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Tyranny Of The Tacit
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- Why is it that ministry initiatives fail so unexpectedly?
Even when leaders take the time to get the initial support for key influencers, get the
backing of the respective board, attain the approval of the governing board and the
blessing of an unanimous vote of the congregation, ministry initiatives can fall flat on
their feet and backfire right in the face of leaders.
- What has happened? All the procedures were followed. All
the right things were done. The ministry initiative was well-promoted. People were given
their voice. The blessing of God seemed all but certain. Somehow, amid the expectant
enthusiasm the initiative is rejected, the vision squashed, and the leaders bewildered.
- Tyranny Of The Tacit
- This is but one of many ways the "tyranny of the
tacit" presents itself. Regardless of the nature or relative support of the ministry
program or initiative, the tyranny of the tacit is always present in the background.
Though largely unnoticed and unrecognized, leaders must learn to recognize and understand
the tyranny of the tacit.
- What is the "tyranny of the tacit"? The tyranny
of the tacit is an unwritten code of norms and mores which govern any organizational
system or structure. These unwritten statutes are simply "the way we do it
here." Though not written down in formal documents, these tacit structures, patterns,
roles, mores and rituals are codified in the thinking and behavioral patterns of any
- Tacit elements define the personality of an organization.
They determine how various people will function, their boundaries, who is in charge of
what, and what things will be supported, permitted, tolerated, or rejected.
- System Goals
- Organizational systems have three levels of goals:
formal, informal, and tacit.
- * Formal Goals are those
"officially" stated goals clearly written and codified in institutional
documents such as constitutions, bylaws, and written policies.
- * Informal Goals are those goals which
are established largely by tradition. Though not written down, these guidelines are
frequently voiced and overtly practiced. "Everyone" knows what these guidelines
or rules are.
- * Tacit Goals are those which are
unwritten and often unspoken. They consist of the unspoken understandings of what does and
doesn't--and what will and what won't--happen in an organizational system.
- More On Tacit Goals
- Tacit goals are covertly embedded in an organizational
system. Tacit goals are the reason behind why a lot of things happen. Unfortunately, not
many will recognize or acknowledge their existence and control of everything in the
- Tacit goals like the air we breathe or the beating of our
heartbeat. We inhale and exhale air every few seconds in a repetitious manner for the
duration of our lives. Our hearts beat within us in a constant repetitious--but
unnoticed--manner. While these are essential life functions, they are tacit actions. We
don't record them, write them down, or legislate them. Neither do we seek to change or
- Why don't we change them? Because to do so would be
dangerous. It would threaten the equilibrium of our existence and our lives. Even
with professional guidance, whenever these tacit functions are altered it always entails
fear, trepidation and considerable pain and risk These tacit functions are important
for our life. They go on virtually unnoticed unless disrupted.
- Tacit goals are the "breathing" and
"heartbeat" of organizational systems. The act to preserve the system. They
provide energy and impetus for organizational development. They defend the system from
disruption in equilibrium by resisting change. They establish authority, deference
patterns, boundaries and determine how the internal parts of a system will connect and
interact. Like the beating of an heart or the constant inhaling and exhaling of the lungs,
the go virtually unnoticed until disrupted.
- The Tacit: The Leader's Enemy
- Change-directed leadership requires many things.
Regardless how skilled, personable, charismatic, dedicated, organized and competent the
leader, they will fail if they do not recognize the power the tacit elements of an
organization. To defeat one's enemy, one must first know the enemy. Such is the strength
of the tyranny of the tacit.
- Perhaps the tacit's greatest tyranny lies in the fact
that it often doesn't come forth until after changes have been introduced and implemented.
When the organizational system perceives that equilibrium has been disrupted, the tyranny
of the tacit appears. Suddenly, the unsuspecting leader gets an unwelcome
"surprise" in the form of passivity, resistance, rebellion or worse.
- Dealing with the "surprise" can be the most
aggravating, frustrating and agonizing experiences of ministry. It can be the cause for
the rise and fall of many pastorates. It can fan the fires of distrust. It can cause
disruption between staff members and congregational leaders. It can undermine the most
thoughtful, conscientious and painstaking ministries with remarkable swiftness. It can do
these things...and more!
- Identifying The Tacit
- Perhaps the best defense against the tyranny of the tacit
is for leaders to learn and identify the presence of the tacit in their organizations. In
his book Multiple Staff Ministries (Westminster Press), Ken Mitchell gives a
helpful table to help identify tacit goals and distinguish them from formal and informal
standard operating procedures, written policies, vision and mission statements, etc.
|Spoken guidelines not necessarily legislated. "Crying babies go to
the nursery," "Be quiet in church," etc.
||Largely unspoken norms for "expected" behaviors such as dress
codes, "politically correct" speech, etc.
||Formally defined roles for pastor, president, staff, and other leaders
||Informal roles include those such as un-elected leaders and influencers,
patriarch, matriarch, Devil's advocate, etc.
||Various "gatekeeper" functions: who determines and sanctions
what is allowed and disallowed, who will be empowered and blamed, etc.
||Worship, hymnody, liturgical style, installation rites for pastor and
||Bible class always goes out for breakfast afterwards, go out for ice cream
after the meeting, etc.
||Greeting rituals, shaking hands or avoiding same, etc.
||Rightly adminster Word and Sacraments of God; maintain doctrinal and
denominational standards; make disciples, etc.
||"We need some more members around here!" "Let's do
something about our giving!" "Can't we do something for mission work?"
||"Let's grow old together", "Let's not be bothered with
children", "Let's keep the church well-maintained", etc.
- Some Observations About The Tacit
- 1) Congregations and other organizational systems are
more strongly influenced by tacit elements than by formal and informal elements.
- 2) Tacit elements may--and often do--conflict with
formally stated goals resulting in varying degrees of duplicity and hypocrisy
in stated goals.
- 3) Tacit elements give a preference for more indirect and
covert modes of influence. Formal means of influence tend to be more direct and overt.
- 4) The greatest and most powerful influence in
organizations tends to prioritize the tacit. Informal and formal modes have secondary and
tertiery influence, respectively.
- 5) While it may appear as if the formal modes of
influence are prevailing in times of peaceful equilibrium, such is not the case. Tacit
elements still predominate. In virtually all systems, formal and informal modes gain their
power and influence only by the authority of the tacit forces.
- 6) When equilibrium is disrupted due to conflict, growth
or other organizational stress, resorting to formal and informal structures may be
perfunctory, useless, and/or counterproductive.
- 7) Legalistic appeals by well-meaning leaders to formally
stated "rights" and "wrongs" more often than not undermine their
position. Unless they recognize the power of the tacit, they will likely become prey of
the tyranny of the tacit.
- 8) Lasting internal conflict management and resolution
processes, though codified at the formal and informal levels, will not be effective unless
the efforts are directed at--and accepted by--the tacit levels of the organization.
- 9) Leaders can frequently alter formal elements without
major repercussions. They may also be able to alter informal elements without undue levels
of disruption. This is not so with tacit elements. They must be respected. They can be
easily disrupted but not easily changed without a great deal of anxiety and disruption.
- 10) Organizations can change the tacit elements without
changing the formal and informal elements. Organizations can also change formal and
informal elements without changing tacit elements. Leadership requires the ability to
discern to what degree the formal and informal actually reflect tacit elements and to be
able to recognize any inconsistencies or "disconnects" between the formal,
informal, and the tacit.
- 11) Since tacit elements predominate in virtually all
organizational systems, it is more important for leaders to know and act upon opinions and
feelings of those who are the gatekeepers of the tacit than to know and act in concert
with the organization's formal elements and structures.
- 12) Individuals, like organizations, also have formal,
informal and tacit elements. Thus it should be expected--and even considered
"normal" behavior--when individuals in the organization simultaneously maintain
two apparently opposing views. Closer examination may reveal that in individuals (as in
organizations) the tacit predominates over the formal and informal preferences. For this
reason, leaders must pay greater attention to those words and actions which demonstrate
their tacit preferences than to those which indicate formal and informal preferences.
- Jesus' Encounter With The Tacit
- Jesus' ministry was a regular encounter with the tacit.
Jesus' dealings with the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law all demonstrated
Jesus' profound understanding of the tacit's predominance over the formal and informal.
- Jesus understood that the formal had potential to be a
mask of hypocrisy. He understood that the tacit could be trusted more than the formal. He
understood that one of the key essential tasks of ministry was to distinguish between the
formal, informal and the tacit. Most important, He understood that the process of
distinguishing between the formal, informal and the tacit does not come without the risk
of pain, rejection, rebellion, and death.
- Jesus' painful dealings with the tacit are also
demonstrated at the Feeding of the 5,000. After the well-fed crowds rejected Jesus en
masse, the Apostle John recorded,
- "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. 'You
do not want to leave too, do you?' Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him,
'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that
you are the Holy One of God'" John 6:66-69 (NIV).
- Jesus' inquiry, "You do not want to leave too, do
you?" was a test of the tacit. Were the Twelve merely formal and informal partners in
the Lord's mission? Or was it tacit--and genuine? Peter's confession, "Lord, to whom
shall we go?" was a remarkable formal confirmation of a deep, tacit commitment. He
was there to stay--with a formal, informal and, most important, tacit commitment.
- Perhaps that is why Jesus never gave the church a
constitution or bylaws, either. He understood that spirituality and leadership cannot be
exclusively inculcated via formal elements.
- Instead, the goal of His ministry was the tacit--the
heart. Whether confronting stubborn hearts, hardened hearts or ready hearts, Jesus
directed His ministry to the tacit elements of man--the heart--knowing full well the full
range of consequences.
- Christian Ministry To The Tacit
- The task of Christian ministry has always been to impart
the formal principles of God's revelation in Scriptures by love, not force; by
discipleship, not legislation; by a true relationship with God not by a mere external
confession of faith. As the Scriptures say "By their hearts you will know them."
- In Romans 5, St. Paul gave witness to the strength of
hope in the tacit and unshakable faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever the response to his
ministry among the people of God, Paul's tacit conviction is unmistakably formalized in
- "Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts
by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were
still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly...But God demonstrates his own love for us in
this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans
- No matter how many times his ministry was undermined or
ministry initiatives frustrated, he was not disappointed formally, informally or tacitly.
Even in his powerlessness, God's love was poured into his heart.
- Like us, Paul vigorously sought the formal extension of
the Kingdom. Like us, Paul couldn't control the outcomes. We can learn from him at least
two important things.
- * First, Christian ministry must always be
directed predominantly to the tacit.
- * Second, the most important tacit element is
having the hope that does not disappoint us deeply rooted in our formal, informal and
- Without this Christ-centered hope, the ministry will
always succumb to the tyranny of the tacit.
- When the tyranny of the tacit comes into your ministry,
where's your hope? It's in the unshakable formal, informal and tacit conviction
of love of Christ Jesus for you in your ministry!
- Thomas F. Fischer
* This table is adapted from a handout at Speed Leas'
April 22, 1999 presentation
"The Self-Differentiated Pastor" sponsored by Psychological Studies and
Clergy Consultation Program, Inc., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:22 PM