Over the past few months, conversations, posts, articles, videos, etc. have been flying around about the Call to Action and the Interim Operational Team proposals for restructuring. As a reserve delegate for General Conference, I probably won’t be someone voting on this, but I’m still going to be there. I am meeting with my delegation and we are looking at all of these pieces together. I did the Call to Action Study with my church. I’m reading as much as I can. And I have to say, I’m not sure how I feel about all of it. Tomorrow I want to talk a little bit about the need for distinction between CtA and the IOT proposals (because they are different things), but for now, I just want to think about the idea of restructuring our general boards and agencies.
Most people who know me would say that I’m not someone tied to the past. If something isn’t working – by all means, scrap it and start afresh. I often work by trial and error until we find just the right fit. I like to take risks and push the envelope and be bold. So the fact that I’m a little uneasy with all of the change proposed here means something.
I’ve had a few people ask me pointedly in the past month what I think about all of this restructuring. Here is my first response:
I’m still pretty torn. I think there are some benefits to the ways they want to realign the boards and agencies, but talking with the boards and agencies folks, they have already made significant cuts and some of the ways they benefit the church would be severely restricted by having to cut more. I worry about our continued GBCS presence in the capital. I worry about whether we will have the resources in place to support the local churches if we diminish any more GBHEM and GBOD and the like. I understand the $ benefit to a smaller board, but think the diverse representation in so many places is one of the awesome things about the church and wonder if we couldn’t use technology and more web conferencing to cut back on some of the cost. I worry that with only a 15 member board, we just will not have a diverse representation of the United Methodist Church as a whole. I’m not necessarily worried about power consolidation or anything like that – but I would HATE to be on that board – that is a lot of responsibility and time, for such a small group to be overseeing all of the boards and agencies in that way. On the other hand, our own local church just consolidated all of our committees into one church board and its working just fine.
That probably doesn’t help.. does it? lol.
My friend Gary’s response: Katie, help the Church think beyond either/or options. Thanks
*sigh* Gary… I belatedly, and with great humility and not a small amount of uneasiness accept your challenge.
And as I think more about that restructure our own church just did, what I realized is that when we did so because we didn’t have enough people who could sustain that large of a leadership structure. To have four required committees that needed 6 people + our ministry committees of education, worship, outreach… that would be 6×7= 42 people!!! Not to include the chair of our council and our lay leader. We average 50 in worship on a Sunday. And so our large leadership structure certainly involved people, but people also felt like they were simply filling holes. There was a lack of engagment. Our structure was too big. I’m not sure that with a global membership of 11-12 million has large problem with a leadership board and agency structure that involves around 650 lay and clergy representatives on boards/agencies.
Second, we did consolidate our work around three primary goals for our congregation. Which sounds a lot like consolidating around the four areas of focus. But we did so and have actually funneled MORE money into those three teams in our local church. They have more to work with now than they did in their respective disjointed committees. If we truly want those three things to be the focus of the life of our church, then we have to put our money where our mouth is. It feels like the restructure proposals are in order to save money to be sent somewhere else – to local churches perhaps, to reduce apportionments so resources stay on the local level, who knows – to be honest I haven’t seen anything about WHERE the extra resources will come from or WHERE they will go. That seems like an important piece of the puzzle that is missing.
I completely understand restructuring for missional reasons to help us refocus our attention on the four areas of focus that we as a global church have named as important: global heath, ministry with the poor, new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations, and developing (young) leaders. But have we actually given these four areas of focus time to settle in with our churches yet? And will a restructure help us to focus on them if we do so at the expense of diverse and abundant representation (when we have so many capable and talented people we can use in our global church) and with cuts to the funding for said ministries. In fact, we might be chopping the legs out from underneath ourselves if we do not provide the resources in people and dollars and institutional weight behind those four areas of focus.
So if I’m thinking both/and, I want to ask the questions:
- What would a restructured church look like with larger boards than the proposal entails?
- What could it accomplish with the resources to really make a difference?
- What kinds of bold risks could our boards and agencies take if they felt like we as the church trusted them and didn’t see them as an excessive growth that needed to be trimmed away?
- What would we say to the world if we not only realign our church around these four areas of focus, but back it with our time, energy and resources?
I’m not saying that vital congregations are not important… in fact, the other materials we have been given by IOT and the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table and Call to Action all seem to point to the idea that we need to develop more young leaders and create new places for new people and that a vital congregation is defined by its fruits – which includes its participation in the redemption of the world (global health and poverty seem to fit here). If we continue to focus on these four areas and put both our larger institutional AND local resources towards this focus, I think we are heading in the right direction.