GC2016 — A General Conference Theory of Constraints

In critical chain theory, the whole chain is only as strong as the weakest link.  There is no “average” strength, but the entire chain rises or falls on the weakest element.  In theory of constraints, there is a factor (or factors) which undermines or sub-optimizes the entire process, and by extension, the whole system.  Our weakest link seems to be lack of preparation, and the constraint in the system seems to be poor communication.  The combination is crippling — poor instructions aimed at ill-prepared delegates yields a dysfunctional plenary experience.  My own observation of this year’s plenary process is that we are wasting incredible amounts of time trying to learn our technology.  Blame the technology?  Sure, to some extent, but the tech is not the true problem, or at least the whole problem.  Miscommunication, wrong-communication, poor instructions, poorly designed tests and trials create more confusion than they eliminate.

What is getting lost in the procedural miasma is opportunity to be in relationship, time to celebrate, and opportunity to feel we are making a valuable contribution.  Form is no longer following function, but function has been co-opted and quarantined by form and format.  We are losing sight of the desired outcomes of our conference as we struggle to “get through our work”.  I go back to an earlier point I made — volunteer does not need to mean amateur, as far as performance goes.  For our system to “function” we must adopt and maximize the required “form”.  It is interesting to watch how adamantly and intentionally people are NOT paying attention, then they look flustered and surprised when things don’t work properly.

I wonder why we weren’t sent instructions before arrival, given an orientation and process training on the first day, and offered evening tutorials to help educate the body?  This is not rocket science.  It is not technologically sophisticated, even among our non-US delegates.  Many of them are amused by the trouble we are having getting our act together.  I observe many of our non-US delegates are among the first to put down their voting pads once an election is open.  There is nothing wrong with learning the new technology — shame on us for not already knowing how to do these simple things.  Shame on us for not teaching one another how to use it.

This is just one more way that our witness to the larger world lacks credibility and relevancy.  It has been humbling to follow Twitter and read comments on the live feed.  We look clueless and archaic.  We look out of touch and backwards.  And when faced with challenges, we cave in and withdraw and beg a return to the way we did it in the 20th century.  This is not to disparage the old ways and traditions.  However, I do want to say, the future into which our church is hoping to live and lead is one of advancing technologies and adaptive solutions.  Our future does not, can not, lie in the past.  If we cannot learn something as simple as a numeric keypad, we are not likely to reach a new generation (or a couple existing generations).

The system is designed for the results it is getting.  If you want different results, you need a different system.  This year’s General Conference is a poster-child for why you do simply tinker and mess around with an existing system and expect different results.  If you have a wood-chipper, it will do a great job chipping wood.  If you want fine ground sausage, you could use a wood chipper, but it probably would not give you the results you desire.  And if your desire is to make the wood chipper work better, you probably wouldn’t feed fine china through it.  (This is the mistake we often make in the church.  The congregation is broken and in need of improvement, so we feed good resources through the broken church chipper and are amazed when the resource fails to bring about change).

Our fundamental flaw is that we try to use legislative process to solve difficulties in interpersonal relationships, communication, and communal covenantal boundaries.  We end up voting on People’s identity, value and acceptability; things that should never be reduced to such abominable contempt.

My fear is that we are too deep into this General Conference to make any substantive changes to redeem our systemic processes.  I prayerfully hope that (and will recommend) to our Commission to the General Conference that we make some substantive functional changes instead of rearranging our forms.  We are feeling held captive to processes that are not producing the results we need.

4 replies

  1. We do a unique thing in Christianity and in meetings. We have a democratically elected representative General Conference with full authority in a connectional denomination. Our meetings aren’t mostly listening to the podium and moving up the next person in line with perhaps a couple of arguments. Instead, EVERYTHING is voted on by people from around the world.

    We would be much better off if we started making our meeting arrangements with THAT understanding rather than spending enormous amounts of time, money and effort trying to figure out a new way for those who wish to revise our ordination standards and chargeable offenses to finally succeed. After all, why are we in Portland, Oregon? At the time of the selection, the one distinction that Portland had was that it was the largest city in the United States with an openly gay mayor. Even if a plausible argument could be made to host a meeting in a “jurisdiction” that is now smaller than TWO of our annual conferences, if you weren’t hoping that Sam Adams would still be mayor, then you would have General Conference in Denver.

    I would also have a technical question about how hotspots are disrupting the iPad system. Many complain about the Wi-Fi in the Convention Center which if they are trying to run a couple of thousand people off one site isn’t going to work. But, the hotspots shouldn’t be creating a problem. They should be helping. But, I am prepared to be told I am completely wrong on this part.

    • I talked to one of the event coordinators at the Convention Center. They had a larger group than us a couple weeks ago (auto industry) and used the same electronic voting system and had virtually no problems after their first day. Could mean nothing, could mean that we needed a little orientation and coaching (something, I was told, the other group did VERY well).

  2. Out of curiosity, was there any training for delegates in regards to how Roberts Rules work? I would be just as lost as the delegates without some extensive YouTube research on how the rules work and when a yes vote really means yes to what is being presented.

    • No, just an assumption because we use them (poorly) in our Annual Conferences, we would know how to use them (well) here…
      Hi, Nick!

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