Friday, September 21, 2007


Subsidiarity. Ok, it's a big word, I know. But since I recently found it in some reading I was doing about the Catholic church, I thought I would share it. It's a word that speaks to the relationships of individuals and groups in a social system. The word comes from subsidium, the experienced veterans in the third line of the Roman army, ready to aid the soldiers in the first two lines of battle. We have been organizing CTK in a subsidiary way, even though we haven't known there was a big, fancy word for it. (It's ok. We've never been into big and fancy anyway.)

When there is a spirit of subsidiarity, there is freedom given to the units, but supportive organization as well, to enhance the unit's efforts. The concept of subsidiarity encompasses words and phrases that we use around CTK, like "empowerment" and "social architecture" and "real people are the real ministers." In an organization characterized by subsidiarity, the bigger serves the smaller, and the higher serves the lower (I think someone talked about this around 2000 years ago).

Stated negatively, subsidiarity contends that "It is an injustice, a grave evil and disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies." (Pope Pius XI, 1931)

Stated positively, "A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of society, always with a view to the common good." (Pope John Paul II, 1991). I like how he put that. That is worth memorizing.

Subsidiarity has been referred to as "technical love" (the Greek techne means art). It is organizing in an artful, loving way that respects, values and coordinates individual contributions at lower levels. It is not A way to organize, it is THE way to organize. That is, an organization is more or less successful depending on its level of subsidiarity.

The concept can apply to sports, government, business and engineering. Of course, where I find its greatest application is to the church, particularly a church like CTK. Here are some of the ways I see the idea expressing itself in our multi-site network:

1. People are the ministers, pastors are the administers. Letting people know that they are ministers and that the paid staff are here to support and assist them is a huge step in the right direction, toward subsidiarity.

2. Small groups are our primary convention. By putting our focus on the small group meeting, instead of the larger celebration, we express subsidiarity.

3. Directors are a pastor's "span of care." This says that the pastor is here to support his key leaders (who in turn support their key leaders, etc.), instead of the staff existing to support the pastor.

4. More instead of bigger. We don't view bigger as better, we view more as better (more leaders, groups, services and sites). This is not just an organizational preference. This goes to the very important philosophy of subsidiarity, that we don't want to direct greater and greater resources toward the center, but toward the edges.

In a mechanical system, order is guaranteed by design. In a social system, like CTK, a number of virtues are required to maintain order: clear purpose, wide-spread knowledge, courage to take initiative, humility to learn from others, trust in the good intentions of colleagues, honesty in feedback, and obedience to the greater good.

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