Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in "After Virtue" claimed that two of our culture's emblematic professions are "the Manager" and "the Therapist."
When the church is pervaded by the ethos of management and therapy, then the church will help people reach their goals but hardly ever inquire about the worthiness of those goals, Sayles writes.
The Manager is mostly concerned with technique – with turning raw material into products, turning unskilled labor into skilled labor, and turning investment into profits.
The Manager deals with ends and goals that have been decided and determined by someone else; he or she works within limits that have been set by a board of directors or higher management.
The Manager ordinarily deals not with ultimate but with proximate issues.
Similarly, the Therapist is mostly concerned with technique – helping people to adjust, coaching them to cope and teaching them to turn neurotic distraction into focused energy.
The Therapist and his or her client share a common goal: "adjustment" or "coping."
The church in our time has likewise settled on the Manager and the Therapist as our models of ministry, and on management and therapy as the kinds of help we offer.
To be sure, good management is preferable to poor management, and church leaders should strive to be good managers.
Therapy certainly offers people skills and insights with which to improve their lives, and it can be an important part of what churches offer people who are seeking to grow.
It is one thing to be a good manager or a skilled therapist, or to make use of the help offered by managers and therapists.
It is quite another to be overtaken by the ethos of management and therapy, an ethos in which technique is everything, adjustment is the goal, and coping is the only hope.
When the church is pervaded by the ethos of management and therapy, then the church will help people reach their goals, but hardly ever inquire about the worthiness of those goals.
It will help people adjust to and cope with the conditions of their lives, but raise very few questions about those conditions.
And when people have problems and crises that will yield neither to management nor to therapy, we seem to have nothing to offer.
The church's central calling is not management or therapy. It is transformation, of both individuals and communities.
It is radical renovation of the way things are. It is the way of Jesus, a way that puts us in range of "all things new."
Guy Sayles is pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville, N.C. This column first appeared on his blog, From the Intersection.