WHAT IS ORGANIZATION DEVELOPMENT?

Organization Development (OD) is “a systematic process for applying behavioral science principles and practices in organizations to increase individual and organization effectiveness.”[1] The goal of OD is to improve the functioning of individuals, teams, and the total organization. In the 1950’s a growing number of corporate prophets noticed a truth that the value of both human relationships and community became lost in service to the corporate structure. These people saw that without attention to the human spirit, corporations could not perform well.[2] Thus the application of behavioral science to management theory began as a field of study aimed at creating high quality human relationships. It did so by creating space and making room for every person and voice.

I hope this concept of creating room for every person and voice sounds familiar to you. Moving people from the margins of a community to its center is foundational to what Jesus did, and what he commands his followers  do as well. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14 NIV).

HOW CAN OD HELP THE CHURCH?

OD helps the church operationalize its ideal. Huh? When the church prays, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” the assumption is that we will do our part and work to make it happen. So how do we make that ideal a reality? How do we put it into practice? How do we move people closer to living God’s dream and vision of making earth look like heaven? OD gives the church processes and frameworks that are democratic, peaceful, and non-coercive.

The processes, principles, and frameworks that returned the value of human relationships and community to the corporate world can do so in the church too. Both OD and Christian theology hold a high view of humanity,[3] view each human being as bringing gifts to the community, and advocate that people are to be met where they are, yet be challenged to become better versions of themselves (go and sin no more). OD and the church purport that there can be a way of life on this earth that values deep and meaningful relationships in community. Some well-known OD practitioners make the whole focus of their work accomplishing genuine community.

I believe that the church has a great deal to learn from the OD practices which create genuine community. Think back to when the civil rights movement was dismantling 1960’s racism. OD’s humanistic values (treat the whole person with respect and dignity, each person has intrinsic worth, all people have the potential for growth) met their theological counterpart in Howard Thurman’s “concept of reverence for personality.” Thurman asserted that the “heavy weight of status is sloughed off…(and)…each person meets the other where he is and there treats him as if he were where he ought to be. Here we emerge into an area where love operates, revealing a universal characteristic unbounded by special or limited circumstances.”[4]

Simply stated, OD helps the church by offering practical ways to help us love our neighbors as ourselves, and to practice love for the other who is different. OD helps the church by giving us processes and frameworks by which we might build support structures that make us more effective. Please follow this blog to continue to learn more about what the church can appropriate from the body of knowledge called Organization Development.

1 Wendell L. French and Cecil H. Bell, Jr. Organization Development: Behavioral Science Interventions for Organization Improvement (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999) page 1.

2Art Kliner, The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2008) chapter 1.

3Various interpretations the understanding of sin exist among Christians. I contend that God created humanity and called it “good,” then held humanity in high enough esteem to become incarnate, and that the whole arc of scripture attests to a high view of humanity. Please forgive the oversimplification here.

4 Ted Grimsrud “Peacetheology.net.” Http://www.peacetheology.net. Quoting John Howard Yoder, To Hear the Word (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999) page 39.

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