It is a chilling expression in any context, but particularly when used to describe the operational life of the church.
The phrase was coined by the Rev Dr Peter Sanlon, thirty-six-year-old vicar of St Mark’s, Tunbridge Wells to describe what he views as the desperate attempts by the Church of England to deal with decline in church membership and attendance. He called the church’s dominant modus operandi “panicked managerialism”.
I suppose, in the case of the church, panic may seem justified. The Manchester Guardian recently reported that
The scale of the Church of England’s atrophy has been starkly set out by figures presented to its general assembly that show church attendance will continue to fall for the next 30 years.
Previously, the church predicted that its decline in numbers was likely to continue for another five years before recovering.
But John Spence, the C of E’s finance chief, said on Wednesday that the decline was expected to continue for another three decades, with today’s figures of 18 people per 1,000 regularly attending church falling to 10 per 1,000. An 81-year-old was eight times more likely to attend church than a 21-year-old, he said.
So, having panicked, it appears the church’s organizational response is to get better organized, hence “panicked managerialism.”
But, regardless of the numbers in question, I doubt panic is generally the way the Spirit moves the church forward into life-giving change.
One of the most often repeated injunctions throughout the New Testament is the instruction to “Fear not”. (Matthew 1:20, 6:34, 28:5; Luke 1:13, 1:30, 2:10, 8:50, 12:7; John 12:15, 14:27; Revelation 1:17)
A “managerialsim” that emerges from panic will inevitably end up resorting to manipulation, pressure, and the abuse of power. Fearful “managerialism” will always be agenda-driven and will inevitably fail to listen deeply to those it intends to serve. Panic is not the pathway to freedom.
Why should the church see numerical decline as cause for panic? Are we anxious about our ability to continue servicing our buildings? Do clergy fear for their pensions? Do we believe the church is going to cease to exist and that this will have a desperately detrimental impact on the whole of society?
Even if well founded, how do such anxieties fit in the context of the teaching the church exists to promote? Jesus instructed his disciples,
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:31-35)
The world is not interested in “panicked managerialsim.” But the world may be interested in
the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. (Philippians 4:7)
The church that is driven by panic will have a hard time embodying the peace “which surpasses all understanding.” And we will not get to such peace using the driven, urgent tools of managerialism. We need to start where we hope to end up, with the love and peace that are born in our hearts by the action of the Spirit of Jesus who was the “Prince of Peace,” not the purveyor of panic.