Control vs. Empowerment Structures

While talking with a CPM practitioner today, I was struck by something he said that crystallized something I’ve heard and seen many times.

There are two kinds of organizational systems which can be created: systems that control, and systems that empower.

We create controlling systems largely out of our fears. These systems say, “Wait, let’s think about this.” There are things in life that can go wrong – sometimes mildly wrong, sometimes horribly and tragically wrong, sometimes fatally wrong, sometimes eternally wrong. We want to prevent this, so we create structures of prevention and control.

  • We provide controls on the flow of finances to prevent misappropriation and criminal activity.
  • We provide border guards, stations, and processes to prevent the “bad guys” from getting in.
  • We provide education, laws, and police to prevent bad driving and accidents on the road.
  • We put in place controls of who can teach in positions of theological authority because we’re afraid of heresy and wrong belief.
  • We put in place controls over medicines–especially potentially fatal or addictive drugs–because we’re afraid they’ll be used wrongly or abusively.
  • We provide different levels of management, from supervisors to middle management to executive decisions to boards of directors, to prevent bad corporate decision-making.

Controlling structures are, by definition, intended to constrict possible forms of action and to literally slow things down so that bad decisions aren’t made reflexively.

Controls are about the things we must do but we might do wrong.

The problem with controlling structures in the church: it tends to reinforce the idea that without proper training and authorization, we should not be evangelizing or making disciples. We want to prevent bad disciplemaking, but controlling structures do not naturally encourage good disciple-making. Controlling structures say “no, unless..”

Empowering systems, on the other hand, encourage our passions. They say, “Yes, and…!” There are things in life that can go right – sometimes wildly right, sometimes fantastically and eternally right, with thousands coming to faith. We want to encourage that, so we create systems to lift up, encourage, fuel, catalyze, power. Yes, you should share your faith, and if you will let us, we can help you do it better.

  • We encourage you to speak up and tell people what God has done for you.
  • We encourage you to ask people how you can pray for them.
  • We provide training to help you better share your faith and to make disciples, which we are all commissioned and commanded to do.

Empowering structures are intended to speed things up – to make things better in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness – we say “yes” to the things we should do and we do them well.

Yes, there are times we need control structures in the church. But if controls outnumber empowering structures – structures that intentionally lift up, encourage, and improve activity – then we will have a problem, and that problem will demonstrate itself through very slow growth, stagnation, and decline.