I find hope from this progress report…
Call to Action Steering Committee
Background and Introduction
The Call to Action as adopted by the Council of Bishops in May 2009 challenged a Steering Committee “to guide our denominational response to the urgent opportunity for further alignment of the mission of the church and the four areas of focus, and to refashion and reposition the church for the 21st century.” The Committee was charged with the task of bringing forward “…a plan of action that will lead to reordering the life of the church.” Central to that Call to Action was the resolve to be guided by the mission of the church (“to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”) and the four areas of focus that have emerged as our way of living into that mission. The world-wide economic crisis formed the context and climate for such an undertaking.
Over the last six months the Steering Committee that was created following the spring meetings of the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table has met in Chicago on three occasions, and shared numerous emails, reports, papers, and conversations. We have been very ably assisted through this process by a consultant, Peter Gerend from Duke Corporate Education, related to the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. We gratefully acknowledge the funding support provided through the Connectional Table.
In addition to many Biblical images and metaphors that surfaced in the course of our conversations, we grounded ourselves and our work in Wesleyan heritage by reading once again “The United Methodist Way: Living the Christian Life in Covenant with Christ and One Another” (a paper that was prepared for the November 2007 Extended Cabinet Retreat) and “The Character of a Methodist” by John Wesley. In preparation for our study, we also read two books: A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter and A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman. How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins was also a resource for several of us.
The presenting critical question that has guided the work of the Steering Committee:
Will we passively accept the reality of the continued decline of United Methodism in the United States and Western Europe OR with urgency and passion choose to move toward achieving our common mission of making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world in creative, fresh, and bold new ways in all parts of the world?
In the course of our time together we created a vision of what the church of the future might be:
As United Methodists, we dream of a church…
- With more accountability to Gospel and less conformity to an outdated, bureaucratic system
- With more participation with young people and less rhetoric about good intentions
- With more ministry with the poor and less with the privileged
- With more expectation for growth and less acceptance of status quo
- With more engagement with the margins and less traditionalism
- With more work on the Four Focus Areas and less on sub-optimal tasks
- With more positive expression of our Methodist connection in ecumenical, interfaith families and less autonomy and parochial self-interest
- With more dreaming about what will be and less struggling to preserve what was
- With more giving to direct ministry and less to administration
- With more grace and freedom and fewer rules
- With more trust and less cynicism
With the framing question and dream in mind, we engaged in several exercises that surfaced numerous interventions that could become system-changing actions. Out of those we reached consensus around several processes that, if implemented, would lead to “a holistic 21st century method for being and doing church around the world in radically new ways.”
- Developing metrics for effectiveness and accountability across the church
- Rebuilding our leadership development system, with special attention to young people
- Eliminating the guaranteed appointment
- Recasting the quadrennial General Conference
- Reordering the life of the church
- Establishing a “global office” or central organizing center for coordination and efficiency
- Constructing a viable financial future
We have engaged in numerous conversations to gather information from a wide constituency. We have received electronic feedback from a cross-section of United Methodists in response to preliminary ideas and drafts of possibilities built around this list of interventions, and our original list was revised as a result of these responses.
These are significant issues with which we have been wrestling. In this process, we have confirmed often and in many ways, through many voices, that the UMC is a highly complex organization. To redesign and reorder the life of the church requires adaptive change, and that change requires hard work. To suggest a Biblical image, we have left Egypt and are making our way through the wilderness toward the “promised land.” We are not there yet, and there is even more hard work and disruption ahead as we design and develop a comprehensive new system that will, by God’s grace, empower us to achieve the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Easy answers may lead to quick fixes that garner popular support but may also lead to wrong choices that compromise our desire to move toward achieving the mission. We believe that what is demanded of us at this time, as a people of faith who worship and serve God through the UMC, is either to “convince the world of the reality of the Gospel or leave it unconvinced.” (¶129, The Book of Discipline)
Item #1 It is imperative that clearly defined measurements, standards, and expectations be established and applied, thus providing a standard for accountability across the connection. It will be as local churches and annual conferences are held accountable for outcomes of faithful and fruitful ministry that our mission will be accomplished. We call upon the Council of Bishops to immediately begin a process of consultation, conferencing, and conversation with stakeholders and constituents that will lead to developing a comprehensive set of metrics to be applied at every level of the church: lay and clergy leaders, local churches, districts and annual conferences, and the general church.
Item #2 Our Steering Committee surfaced the need to “redesign the leadership development system” and quickly saw this in the context of and in relation to one of the Four Areas of Focus (“developing principled Christian leaders”). We urge the Vision Pathway Team of the Council of Bishops, and others working on this Area of Focus, to approach this task with urgency. We will be forwarding to those groups the papers and notes of our conversations around leadership development and formation.
We urge the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to lead the church in prioritizing the leadership and participation of youth and young adults in all areas and at all levels of the church’s ministry, inviting youth and young adults to join in shaping the mission, worship, education, fellowship and outreach of the church. We recognize that youth and young adults are not the “future” of the church but instead are persons with gifts and passions that can help all of us understand and relate the gospel to the cultures of today.
Item #3 Closely linked to redesigning our leadership development system is the recognition of a need to reconsider our system of deploying clergy across the church. The phrase, “eliminating the guaranteed appointment,” was a way to capture our sense that deployment and fruitfulness are linked. We know that the Ministry Study Committee is addressing the same concern and therefore refer this item to them, along with our encouragement to diligently address the many angles of this question.
Item #4 We affirm the invitation in the original Call to Action “to collaborate with the General Commission on the General Conference and the General Council on Finance and Administration to redesign the plan and operation of the 2012 General Conference.” We call upon the Council of Bishops, the General Commission on the General Conference, and the Rules Committee to pursue this task immediately. After our deliberations over these last months, we believe that conversation must be expanded to include a total revamping of General Conference, including frequency and format.
Items #5, #6, and #7
The final three items in our list of interventions are intricately connected. Above all we believe that any reordering or reshaping of the general church absolutely must be done as a means of achieving the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” and as a vehicle for more effectively integrating the Four Areas of Focus into the connection and the fabric of the denomination, starting at the local church level. The reordering at the general church must be accomplished not as a top-down initiative, but as a way of repositioning, modeling, equipping, and resourcing the whole church for the twenty-first century.
The Steering Committee believes that this reordering includes some scenario involving a reduced number of general agencies, coupled with the creation of an executive, coordinating office for the denomination in order that our mission and ministries around the world will be strengthened. We do not believe that we can, or should, create a “central office” (whatever title it may ultimately given) as another layer of bureaucracy, simply added to what already exists.
We explored several scenarios and identified principles to guide the development of a plan that will provide flexibility, rapid response, collaboration, and energy for accomplishing the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Those principles include at least:
- Starting with no preconceived ideas of what will continue, be changed, or be ended
- Becoming nimble, lean, minimal and aligned and effective
- Aligning all facets of the church with the mission, lived out through the Four Areas of Focus
- Becoming more financially sustainable in order to assure the future
- Analyzing all Disciplinary mandates to glean only what is essential to achieve the mission
We know that alignment is essential! However, before designing the specifics of any future scenario or system-wide reordering of the denomination, we must evaluate the whole system. In order to achieve the best alignment we are convinced of the necessity of performing an operational assessment of the structures and relationships with the current system, including general agencies, the Council of Bishops, and the Annual Conferences. To achieve this complex task, we will recommend that we contract with an outside, independent group that can lead us through this process.
We know that data regarding our current and future financial obligations at all levels of the connection must be gathered before drafting a means of assuring a viable financial future for the UMC and as part of our operational assessment. We call on the Connectional Table to work with urgency to assemble the data and give direction for the church. (¶904, The Book of Discipline, 2008)
Next Steps Going Forward
We must receive feedback and insights from a large number and a wide range of United Methodist voices, identified leaders of the denomination as well as those faithful ones who sit in our pews and who serve Jesus daily in the world. We recommend working with an organization that can design an internet-based survey instrument and can receive, analyze, and summarize the results.
We call upon the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to create and fund a team that will lead the next phase of this journey. This team will receive and review the data gathered and generate a response based on the results of the assessments. The scenarios the current Steering Committee has developed may be incorporated as starting points for the work of this new team.
In order to move the process forward and design the reordering the life of the church, the Steering Committee recommends the following steps as the next phase of this critical work.
The creation of a new Steering Team composed of twelve (12) persons, including no more than five (5) of the current committee members. We recommend that Bishop Gregory Palmer be named the chair and convener of this Steering Team. Members of this new Steering Team will be named by the current committee, with attention given to expertise and diversity, and to passion and vision.
The creation of a four-person Project Team, led by a Project Manager with whom we will contract for oversight of the work. The Project Team will function as the day-to-day work team, interfacing with the various constituencies and with the Operational Assessment group to be selected. The Steering Team will give direction and will receive updated reports from the on-going work of the Project Team.
Every bishop will host a series of conversations in her or his area. These conversations will focus on responses and suggestions for reordering the life of the church, and for establishing metrics for use in evaluation and accountability. (See Item #1 above)
In order to adequately fund the next steps in this undertaking, we request funding support through the Connectional Table. The distribution of these funds will be for the purpose of securing contracts with an organization that will perform the Operational Assessment, including on-line surveys with analysis, and with a Project Manager who will devote full time and attention to the process. In addition, the funds will be used for the expenses of the Teams, including travel and meeting time. In consultation with those who work with such processes and assessments, we believe an amount not to exceed $500,000 will be needed.
Finally, that a progress report and an accounting will be given at the spring 2010 meetings of the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table, with final recommendations made to the COB and CT in the fall of 2010.
MEMBERS OF THE STEERING COMMITTEE
- Gregory Palmer, Chair
- Larry Goodpaster, Project Manager
- Grant Hagiya
- John Hopkins
- Joel Martinez
- Sharon Rader
- Mary Ann Swenson
- Rosemarie Wenner
- John Yambasu
- Neil Alexander
- Barbara Boigegrain
- Karen Greenwaldt
- Erin Hawkins
- Larry Hollon
- Moses Kumar
- Benjamin Boruff
- Jay Brim
- Deborah McLeod
- Diane Degnan, Communications
- Mary Figueredo, GBOPHB, Recording Secretary
- Pete Gerend, Duke Corporate Education