Friday, April 28, 2006

Not In My League

Britain has become a League Table culture. The Government sells us league tables for school/hospital/anything-you-care-to-think-of on two key principles: greater – more informed – choice for parents/patients/customers; and early-warning detection of poorly or under-performing service providers. Sounds good? But these key principles are extremely flawed.

The first is problematic because it reduces the citizen to the role of customer. There is nothing wrong with being a customer per se; but it is detrimental when it becomes the primary designation, the primary role, the primary definition of value, in ever-increasing areas of life. Not a parent, but a customer. Not a patient, but a customer. And it is detrimental in the other direction, too: not a teacher, but a service provider; not a doctor or nurse, but a service provider. It causes us to think of relationships, increasingly, only in terms of customer and provider; of economic transaction.

The second is problematic because it applies a limited set of criteria – perhaps only one criterion – in determining “success” or “failure.” Today it is announced that surgeons will be league-tabled. Which means that the surgeon who cherry-picks those patients most likely to survive a heart transplant operation, for example, will rise to the top of the table; while the surgeon who says, “If we operate, this patient may well die…but if we don’t operate, they will die…so, we will operate” will fall to the bottom of the table.

Churches, too, are under pressure to conform to the League Table culture. To provide what the client wants, or – alternatively – to create a need to sell to the client, in order to justify their existence…to be “successful,” as measured by numbers, or innovation, or…to miss the point: of serving others; of radical, sacrificial, agenda-less love of the other.

I do not want to be part of a church that considers itself to be at the top of the league table; a “successful” church – in any sense (other than, possibly, an ironic one). I want to be part of a community that subverts the trend; that calls for the commitment of the stake-holder (yes, I recognise this is as much an economic term as “customer”…); that seeks to walk closer to Jesus, rather than be bigger, cooler, or whatever…; that exposes the de-humanising lie, and offers an alternative vision, honouring God-given gifts and roles; that includes and embraces those who will never make the top division of a government league table; and recalls Jesus’ prophetic observation that those who consider themselves to be first shall find themselves last, and those considered the last shall be found to be first.

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