In the first part of my review of A. C. Cheyne’s collected essays, The Practical and the Pious: Essays on Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), we observed the way in which Thomas Chalmers was great Christian bridge builder in his day. He sought to connect the teaching of Scripture and the best traditions of the Christian past to the then-present issues. He sought to obey the Kingdom mandate to the best of his abilities and leaves us to follow the path he pioneered for His and our Lord.
In this second installment, I would like to turn to another theme that emerged for me as I read these essays. Chalmers, in addition to being – or at least striving to be – a bridge builder, was a great administrator. Our ‘practical pietist’ was a churchman, and as a churchman he managed – impressively.
First, Chalmers was a great administrator because he was a man of vision. As a manager, one must have a clear, well-defined purpose. Otherwise, both the manager and the managed will be directionless. And if you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it, as they say.
His great ambition was the ‘Christian good of Scotland.’ The land must be Christianized. Everything else was subordinate to this – even the established Kirk. Sefton quotes Chalmers,
I have no veneration for the Church of Scotland merely quasi an Establishment, but I have the utmost veneration for it quasi an instrument of Christian good; and I do think, that with the means and resources of an Establishment she can do more, and does more, for the religious interests of Scotland than is done by the activity of all the Dissenters put together. I think it a high object to uphold the Church of Scotland, but only because of its subserviency to the still higher object of upholding the Christianity of our land (169).
Chalmers inspired others with this vision of a Scotland thoroughly leavened with the Gospel.
But he wasn’t a great administrator because he had vision. One can be a visionary and yet very impractical. Chalmers embodied both vision and practicality – a potent combination. Everything Chalmers said and did was really a strategy to reach the great end of Christianizing Scotland.
The locality principle that he tirelessly advocated was but a strategy, a means to an end. This principle, as I have explained elsewhere, is that the church should spearhead evangelistic efforts geographically, focusing on defined territories with regular district visitations. Only through habitual cultivation of these areas by ‘territorial ministers’ would true Christian communities reemerge in the new urban context; only through this method – wrought in the aggregate – would the land be permeated with the Gospel.
The Church Extension campaign of the 1830s was yet another strategy. The Church of Scotland, in order to Christianize the burgeoning, unchurched population of the major cities, desperately needed to finance new church buildings and ministers. Chalmers took over the convenorship of the committee and, through his fundraising efforts, was able to witness the erection of more than 200 new church buildings. And all for the Christianizing of Scotland.
Interestingly, this strategy was complementary of the territorial principle. Sefton writes, “The enterprise was concerned not only with the building of new churches but also with the vicinity for whose good the new church was intended. The object was to provide a church near enough and with seat rents low enough to benefit the families by whom it was surrounded” (169, emphasis mine). Chalmers made sure that the program was efficient by making it conform to the territorial principle. The strategies were synergistic. Not a territory without a meeting place, or a meeting place without a territory.
Church establishments comprised another prong of Chalmers’ strategy. We’ve already seen in the quote above that he only viewed them as efficient instruments for the promotion of Christian good. They exist to facilitate territorial church extension (see my essay on Chalmers on establishments). Since the days of Constantine, the goal of establishments is “not to extend Christianity into ulterior spaces but thoroughly to fill up the space that had been already occupied” (168). Specifically, then, an establishment is a “universal home mission.” That is, it is a structure that exists for the further Christianization of a land where the Gospel has already gained a footing. It is phase 2 in the mission program. It is what the army does after taking Normandy.
These profound quotes further nuance my concept of establishments and the territorial principle. The latter is always a strategy that the church can and should employ. The Gospel has always come to districts and territories, and it always comes to put the standard up for Jesus, who speaks for every land, saying, ‘Mine!’ Yet, the principle is applied with lesser openness and focus during times of persecution and more breadth when the church hasn’t taken firm footing in a region.
One cannot implement the parish principle in Muslim countries, with a territorial minister going door to door as M’Cheyne in Dundee or Bonar in Finnieston. Yet, cells of believers can and do still influence their communities. True, they cannot be as open and must even pay for their successes with their blood. Omaha Beach was taken, yet at a high price. But it is worth it. And the territorial principle can be applied when missionaries are first introducing the Gospel into a region; only, the strategy is usually to work more broadly without narrowed reference to fixed districts until nuclei of converts develop. Churches are then formed, which become centers for saturating communities.
And establishments, as I am beginning to see, are a strategic step in the typical process of Christianization. Christianization begins before establishments arise and continue after they are formed. Paul preaches the Gospel throughout the Empire until at last the movement overtakes the Emperor – several generations later. But at the time of Constantine, while Christianity was on the rise, there was much work yet to be done. And so the magistrates became promoters and patrons of the true Gospel. They became, in the words of Isaiah “nursing fathers” and “nursing mothers” (Isa. 49:23). We in the United States are not at the establishment stage, yet thankfully, we are not at the persecution stage. We can therefore apply the territorial principle more consistently and with greater focus, since Christianity is settled. But Congress does not yet subsidize us. Yet.
Chalmers was also a great manager because he was cognizant of realities on the ground as he developed strategies. We’ve essentially addressed that in the previous essay. But a further point is in order. One cannot help but observe the very language of ‘experiment’ that Chalmers used for the efforts that he undertook and advocated. He believed that there were certain tried and true principles that could be effectively implemented when thoughtfully applied in new contexts. Furgol points out that Chalmers, before commencing the St. John’s experiment, conducted an “extensive analysis of the mechanics of poverty and its relief” before implementing his scheme (127). He became well versed in the realities of things before applying principles. Now, perhaps Chalmers read more success into his experiments than others would allow. But the point is that strategies are timeless principles manifested in particular situations.
In addition to being a visionary and a practical, strategy-making and executing worker, Chalmers was a great manager of human resources. Perhaps what Chalmers did best was preach. Hands down, many might say. But his ability to recruit, delegate, train, supervise, and inspire people – that is, to manage them – must come in a close second.
Successful people know how to surround themselves with other successful people and to use their unique gifts. So with Chalmers. Says Maciver, “Part of his flair lay in an ability to recruit able and dedicated aides” (93). And “organization was not to be haphazard” either (89). People work best in structures. Concrete plans were drawn up for the Church Extension campaign, significantly mirroring the organizational model of the Bible Societies. Perhaps the world-wisdom of his business and industrialist friends also rubbed off on him.
From the inner circle and within the preconceived structures, Chalmers led the people. Average, yet not unimportant members of the Kirk throughout the land were sought out and used. In the Church Extension campaign, He “emphasized the local factor, the legacy of his poor relief experiment, again and again, and was anxious to devolve local organization ever downwards” (89).
Referring to the St. John’s experiment early on in Chalmers’ career, Cheyne points out how vital the non-ordained ‘ministry’ was to the success of Christian home mission:
The scheme was more than just a successful exercise in the delegation of duties and the deepening of Christian fellowship. It also pioneered what would now be called the training of the laity; for the congregation of St. John’s learned to regard itself as being less an assemblage of hearers than a body of workers, its mission to the parish planned and directed by the clergy but managed and carried through by a subordinate band of elders, deacons, Sunday and day school teachers, and others – the NCOs, as it were, of a Christian army (17).
So from beginning to end, Chalmers was interested in a popular Kirk, a Kirk of the people. I cannot help but ask here, to what degree was Chalmers paving way for the heightened lay activity so characteristic of the late 19th and 20th centuries? Though an old school establishmentarian with a high view of the ordained ministry, did Chalmers further the increased democratization of the Church?
Chalmers also artfully and efficiently managed his peer relationships. He courted MPs, made alliances in the business world, and strove to cooperate with clergyman outside the established Church. Equals were not a threat to him, but a resource. And in the interests of Christianization, collaboration – not competition – was the rule.
On this point, I can’t help but answer for Chalmers as I read the following criticism made by Dr. John Lee, a contemporary of his within the Kirk. He thought that the Church Extension campaign, built on the territorial principle, turned a blind eye to harsh realities. Chalmers could not transpose the model of the rural Anstruther parish into Edinburgh, precisely because the slums of Edinburgh were nothing but a “perpetual fluctuation of inhabitants on whom no impression could be made” (91). In other words, you visit them once, and they’re gone forever the next week. Those with any experience in the inner city will see that some things don’t change.
But I would suggest that the comity principle here comes to the aid of the territorial. By applying the territorial principle throughout the land, a resident leaves one parish only to land in another. Even if the individual leaves no notice of his move to another district, in Chalmers’ ideal he will probably come under the influence of another Christian minister in his regular visitations. And, true, even if this ideal ‘parish patchwork’ didn’t exist in a land, still the seed sown shall not return void! A territorial minister is always sowing seed. Sometimes that seed takes flight and lands somewhere else, only to yield fruit that the faithful minister never sees.
Chalmers, as a shrewd steward, also made friends with the mammon of unrighteousness. He was so successful in his fundraising efforts for Church Extension, that the Free Church inherited a well-oiled machine at its exodus from the establishment. But it was not enough to raise money. It had to be managed wisely. This is especially clear in his poor relief model. Only the worthy poor were to receive benevolence. Consequently, the office of deacon was resurrected in the St. John’s experiment to distribute the hard-earned money of those who wished to show intelligent charity.
Then there was his concern for time management. When he came to the Tron in Glasgow, he devolved as many clerical responsibilities in the civic arena to laymen. According to Furgol, this was an instance of Chalmers’ adherence to Adam Smith’s principle of the division [specialization?] of labor. She quotes Chalmers who wrote at the time,
I know of instances where a clergyman has been called from the country to town for his talent at preaching; and when he got there, they so be-laboured him with the drudgery of their institutions, that they smothered and extinguished the very talent for which they had adopted him. The purity and independence of the clerical office are not sufficiently respected in great towns. . . . He comes among them a clergyman, and they make a mere churchwarden of him. . . . It shall be my unceasing endeavor to get all the work shifted upon the laymen (126).
This also reveals that while Chalmers was a believer in churchmen following managerial principles, yet he remained firmly convinced that ministers ought not to contaminate their spiritual office by the mundane.
The last thing I’d like to mention in the example of Chalmers as a model Church manager is his habitual re-investment of resources into bigger projects on bigger and broader scales. Maciver observes:
It is likely that Chalmers saw the ‘principle of locality’, enshrined in his widely-publicised St. John’s parish scheme of the previous decade, being given new life through a national Extension project that sought to combine local effort with the aid of a central fund raised by subscription to help poorer or weaker parishes. The ultimate stimulus would be provided by state grants in the form of an annual endowment of the ministers’ stipends in the new missionary and territorial churches (88).
The Extension campaign brought out to their fullest extent Chalmers’ gifts of inspired leadership and sheer organizing ability. . . Possibly he had absorbed lessons from the problems of his social experiment in Glasgow, for he stressed now the necessity of organizing local efforts on a national scale, explaining to his lieutenant, William Collins, the publisher, that ‘what I particularly wish is to combine a wise general superintendence on the one hand with an entire and intense local feeling in each separate town and district for its own local necessities on the other’ (89).
Retool and re-deploy! He could not stop until the vision had been realized. First, St. John’s, then Church Extension. And even after the Disruption, he would not leave off. So began the West Port experiment.
My only regret with Maciver’s essay “Chalmers as a ‘Manager’ of the Church” is that he only treated his management on the national ecclesiastical level – on the ‘macro’ and not the ‘micro.’ A parallel survey of the St. John’s and West Port experiments with his management of the Church Extension campaign would have been even more fascinating.
With this survey behind us, there are some good lessons to be learned for Christians of all types. But I think that there are special lessons here for modern-day pastors.
First, while pastors should not view themselves as religious CEOs, yet Reformed pastors are in the people business. And in that business, we simply have to manage. We must possess and instill vision. We must set concrete goals. We must devise faithful means to achieve them. We must husband, cultivate, and utilize our people. And we must, in prayerful dependence on the Spirit, wait for the harvest.
Our Lord will one day come and demand an account of us. How we have managed the resources, and particularly the human resources, that He has entrusted to us? Will He judge us wise and faithful stewards? Or, literally in the Greek, ‘economists’ (oikonomoi)? Will we return His own with interest, five or tenfold? Or will we, under the name of being ‘faithful’ return His solitary coin? While we must not accede to the consumer-driven culture, we ought not to abandon wholesale the ‘business model’ in the church. To do so is grave infidelity and will not go unpunished. “Cast ye the unprofitable [or, ‘useless’] servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:26).
As an aside, I find it profoundly interesting that Chalmers attacks those who would subject the witness of the Church to the free trade doctrine; and yet he was an expert administrator whose example would inspire seasoned entrepreneurs. He promoted a managed, central economy in terms the witness of the Gospel: he was a believer in state-subsidized establishments. But he ran the St. John’s and West Port experiments like one would run a successful business, and reported these success stories to provoke a holy emulation and, yes, a holy competition! Selah.
Second, our ‘practical pietist’ appreciated the sanctity of fundraising. Perhaps we in the Reformed community today have been so negatively affected by Pentecostal health and wealth charlatans that we have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Chalmers imitated the Apostle Paul who went from church to church, taking up collections (1 Cor. 16:1-3) and even preaching a rich, biblical theology of benevolence (2 Cor. 8 & 9) to rally the cause. And just like the apostle, Chalmers did this, not to line his wallet or that of his ministerial colleagues, but he did it in the interests of the poor (Gal. 2:10).
Third, Chalmers was a high churchman. (Not a high-church man, but a high churchman.) Chalmers believed that Christ had established the visible Church not only as an organism, but also as an organization. It has, since the institution of Christ in the days of His flesh, been the great vehicle of Christian good throughout the world. In a day when ‘institutional religion’ is disparaged, we need to rediscover the glory of being in this great organization, which is very much visible.
Fourth, Chalmers’ example, in point of fact cautions ministers not to get too managerial. He delegated and devolved responsibilities to free him to focus on the spiritual duties of the ministry. While he was a profoundly efficient manager, yet he was no believer in the ‘minister-CEO,’ to use an anachronism. Chalmers was a preacher first and foremost. Crowds thronged to hear him, from aristocrats and MPs to the common people. William Wilberforce even climbed through a window to hear Chalmers preach in a packed hall. Preaching is the great business of a minister. It remains the greatest means for changing men, for changing culture. That was Chalmers’ conviction.
And even if Chalmers himself was not his whole career a full-time pastor – the responsibilities of his theological professorships and denominational leadership occupied the bulk of his professional life – yet what he inculcated in students and ministers was a very high standard of pastoral self-consciousness. After preaching in the pulpit, the man of God must descend to work among the people. M’Cheyne, the Bonars, and many other students of his devoted hours upon hours during the week to house-to-house visitation, most of which was specifically evangelistic. This is hardly the picture of a pastor-CEO behind his desk reviewing balance sheets and organizing programs.
In sum, I think Chalmers patterns three basic ideals. First, we must keep the managerial element of the pastoral office in view and not let it fall by the way in a retreat from the pastor-CEO idolatry of today. Second, we must cultivate that managerial dimension of our pastoral office to the best of our abilities. To give our Lord less is to subject Him to a great dishonor. But third, we must keep the managerial element in biblical proportion with the other, indeed the prime elements. “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. . . but we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2, 4).