


The answer then and now is “YES.”


The challenge is to allow this to happen.


Small congregations should be hotbeds of innovation. They aren’t because they cannot afford to make waves and attract attention. They must allocate every available penny toward limited leadership. The regional body may have already written off the possibility of a future.


Holacracy is a structure that fosters peer-to-peer engagement.


The work is defined. Teams of people have freedom to do the work. They own the work. They have complete authority to accomplish goals. They report to one another not to determine if they have met some predetermined agenda but to report progress and get input from others.


We’ll start looking at the holacratic method in the next post.