Does this sound familiar? The typical Masonic lodge has an extremely top heavy leadership structure. Almost all decisions, plans and vision rest on the shoulders of the current Worshipful Master. Very little leadership or direction comes from the subordinate officers in the lodge. This organizational structure is both outdated and detrimental to the future of the lodge. Here is a graphical representation of the leadership structure in many Masonic lodges.
This graphic represents the current state of affairs, where all the officers of the lodge report to the Worshipful Master.
Once again, I can hear the cries. "This is the way it's always been." "This has always worked, why change it now." "This is the Masonic way to do it." Wrong, wrong and wrong. Masonic Lodges have not always had a monolithic leadership structure where everything depended on the Master. This is a byproduct of the times. I propose that the current over-dependence on the position of Worshipful Master has arisen because of two reasons, common societal structures adopting a rigid hierarchical structure and the significant decrease in Masonic membership in the past four decades.
During World War II, a large number of citizens were introduced to the rigid hierarchical structure of the military, where a group of soldiers would report directly to a commanding officer. This is typically the model of the smaller military divisions, such as patrols, squads and platoons, which is the level at which most enlisted personnel were introduced to during the war. As a side note, the larger military structures, typically battalion size and above, did not hold to this direct line of command and were usually organized into a chain of command. A chain of command typically promotes an environment of leadership growth, while a direct leadership structure promotes order and control, commonly needed in the military for enlisted men.
After the war, many of these soldiers and officers became active in volunteer organizations to regain the camaraderie and brotherhood that they felt while in the service. This accounts for the meteoric rise in Masonic membership during the 1950's. (See Membership graph)
This influx of new members brought an emphasis on the same leadership structure that these brothers were used to while in the military, which was typically the direct command structure of the smaller military units. The development of this structure can be easily seen through the literature of the craft. Books written prior to the 1940's about Masonry emphasized all the lodge officers and their duties. While books written after this point, such as "How to become a Masonic Lodge Officer" by H.L. Haywood (1958) and "Designs upon the Trestleboard: A Guide Book for Masters and Wardens" by A. Herrmann (1957), specifically focus on the position of Worshipful Master. (Note: I still highly recommend these two books for all lodge officers)
Over the course of the next forty years, our membership numbers fell into decline. It became harder and harder to find competent and enthusiastic lodge officers. Our lodge leaders gradually lost faith in their subordinates. A natural response to this is to take more responsibility upon their own shoulders. After a couple of years of Masters consolidating responsibility around the oriental chair, it becomes institutionalized and develops the aura of a "tradition." It now became the responsibility of the Worshipful Master to have direct control of all the lodge's doings, while previously there was a division of responsibility that allowed the subordinate officers to develop needed leadership experience.
So, why is this so bad? The purpose of the Masonic institution is to provide its membership with an avenue of personal growth. One crucial aspect of personal growth is the development of leadership skills to assist others with achieving their goals and the goals of the fraternity. By removing leadership responsibilities from the lower officers of the lodge, these brothers will lack the necessary experience to fully develop their leadership skills. This, in turn, hurts the lodge. Many new Masters lack the requite skills to properly govern the lodge. If these new Masters were given the proper instruction and experience while they progressed through the line, then they would be far more qualified when it became time for them to ascend to the oriental chair.
The solution to this problem is not easy. It takes some letting go and some trust. First, clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the subordinate officers. The Junior Warden traditionally is responsible for refreshment and the Senior Warden is responsible for instruction during labor. This makes their job definition fairly clear. The Junior Warden should be responsible for food and festivities during refreshment. This position is assisted by the Stewards. Therefore, the stewards should report directly to the Junior Warden. If they have a question about dinner or the budget for supplies, they should ask the Junior Warden and not the Worshipful Master. Since the Senior Warden is in charge of instruction, then he should be responsible for Masonic Education and the well being of the candidates. Naturally, he has the Junior Deacon to assist him in this duties. Therefore, if a degree is occurring, the Junior Deacon should be making sure that all the candidate items are out and that the candidate is properly prepared. If there is a problem, he should report to the Senior Warden, not the Worshipful Master.
The exact implementation of this system will differ from lodge to lodge. It is up to the officers of the lodge to develop this plan of action and see that it succeeds. I can not stress this enough. This process should be developed by everyone in the officer-line. All officers should be giving their input about this process. Without their support, the process will fail and the lodge will be back to square one.
Here is an example of the chain of command that my lodge developed to help grow our leadership. The solid white lines show who the line officer reports to and the dashed white lines show who the non-line officer reports to. The blue arrows show the line progression of which office a brother will take the following year.
Traditionally, each Master reinvents the wheel every year, thereby making each year strategically isolated. For example, in 2006 a lodge follows Bob's plan. In 2007, they follow George's plan. Now in 2008, Bill has the responsibility to develop a whole new plan. This is not the way to plan for the future. In my lodge, we have developed a one year, a three year, a five year and a ten year plan. The whole corps of officers and interested brothers have developed these plans and the vision of the lodge's future. The incoming Master now knows what he has to do while sitting in the East since he began in the line and has had years to plan. This opens the lodge up to many possibilities. By having an on-going plan, the lodge can now accomplish goals that require more than one year of dedication.
My father gave me a crucial piece of advice while growing up, "Don't work harder, work smarter." This is the main point here. Many brothers in the East feel as though they must bare the complete responsibility of the lodge on their shoulders and do everything themselves. This is not the case. The Master should be developing a system to insure the lodge's survival, growth and well-being. This system must involve everyone or else it will fail. A building is only as strong as it's foundation and the foundation is made of many stones, not only one.