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An MBA for God?

After I had beenvolunteering in the Gulf Coast for a few months, my parents started to get nervous that I would spend the majority of my life as a full-time volunteer. One day I received an envelope in the mail from mytax-attorney father. I opened it up and did not find a letter or even a short note, buta soleclipping fromThe BostonGlobe about Boston College's plan to begina graduate program focusing on Church Ministry Administration - sort of an MBA withheart, as I understood it. It was really a very nice gesture by my dad since it was a small way to combine our varied interests - business and God.This weekend, The New York Timesreported on the Boston College program as well as similar programs that exist at schools like Notre Dame and Villanova. I think its a little too early to tell what kind of impact these programs will have on the future of the Church, but there clearly is a need for them. Says BC's Thomas H. Groome of the program:

This is not about turning the church into a business, or making sure its managed like any other institution in corporate America. Its about employing good business practices that enhance the mission of the church.

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Will they be offering courses in Total Quality Redemption? Human-Divine Relations? Liberation Theology Management? Excellence in Parishoner Service?

This is not about turning the church into a business, or making sure its managed like any other institution in corporate America. Its about employing good business practices that enhance the mission of the church.Well that certainly clears everything up.

If anyone here has ever tried to find out what their parish's budget is and what their parish expenses are, and succeeded in getting it, bravo. For the vast majority who ever made this effort (and failed), the plausibility of a certain level of managing skills is apparent. And hiring and evaluating staff would be another arena for improvement--(I won't enter the fracas about how bishops are hired and evaluated!). I could go on.

All I can say is: Thank God! There might be some consternation that this means that some want to turn the church into a a "business," but the reality is this: With fewer and fewer priests, there will be more and more of them called upon to administer parishes, schools, retreat houses and the like. That is, while in the past the church could select those priests who had a certain gift for administration, or the necessary management skills, now almost every priest is guaranteed to be running something at some point in his life, given declining vocations and the aging clergy. (Thank God again, there are more and more business-savvy lay people filling some of those roles.) But speaking as a Wharton-grad-turned-Jesuit, I can say that while seminarians still have to take a full complement of philosophy and theology, the reality is that many are woefully unprepared to run a financially complex institution like a parish--much less a diocese. A few years ago one priest asked me (and this is not an apocryphal story) what the difference between a stock and a bond was, since he was just named to an investment committee in his (now I'll disguise things) diocese.So frankly, the People of God would be better served if for seminary training we sacrificed a course or two in philosophy (and I love philosophy) for at least a smattering of Financial Accounting, Cost Accounting, Real Estate Finance, and Human Resource Management. Think of it this way: One would scarcely consider a man to be a qualified priest if he didn't know any theology, but in some places you can be ordained without knowing your way around a balance sheet or income statement. Or even knowing what they are. And that is a truly frightening thing. So, once again, thank God for Notre Dame, Villanova and, of course, BC.

I think there is also a perverse sense of pride, among Catholics especially, that the Church and the Parish simply run on, however wastefully. It goes to show that the Spirit is with us, and we don't actually have to understand how the thing runs, or whether it runs well, or if we actually ran it better we could afford programs to save unborn babies or homeless people or. God forbid, evangelize. One has to be wary of the romance of failure in the secular world--that it somehow affirms the virtue of our spiritual lives. That too easily leads to an Oz-like Church where things are being done behind the curtain that we don't know about, or that things that should be done are not. A balance sheet doesn't kill mystery. This issue also points up our distaste for things financial. Pastors hate talking about it, lay people don't want to talk about it. They'd rather discuss Humanae Vitae. On the other side, of course, you have those megachurch types who can't get enough of finance. Everything boils down to numbers and market share and results. It's bizarre. One can make a god of ignorance as well as expertise. There is a balance to be struck, and the Catholic Church, through programs like BC's, can begin to work toward a healthier middle, I think.