Theory X & Theory Y

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit with my grandfather. Unfortunately he is not doing well and I am not sure how much longer he has here. The good news is that his family is very good to me and has given me the chance to see him whenever I want. So I flew into Virginia, Saturday at noon, and stayed overnight. I spent a lot of time talking to my grandfather’s daughter’s boyfriend (it’s complicated). For the sake of anonymity I will call him Sam.

Sam is a very intelligent person, he has spent a lot of time in the business and political world. knows a lot, and has plenty of interesting stories. During one of our conversations about the Church he told me about Theory X and Theory Y. Apparently these two theories are well known in economics. Here are some excerpts from Wikipedia.

Theory X and Theory Y are theories of human motivation created and developed by Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1960s that have been used in human resource management, organizational behavior, and organizational development. They describe two very different attitudes toward workforce motivation. McGregor felt that companies followed either one or the other approach.

In [Theory X,] management assumes employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can. Because of this workers need to be closely supervised and comprehensive systems of controls developed. A hierarchical structure is needed with narrow span of control at each level. According to this theory employees will show little ambition without an enticing incentive program and will avoid responsibility whenever they can.

In [Theory Y,] management assumes employees may be ambitious, self-motivated, anxious to accept greater responsibility, and exercise self-control, self-direction, autonomy and empowerment. It is believed that employees enjoy their mental and physical work duties. It is also believed that if given the chance employees have the desire to be creative and forward thinking in the workplace. There is a chance for greater productivity by giving employees the freedom to perform at the best of their abilities without being bogged down by rules.

It seems to me that this is very applicable to what we see in the church as we know it (or CAWKI – HT: Glenn Hager). The church has been in a Theory X mode for a long time… probably over a thousand years. At the same time, I think there are a lot of us who would fall more into the Theory Y category.

Given the fact that all Christians have the Holy Spirit – can it be a reality for the church to escape the Theory X mindset and move into the Theory Y mindset? Are those of us who see that things should be more Theory Y neglecting those who are built to be Theory X?

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  1. Lew,

    These are interesting theories. It seems that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit should produce “Theory Y” people. But, many Christians seem to be “Theory X” people. So, we spend energy and resources to get “Theory X” people motivated, which is something that I believe that only the Spirit can do. Perhaps we should stop spending so much time and energy on “Theory X” people and start discipling those “Theory Y” people who are actually interested in following Christ.


  2. Alan,

    Thanks, I have spent a little time thinking about these theories since my original conversation with Sam.

    I think instead we probably spend energy and resources to get Theory X people to stay Theory X people. We do not really try to motivate them to become Theory Y people – we just pretend to. But you’re right, only the Holy Spirit can move them from X to Y.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    God’s Glory,

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