Friday, January 14, 2005

Q & A - business/church

Q. "Don't you think the church is essentially a business?
The church could learn a lot about how to do things
better if it would just follow some examples from
the business world. The church is about sales,
marketing . . ."

A. With all due respect, I simply could not disagree
more wholeheartedly. In fact, it's hard for me to
imagine a view of the church that could be more
fundamentally mistaken! And though it's an extremely
common way of thinking, the church that Jesus built
(and is still building) is anything but a "business."

One of the best illustrations I know of that conveys
a much healthier picture of what the church is about
is The Blueberry Story. Though set in the context
of public education, the story's principle is equally
applicable to the church. I reproduce it here with
written permission from it's author. Powerful stuff!
The Blueberry Story:
The teacher gives the businessman a lesson

“If I ran my business the way you people operate your
schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”

I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged
teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute.
My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90
minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned
to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a

I represented a group of business people dedicated to
improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice
cream company that became famous in the middle
1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry
as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools
needed to change; they were archaic selecting and
sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and
out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge
society”. Second, educators were a major part of the
problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their
feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a
bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to
business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero
defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced -
equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She
appeared polite, pleasant – she was, in fact, a razor-
edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had
been waiting to unload.

She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage
a company that makes good ice cream.”

I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”

“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”

“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a
roll. I never saw the next line coming.

“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked
eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on
your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment
of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap
snap… I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.

“I send them back.”

“That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send
back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich,
poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident,
homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with
ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as
their second language. We take them all! Every one!
And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business.
It’s school!”

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus
drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to
their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!”

And so began my long transformation.

Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have
learned that a school is not a business. Schools are
unable to control the quality of their raw material,
they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for
a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly
mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing
customer groups that would send the best CEO
screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must
change what, when, and how we teach to give all
children maximum opportunity to thrive in a
post-industrial society. But educators cannot do
this alone; these changes can occur only with the
understanding, trust, permission and active support
of the surrounding community. For the most important
thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes,
beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and
therefore, to improve public education means more
than changing our schools, it means changing America.

Copyright 2002, by Jamie Robert Vollmer.

Jamie Robert Vollmer, a former business executive and
attorney, now works as a motivational speaker and
consultant to increase community support for public
schools. He can be reached at
You can be beamed to the author's website by simply
clicking on the title of today's blog.