I teach a Business Leaderhip class in an MBA program. One of the trends in modern business is “flattening of the structure” because a top-heavy management structure is no longer needed. It is possible, with new technology, for the top to be a single layer, and middle-management to be eliminated entirely.
I’ve thought about the possibility this presents for a religious movement. As I’ve written in several of my books, the origin of Mormonism makes it much more suited as a “movement” than as a controlled institution. However, the history Mormonism originated in made it impossible for the religion to survive separate from the institution created to perpetuate it. If it were not for Brigham Young taking the extraordinary steps he took to preserve the faith restored through Joseph Smith, it would have died. Brigham Young did act, reaffirmed the institutional structure, argued it could NOT exist without the bulwark of ordered offices and holders of authority, and as a result, the institution remained. More importantly, through the institution the religion has been able to stay. The religion was altered in form because of the merger of religion and institution, now having no life independent of the institution. The interplay between these two (the religion and the organized structure), has been that the religion has been dominated by the institution. Indeed, it has stayed around only because of the institutional power to keep it here.
However, new social and technological advances have given the religion an opportunity to assume life on its own, unlinked to an institution. When Ronald Poelman gave his talk separating the “Gospel” and the “Church” in general conference (The Gospel and the Church), the talk was censored and re-written. A comparison between the original talk and the replacement is available on-line here. However, in the last general conference, Elder Hallstrom’s talk, (Converted to His Gospel through His Church) dealt with the subject again, this time making the distinction without being censored. The advances in social and technological management of information and people between the 1984 and 2012 have been more than significant.
The possiblity exists now for an entire religious body to become “one” in heart and in belief, not because of periodic visits from a distant hierarchy, but because they are in constant communication amongst themselves. Though they are in India or Mexico or Russia or the US, they can stay abreast of the very latest through direct communication with each another.
This global change is the harbinger of changes coming to every organization on earth, including the church. The church has been an early adopter of technology for decades. As they continue to adapt to new technical capabilities, it will not be long before, once again, we can “live in the same small village.” Just as Joseph Smith would answer questions over the fence in his yard with his neighbors in Nauvoo, the possiblity is coming for all of us to log into a continuing, flattened structure with no middle management. The top and the bottom of the organization becoming one. No longer any lofty branches, exalted to the sky, with the lesser members confined to the shade, but a uniform and equal access among one another from top to bottom.
In Joseph’s day there was no technology that would allow Joseph to be in contact with converts or members worldwide. There was an absolute need for a vertical, hierarchical organization with Presidency, Twelve, Seventy, Stake, Ward, and Quorum leadership levels interfacing between the top and bottom. In contrast, today if the president of the church wanted to address you and I, he could send an email, or post a message on a board where we could all visit and hear directly from him. He could record a MP3 message for us to download. Just like the rest of the world, the church itself could now be “flattened” without any of the difficulties Joseph would have encountered.
Although we tend to think the structure is absolutely essential, it isn’t. For example, the revelation giving the overall church structure was not followed by the church from the time if was received (March 28, 1835) until 1975 when President Spencer W. Kimball organized the First Quorum of the Seventy. Between those times, the Seventies had an on-again-off-again existence at the general level of the church, with only the Seven Presidents regarded as General Authorities for almost all of that time. Needs arose, the Quorum was activated, and it has been in existence since then. Is that a one-way street? Could the expansion that happens at one moment because of global needs be reversed at another time? Could the structure be simplified if it isn’t required just as it was expanded after 140 years?
As technology expands capabilities, it should not surprise us to find one day that the many layers of the church’s organization will increasingly be shortened, condensed, consolidated and simplified. It is now possible, for example, for the Lord to return and speak to us all at the same moment, no matter where located, using existing off-the-shelf means. I use that to illustrate a point, not to suggest the Lord will use those means. However, the economy of heaven is such that miracles are not employed when simple physical means will accomplish the needed work. The Lord prefers “small means” because they conform to a law. (Alma 37: 7; also 2 Ne. 2: 11.)
The idea the church could be “flattened” while the Gospel remains unaffected is an idea that can only occur if you think of the church as separate from the Gospel. The church opposed that idea just a few years ago. Now it is taught in general conference. We should not be surprised if other, presently unlikely ideas one day soon are part of our religious practices.
How can the people of God become “one” if they entertain the idea there must be a hierarchy in control? In fact, Zion and a hierarchy are mutually exclusive. You can have one, or the other, but not both. Hence the Lord’s frequent assertion that HE will bring again Zion (not us). (See D&C 84: 99-100; Mosiah 12: 22; 15: 29; 3 Ne. 16: 18, among others.) Removing all the barriers between the top and bottom, and establishing only a great equality between His people, is a likely prerequisite for the return of Zion. (D&C 78: 5-7.) The technical environment exists and the pressure will grow to flatten the church’s organizational structure. The only reason to resist that pressure would be a deliberate desire to keep distance between the top and bottom of the structure.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is never spoken of in scripture as the Lord’s elect in heaven. There is another body called the Church of the Firstborn. This group is equal in earthly and heavenly things. (See, e.g., D&C 76: 54-57; 88: 4-5; 93: 20-22.) This will not be some fundamentalist group taking multiple wives, calling themselves by that name. It will instead be called that by the Lord. [I have little confidence in self-identifying individuals or groups. The Lord calls and sends whomsoever He elects; they make few claims to authority. Instead their message is their credential, like the Lord before them.] The Church of the Firstborn is likely to be comprised of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have taken their faith seriously and used the scriptures as their guide. They will be those who are not sleeping when the Lord, as a thief in the night, returns unwanted.
The Church of the Firstborn will be humble, obscure members of the church. Those are the ones the Lord associated with during His ministry. It was scandalous how He mingled with the bottom of the social order – prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and outcasts. His people were and are “the least” in this world. So have been His messengers. It is almost amusing to think of Isaiah or Nephi or Jeremiah getting an honorary degree, or humanitarian award for their valuable contributions to society. Indeed, when society celebrates a messenger by heaping acclaim on them, it strongly suggests they have too much of the world about them to have chosen rightly. (3 Ne. 12: 10-12.) Mormon was alarmed to see this penetrating into the Holy Church of God in the last days. (Mormon 8: 38.)
Well, the point is technology and communication are making organizations everywhere “flatter” and without the complex hierarchies once necessary to manage them. From multi-national to local organizations, the trends are accelerating in that direction. It will not be surprising to me if the prophetic promise of Zion’s return is made possible, at last, because there is no longer any necessity for hierarchical organization as we speed along in new communication and information development. Today a single person sitting at a keyboard can send a message to millions of people by posting on a blog or message board. What a marvel that is! Imagine how that would have changed Joseph Smith’s mission had it been available then!
Imagine how futile it is in this new connected world to attempt to force people into believing things about doctrine, history, and truth. I suspect only the foolish will attempt it and only for so long as it begins to produce widespread failure and rejection by the better informed worldwide audience.
I expect the next Enoch sent to cry repentance before the return of the final Zion will have little more than “a red guitar, three chords and the truth.” (Bob Dylan) There will no longer be a need for “the words of the prophets to be written on the subway walls and tenement halls” because they will be available on everyone’s handheld. (Simon & Garfunkel) The question is, of course, whether anyone can distinguish between the truth and error. That has always been the challenge. Flattening the structure, or even eliminating it altogether, does not remove the burden upon us to choose correctly between the invitation to repent and humble ourselves and the temptation to think ourselves justified by our religion. The return of “natural fruit” will come from conversion to truth, not committment to organizational behavior.
We should not seek to be a manufactured product, but individuals who all know God. Our destiny lies somewhere other than putting ourselves inside little boxes. Mormonism today is working on a model of management which is about to be abandoned by the world. Strong, central organizations, tend to flatten people. Inspired people only need a flattened organization, because they govern themselves.