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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Seeing Exit, Voice & Loyality Through a Different Lens

Written by: on October 17, 2014

I confess (How’s that for the start of a blog post?) that I was not certain which path to follow after reading Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States. Reading about Exit I naturally thought in terms of those exiting the Church. From a consumer standpoint I could also relate to the choices and changes in product purchases. I am somewhat fascinated by the evolution and retro-lution (yes, I think I did make that word up) of product labels.
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Voice provides another approach, one with possibilities from those that are exiting Church and those that exit from a chosen consumer good. Clearly from the title the book’s subject is how one (individual, group or even an organization) respond to decline. Somewhere in the mix is the realization and an agreement of sorts to the purpose and intent of the product. If it is to produce something, what is it?

 

This is of course part of the problem as well as indicative of the solution. Stirred into the mix is the aspect of loyalty. There are items I buy because I have always bought them. Even though the packaging might have changed (usually smaller) and even if the label changes (it might be harder to find, especially if the grocery store rearranges itself) I stick with it. But not always, years ago Coca Cola changed its signature product introducing New Coke. It was a colossal failure. People exited, they did not buy into the change and they stopped buying (period). The drop in sales revenue alerted management that indeed there was a problem. Voices were raised as people complained and no doubt stockholders also took note. There was plenty of new coke to purchase in the stores, but you could not find the Classic Coca Cola anywhere. This void remained for a short time until enough product could be shipped to stores, vendors and restaurants. Interestingly this void created longing, which reinforced loyalty. Some might even suggest that it created loyalty. This has all the elements Hirschman explores in Exit, Voice and Loyalty. But there is another aspect of the market that is stirring for me, one that in a slightly strange way is subtly connected.

 

I live in the region known as the Pacific Northwest. My dissertation focus is on why Baby Boomers leave the Church and what it might mean for their faith development. Our region is even known as the None-zone[1] (and this was even before the 2012 Pew Research report on the growing number of Americans with no religious affiliation). People of Christian religious faith are well acquainted with the numbers of people that do not attend church and even fewer that might profess faith in Jesus Christ. So there has been great attention focused on the development and expansion of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. In recent years its primary founder and pastor (until yesterday), Mark Driscoll has received celebrity status in many Christian circles. His sermons are on YouTube (and have thousands of views), he has presented at numerous conferences where he pulled no punches (well actually he did throw a few) in telling his audience his version of why the Church was not successful and what was needed to bring about change. And he was listened too, even when there were reservations. I recall hearing from someone attending voicing his concern about Driscoll’s techniques – tone of speech and language, but brushed it aside because clearly his message was getting through as hundreds of young adults were accepting Christ and joining the church. The end result justified the means.

 

Until recently the results supported the means. Loyalty is powerful. Over the years the loyalty of Mark Driscoll had never been a question. It often strengthened the bonds between his parishioners and himself. Irrational loyalty expresses itself when there is strong attachment to an organization that goes beyond what is rational.[2] How else can you explain the deaf ears when other staff pastors or elders voiced concern over the church’s direction or the consolidation of control with Driscoll? Expressed, they were silenced as they were released and shunned.[3] There were voices expressing concern, leaving Hirschman’s words with a prophetic sound, “Exit is here considered as treason and voice as mutiny.”[4] The Mars Hill ship steered by Driscoll only seemed to roll with the waves. But eventually there came charges that required attention: church funds were utilized to promote one of Driscoll’s books onto the New York Times bestseller list, assertions of intimidation and bullying, lack of financial oversight and the list seemed to grow. The occasional media articles were no longer occasional. The means had an underside that seemed the opposite (opposed?) to the fruits of the Spirit.

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At this turn of events I am wondering at the role of exit, voice and loyalty utilized not by members of Mars Hill or the public that has surely called out and drawn attention to Mars Hill, but by Mark Driscoll himself. I wonder at the influence of loyalty in Driscoll’s exit and the voice behind his resignation. The heart in the shunned and abused voices that have sought Driscoll’s resignation was anchored in a call for repentance.[5] Yet I wonder if voice initially thought to lose out was actually turned around.   Did Driscoll find it effective to utilize his previous exit (leave of absence) and voice as “new ways of exerting influence and pressure toward recovery?”[6] I don’t know.

 

Social scientists, psychologists and (hopefully) theologians and Christian leaders will examine what has taken place. In the end, exit probably was the tipping point. Attendance and giving dropped significantly, church branches have closed, and buildings are for sale. What has happened cannot be undone. The question remains if there will be an effective recovery. Unlike the new coke, perhaps there is something to be discovered in what we might call the classics of our faith.
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            [1] Refer to Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone edited by Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk, published by AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek, CA in 2004.

            [2] Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 81.

            [3] Refer to the blog, Joyful Exiles to read the story of Paul and Jonna Petry at http://joyfulexiles.com/.

[4] Hirschman, 121.

[5] Refer to blog, Mars Hill Refuge at http://marshillrefuge.blogspot.com/ and/or Warren Throckmorton’s blog at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton.

[6] Hirschman, 80.

About the Author

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Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

11 responses to “Seeing Exit, Voice & Loyality Through a Different Lens”

  1. mm Julie Dodge says:

    I was wondering what you would write about. I even referenced you in my post. This is some thoughtful writing. I hadn’t heard about the latest Driscoll/Mars Hill events. That said, you call out some other points that I also thought about – how church leaders rule out and silence voice. It seems that some leaders are too fragile to hear anything contrary to their own opinion. So they complain about how church members are always complaining (how dare we have a thought of our own!). They personalize. They ostracize those who disagree. And those people, who often care deeply for the church, either roll into compliance. Or exit. And where do they go? Sometimes nowhere.

    • Julie…
      I agree with your insights and perspective. In a way the challenge is that within the non-denominational growth (especially in the “None” zone of the Pacific NW where is the accountability? Is it to a network? What if the network has no ability to hold any sort of accountability outside (of course) their organizational structure that is structured as a hierarchy (yes I am thinking of Acts 29).

      You are so right in expressing that people will leave. The energy of trying again, combined with (often) significant wounding makes it so difficult.

      Appreciate your wisdom and insights!

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    Thanks for bringing the “new coke” of Mars Hill into this discussion Carol. From afar, and only through the articles that are sent to me have I had any kind of framework for understanding what has been happening there. Tragically, some of the very questions that were raised when they started are being revealed as truth, so many years later. Which, in light of this reading, makes me wonder if “loyalty” was given such a high priority that “exit” was ignored and “voice” was silenced. The call to church “classic” is awesome and welcome, because, in some ways, I (maybe naively) still think Coca Cola knew what it was doing in creating a loyal market for the “classic”. Maybe after all these years of variety of playing with church as a product, we will return to “classic” expression of faith. Now what would the Baby Boomers say to that?

    • Deve…
      I think you are spot on in “voicing” that loyalty was given a very significant place. It was “in” to be part of Mars Hill, provided community and structure, so to exit meant a loss of relationships. Voice was quite effectively silenced, although in recent years there have been those that have refused.

      One aspect in the “classic” is the hope for “real” repentance. There is so much “spin” that is put around the person and the church by both (Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill) which seems to fuel those in defense and those that are angry at the individual and the church. I suspect we are going to be working through this for years to come…

  3. Carol,

    I would have to say that this was one of the best posts I have read since we began out blogging last summer. Brilliantly done.

    You say regarding Coke, “Interestingly this void created longing, which reinforced loyalty. Some might even suggest that it created loyalty.” That is powerful. It really got me thinking a lot about what I am loyal to and I realized that my list is not very long. I am loyal to my wife and children. I am loyal to my students. I am loyal to our LGP program (at least when I am not feeling overwhelmed). I am loyal to Starbucks. I am loyal to Toyotas. I am loyal to Amazon. As I read my list, I realized that I am loyal to relationships and to reliability. But my short list is also interesting to me for what it does NOT contain. I am not (presently) loyal to a church; my wife and I are trying to find one that works for us right now. My faith is also not on the list — and it should be. But I am struggling with that right now, even though I still have a deep love for God. Finally, the organization I work for at this time in my life is also absent from my list, even though it used to be there. The reason for this? At the moment, the powers that be seem to be deaf to the voices of of others who are not in power. It did not used to be that way. But something has changed, and I am having a hard time putting my finger on just what that is. But I think that at least part of the reason for this is related to the Mark Driscoll fiasco. When leadership begins to believe its own propaganda, that is when it needs to pay attention to what is happening. It is a little scary to watch this unfold since I was naive enough to believe that this would never happen to my organization. I will be staring my tenth year there in 2015. It will be interesting to see what the local headlines will look like then. I wonder if there might be resignations? I doubt it. But I have a feeling that there will people exiting, maybe in droves. This is a sad thought. I will keep you posted.

    “Oh Lord, please teach our leaders to be listeners.”

    • Bill…
      Thank you for your supportive words. Truly as a group we have so much to glean and learn from one another. I simply want you to know that I hear you … and honor your words, your questions, even what might be your uncertainty. Somehow, I know that God is very much part of your journey. Holding in the Light the things you mentioned for you…

  4. Liz Linssen says:

    Dear Carol
    It’s very sad to hear what’s happened recently with Mark Driscoll. But at the same time, look at what he did achieve through that church, in an area known as the ‘none-zone.’ He has shown people that it IS possible to build a thriving church and he has the sense to see where the potential lay, in the 20 somethings.
    Let’s pray he learns from his mistakes and that God continues to take this church forward. Thank you for your post. Very interesting indeed!

    • Thanks Liz for seeking the positive. I agree that many have accepted Christ, but we are also faced with a particular challenge, what kind of birth did they have and what kind of Christ were they introduced too? Where are all the hundreds that are leaving going? Will they continue to walk with Christ? The damage and concern is far from finished…. So while we can be like Paul (in Phil.) and rejoice no matter what one’s motives might have been, the residue is remains….

  5. Richard Volzke says:

    Carol,
    Your thoughts on Mars Hill are timely and appropriate for this discussion. This is yet another example of failure within church leadership and management. I have a personal theory in this…when churches place all of their management and leadership responsibility on a small group of individuals, there is often failure resulting. Churches, small and large, need to put public reporting and processes for feedback in place. The most transparent organizations are those that put a structure in place that allows communication without barriers, which allows early indication of trouble to be addressed appropriately. While this won’t fix all issues, it gives a voice for those working and attending a church…allowing people’s concerns to be made more widely known.

    • Hi Richard,
      You highlight very important commitments of financial accountability. But even then there can be a “spin” on things and if you are on your own … In other words, if there was ever a case for the need for denominations and denominational oversight (not just congregationally led churches) Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill would be on the poster.

      What happened at MH (some years ago) was an intentional effort (effective) to consolidate power and control in response to an effort some years ago to bring a more open style of leadership. Something you recognized and suggest we look for, I agree. But it is also sometimes within the culture. Who has influence and who does not? Looking forward to our reading this coming week!

  6. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Carol,
    Thanks. This was a powerful reflection.
    The use of Coke and its superficiality as a product in a sense deepened the intensity of meaning of what you describe.
    In the midst of needing to ensure voice in organizations, you reminded me of the absolute need for exit. In a sense, to confound Hirshman’s categories, exit is a last ditch-effort of voice. Voice is truly absent when even exit becomes a non-option. This is the true depth of abuse — cults, slavery, abusive relationships, etc.
    It all reminded me of Sartre’s play, “No Exit.” May we all manage to not succumb to group-think and may our only other option not be complete abdication.

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