Efficiency in Churches

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Monday, August 21, 2023

Discipleship is inefficient. It’s slow, it’s messy, it can involve going the wrong way for large periods of time, it’s painful, and it always involves suffering. Berry argues that we have come to understand nature to engage in production rather than work in cycles. Churches don’t ‘produce’ anything, but I think if we think of trees as conveyor belts for the making of fruit then we can end up thinking the same way about Christian ministry: we do these things to get that fruit. Instead, trees die and rise again each year bursting with fruit and then dying and then bursting with fruit.

Neil Postman argued that our metaphors demonstrate our thought patterns. I’ve argued that our metaphors fence our thought patterns such that we can’t think outside of them.

I suspect the relationship here flows in both directions rather than simply downstream, but metaphor and thought connect in important ways. When we use machine language to describe ourselves, we both reveal that we think we’re machines and we persuade ourselves that we are machines.

Reality, as it always does, pushes back. We should be concerned by thinking that humans can recharge, because it undermines the Biblical reality of rest in the gathered people of God. We should be concerned by the idea that we need to process things rather than think or feel them.

Wendell Berry, in his essay ‘Agricultural Solutions for Agricultural Problems,’ argues that after the industrial revolution the machinery metaphor has changed how we think. He highlights three examples, each of which I think is worth reflecting from the perspective of church ministry.


Berry argues that we now see efficiency as an end. We assume that the best thing for each thing we do is for it be run efficiently, because that’s what a good machine looks like.

We would commonly criticize public services for being inefficient, but why should a particular service that the government offers be efficient? I want to react against the question—after all, they’re spending my money as a taxpayer—but I think seeing efficiency as an inherently good thing is a product of these shifts, and an arguably less humane one. This is not saying that efficiency is bad as a means to good ends, but it becomes bad when it is pursued as an end in itself.

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