Back to the Future

I have endeared myself once again to the powers that be.  When asked about my impression of the Plan UMC, I described it as “a resurrection of the General Council on Ministries with its delusions of grandeur fulfilled,” and some took offense.  Well, sorry about that, but what we adopted is not going to position us for growth into the future — it is positioning us to do the kind of ministry and micro-managed regulation we did in the late 20th century.  However, if we use this structure wisely, it can actually produce some solid results.  The choice of system is critically important, but we haven’t maximized the potential of any of our structures or systems for years.  The key is simple: the new General Council on Strategy and Oversight (GCSO) must realize that it is designed to create an unsustainable tension.  Strategy is the boat, ready to sail.  Oversight is the dock, anchoring the boat in place.  In the very early days, one of the two functions must take precedence.  If we have the wisdom to give strategy precedence, we should be fine.  If our focus is on oversight, we won’t go anywhere.  The great challenge is this: we love oversight, but we have to hire outside consultants to do strategy for us.  We may just micro-manage our General church out of existence with the very best of intentions.

I believe there are three interrelated spheres of effective leadership — visioning, futuring, and managing.  Visioning is a discerning function to set priorities and identify the missional goals and objectives that define our desired reality.  Futuring is a creative development process by which planning, design, and engineering are employed to create the systems needed to move from the current reality to the desired reality.  Managing is the implementation and response processes by which we actually move from the current reality to the desired reality.  In the absence of vision or a futuring plan, management prevails and all the energy is aligned to maintain the status quo and resist change.  Unfortunately, this third option is what the new structure is actually designed to do.

I have also been asked the question, “Why didn’t any of the three main options (IOT, Plan B, MFSA) gain greater traction and support beyond their advocates?”  Look back over my blogs since The Call to Action came out and you will see my answer — it hasn’t changed.  All three plans focused on the plans, not what the plans would produce and how they were better than what we already have.  There was no clear cause-and-effect built into any of the plans — nothing that described, “if we do this effectively, this is the change we can expect.”  Everything was general, generic and vague.  Plus, none of the plans offered any kind of contingency thinking.  So many glaring omissions emerged, and it was painfully obvious that key considerations had not been addressed.  And the, “trust us, we’ll work this all out after you vote for our plan” never took hold.  My boring old mantra — form follows function — was apparently ignored by all, including the Plan UMC concession team.

Look at the bloat that is already happening — we have increased the make-up of the new General Council for Strategy and Oversight by half (at high cost, since most of the increase comes from the central conferences), and there is still not great clarity about what gifts, skills, knowledge and experience will be needed to make the council effective.  We will choose people based on subjective and non-standard criteria and then expect them to work out their own salvation with fear, trembling, and a signficant commitment of time.

Am I assuming the worst?  No, and yes.  History indicates that we don’t do structural change well.  We spend more time figuring our what we should be doing than actually doing anything.  By the time we figure it out, we decide we don’t have the right structure to do what needs to be done, so we assign a group to create a plan for a new structure, propose it, perfect it, adopt it as a body, then figure out how to make it work (until we decide we don’t have the right structure…)  But, it doesn’t have to be this way.  If we will make strategy the primary focus of the GCSO, including the creation of evaluative protocols, but assign the oversight and evaluation functions to an independent team, this could actually work fairly well.  The other caveat to this is that GCSO cannot stand as an intermediary between the other General Boards and Agencies and the rest of the church.  GCSO cannot be a policing force, but a coordinating, aligning and enabling body.  The United Methodist Church does not need a babysitter or a personal trainer.  The UMC needs an orchestral conductor, blending the individual instruments into a symphony.

Two more blogs I wrote on other sites (for the gluttons for punishment among you):

Holy Conferencing, Batman!

A House Divided

6 replies

  1. Pingback: Back to the Future
  2. “The great challenge is this: we love oversight, but we have to hire outside consultants to do strategy for us.”

    Again, the diffusion of innovations: we have consultants within who spend extreme amounts of time studying innovations in the outside world (innovators, 2.5%) and others who refine these outside ideas for internal effectiveness (early adopters, 13.5%).

    The problem is that their insights can’t be controlled – they aren’t paid to do this research, it’s out of love only. But consultants we pay can be carefully selected by a system to bring back ideas that are very comfortable and compatible with “the way we’ve always done it before” … and while their expertise is genuine, there are conflicts of interest. Plus, a “comfortable innovation” is one where nothing will change.

    We have prophetic voices among us … but they are being marginalized and rendered ineffective. Jesus himself said it:

    Mat 13:57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”

    Oversight however with a challenging, functional strategy is great – as genuine oversight will generate and will enforce behavior to match the strategy. This is not what we are seeing.

    But my feeling is that the current Book of Discipline contains great strategy … but the oversight does not lead to what we have now being implemented … so we really have no effective oversight when the existing strategy in the Book of Discipline is so rarely fully implemented.

    If you need an example, how long has it been since you’ve heard a quote from the Book of Disciple in a sermon? Let alone a sermon series on what it challenges us to be as a church?

  3. Right on, Dan! GCOM died its own weary death and now we bring a modified version back to life.

  4. As a poorly informed kibitzer about as far removed from the process as possible, let me offer a few observations. The UMC is a one dimensional institutional hierarchy with the General Conference at the top and the local church at the bottom. Supporting this is another hierarchy with bishops and clergy at the top and laity at the bottom. In my opinion, all programming should begin and end with the local church. The general church cannot continue to take resources away from the local church and devote them to programs of little interest at the local church level. The general church can provide leadership and expertise to the local church, but in the final analysis the mission and ministry of the church is, and should be, the collective mission and ministry of local churches, Nothing more, nothing less.

    The hierarchal institutional church was created by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. The church of Jesus Christ was created in the 1st century at Pentecost. The apostles came together only once and were empowered by the Holy Spirit to be in mission and ministry. They didn’t have meet every four years to reinvent themselves. By all means let’s go back to the future. ALL the way back!

    • Seriously, Dick, the institutional church, hierarchy and all, was present in Jesus’ lifetime and centuries before in the form of the Temple at Jerusalem. They were busy killing prophets for centuries.

      What happened with Constantine is just the reappearance of the same old, same old, same old thing.

      This is important to me because studying Jesus’ interaction with the temple hierarchy helps us to understand a contrast between discipleship movement and the institutional church. And brings us lessons on how to deal with our own institionality.

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