Friday, February 28, 2014

Thoughts on Governance and Administration -- Looking at TREC's Second Study Paper

The second study paper from the Task-Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church came out this week, and it deals with reforms to church-wide governance and administration.  While the first one, dealing with networks had some serious problems (that you can read about here), this paper makes solid contributions to the particular areas that many who voted for the Task Force at GC2012 wanted addressed.

The first victory in this paper is that it easily clears the topicality hurdle.  In high school debate, you lost the round if your opponent could show that your arguments didn't apply to the topic at hand.  TREC's governance paper wins this point in its first paragraph, stating the importance of making structural changes that can help mission develop, while clearly letting the rest of the church know that if somebody doesn't start developing mission to fill the structure, we are all just wasting our time. (This could almost be an advertisement for the Acts8Blogforce's thoughts on 21st century missionary societies.)  The paper proceeds to offer concrete proposals for many of the structures most in need of re-imagination (with the addition perhaps of the Province structure): General Convention, Executive Council and Church Center, and Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards.  By laying out their ideas, and even possible alternatives, TREC is fostering conversation around the church about structural reform, which was one of its mandates.  (For some of that conversation, see SevenWholeDays, CrustyOldDean, Jim Naughton at EpiscopalCafe and  YoungCurmudgeonPriest.)  TREC is clearly doing what we commissioned it to do in this paper, and doing it well.

General Convention

Turning to the specific proposals, TREC starts with General Convention.  I agree entirely with the paper's desire to make General Convention smaller, shorter and less expensive.  I also agree overwhelmingly with the idea of focusing our gathering on a larger mission conference, open to anyone, with the governing legislative convention being a smaller affair.

To make this happen, TREC looks at legislation, legislative committees, convention voters, and finances, suggesting cuts in all of them  I appreciate the intent, but think they go too far in some directions and not far enough in others.

In terms of legislation, I think most of the legislation that comes before General Convention is a waste of time.  Much of it everyone agrees with, except for the minority that doesn't, and how the vote turns out really doesn't make much difference to the day-to-day life of the average Episcopalian in the pews or, unfortunately, the people the resolution was meant to help.  I have been in favor of adoption of the Gunn rule, which asks deputies to vote down resolutions that tell other people what to do.  However, I don't agree with  TREC's proposal to limit the kinds of resolutions that can come before convention.  The church needs the opportunity to bring whatever it desires to the church, but the church needs a way to quickly deal with what is unnecessary. To that end, I would work very intentionally to develop another of TREC's ideas, which is to allow committees to meet in advance of convention and complete much of their work at that time.  If those committee meetings are orchestrated well through electronic media, they could receive much broader input from throughout the church than is possible through the current convention structures.  Committees could combine related resolutions, allow unnecessary resolutions to die in committee (another good TREC proposal), and even perfect many resolutions.  By the time convention opens, legislation could be ready to go, including the legislation most in need of thoughtful discussion which in the past has often been delayed until the closing days of convention.  If most committee work were to be completed by the opening of convention, much could be streamlined, and there is no compelling reason not to allow committees to meet as much as six months in advance of convention, although that might require some earlier administrative wrangling.  I also have no objection to the list of proposed committees to disband.

If the committee process were opened up to greater participation, and if the dynamic work of the church was primarily happening in the Mission Conference that reserved a quiet room somewhere for the legislative gathering, I would suggest reducing Diocesan deputations even further than what TREC proposes.  Only Diocesan Bishops would have a vote, while all bishops, retired or otherwise, would have seat and voice.  Diocesan legislative deputations could be a small as two clergy and two laity, with many more folks coming for the mission conference and able to participate in legislative hearings and other events, but not voting.  Joint legislative sessions with Bishops and Deputies (while using voting technologies to keep results separate) would probably be helpful, as well. 

TREC's paper offers only one short sentence on financial reform, noting that Diocesan assessments should be reduced to about a Biblical tithe.  I would set the maximum Diocesan assessment at 10%, with the hope that it could be much lower.  Ideally Diocesan assessments would cover the basic governance infrastructure and, hopefully, an effective high-tech church-wide communications platform.  Then I propose creating something along the lines of an Episcopal Kickstarter (we could even use Kickstarter itself) for many of the specific projects the budget currently funds.  Dioceses, parishes and individuals could fund projects near and dear to their hearts, and actually develop ownership of them.  Imagine the discussions at a Diocesan Convention about where to spend the 5-9% of their budgets for the Episcopal Church that they would be saving, and the opportunities for greater involvement these discussions would foster.  Although some initiatives (including good initiatives) would probably be lost, the church as a whole could vote their passions with their pocketbooks, which is the best way to fund ministry at any level.  Even larger items like the Office for Government Relations or the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music could be funded in this way, which would probably connect their projects more closely with what the church needs.   I think funding would easily be found for work like "A Cloud of Witnesses", but maybe not for a blessing a child learning to ride a bicycle.  Moving to this kind of funding system takes us from a federal "tax-and-spend" model of church business to a 21st-century implementation of the pre-20th century missionary society model of church work, a model that worked in a time that more closely resembles our own than the corporate era of the 60's and 70's. 

This Kickstarer-esque approach to projects would also solve one of the biggest problems with our current voting system, which is that everyone has to vote "yes" or "no."  While this is helpful on some items, large majority votes may indicate less of a monolithic support for a project than a corporate sense of "that's nice."  For many topics, including social justice resolutions and the development of churchwide resources, a better voting scale might be:

1. This is at the core of the gospel, so I am willing to take up my cross and die for this.
2. This is vitally important, and I'd give my own time and money to support this.
3. I like this, and if you want to do it, God bless you.
4. Meh.
5. I don't like this, but if you don't bother me about it, I'll leave you alone.
6. Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
7. Get thee behind me, Satan!

Executive Council and Church Center

TREC offers three alternatives for structuring the work of the Executive Council and church staff.  Alternative II is pretty much the status quo where the Presiding Bishop is the CEO.  Alternative I has the Presiding Bishop as board chair and chief pastor, while nominating (along with the President of the House of Deputies) a CEO to run things.  Alternative III is close to Alternative I, except that the Presiding Bishop can remain a diocesan bishop, and Executive Council appoints a General Secretary to accomplish whatever is meet and right so to do.  I prefer Alternative III for a couple of reasons.
I'll Take Door Number 3

First, I don't like the current system (as enshrined in Alternative II), because I'm not sure that electing a CEO for a time-delineated term is the most helpful way to lead the Episcopal Church.  The current need to hire a COO shows the difficulties inherent in combining the pastoral role of Presiding Bishop and the operational role of running the church.  Second, I think that the drawback of Alternative I could be summarized as "too many chiefs."  Having a full-time Presiding Bishop elected by the House of Bishops and a full-time CEO accountable to Executive Council opens up the kind of parallel organizations and confusing jurisdictions that we are trying to eliminate.  This concern is alleviated by Alternative III's decision to allow the Presiding Bishop to remain in their diocese.  The Presiding Bishop, presumably, would have be focused on a pastoral role for the church and the House of Bishops, while being removed from day-to-day church operations except as is appropriate for a board chair.  Having the board hire a staff person to run the operations then makes sense.  While I appreciate moving away from the corporate language of CEO, "General Secretary" sounds like someone who should go to ecumenical meetings in Brussels.  A better American term for the position would be "Executive Director."

In terms of Council's size and role as an interim body, I have a couple of thoughts.  The first is that I agree with significantly reducing the size of council.  Forty people is too many to be able to work effectively as a body, and Executive Council needs to be able to meet together and work as a whole.  In terms of its committees, however, ideally each committee or subcommittee would consist of a few members of council alongside of non-council members.  I would also change the relationship between council and CCAB's (see below).

Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards

TREC's proposals for CCAB's is a step in the right direction.  They propose eliminating many and provide guidance in ensuring their effectiveness by making suggestions concerning technology, size, and relationships with Executive Council.  I would, however, make the following suggestions for a restructuring of CCAB's.

1. Designate all Commissions and Committees as committees of Executive Council with at least one member appointed by Executive Council and others to be appointed as directed by the initiating legislation (which could include specific names, number of folks from various regions or orders or with various experiences or occupations, or even whoever the PB or PHOD decides, etc).   Ideally we would have ministry descriptions for these positions that would list the needed spiritual gifts instead of other qualities, so that we have people with gifts for evangelism on a world missions committee, instead ensuring there is a left-handed deacon from Province III.  While having Commissions and Committees under the auspices of the Executive Council is a huge change, if the Executive Council is our interim body, they should be the ones coordinating the kind of work we are giving Commissions and Committees between conventions.
A Famous General Secretary

2. Agencies and Boards are more complicated, but they should probably have some relationship with the Executive Director (or CEO/General Secretary depending if your leanings are corporate or European).  In some cases the Executive Director might be part of the board or appoint someone to the board as a liaison.  In other cases, an annual reporting might suffice.  The more funding for that agency or board that comes through the church budget, the more direct the lines of accountability should be to the Executive Director.

3. I entirely support TREC's proposals for greater transparency and accountability, the training of new members, and the increased use of effective technology.

Overall, TREC's paper does an excellent job at laying out positive changes for our governance and administration. That their proposals invite tweaks by myself and other bloggers shows that what they have laid out is moving the discussion of our church's restructuring forward as intended.  The next important steps will be for them to take these suggestions, incorporate them, and come back with a body of legislation that would allow us to make ideas a reality.  This task is an indispensable one, but not easy.  Thank you, TREC, for the good work on this study paper.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Five Marks of a Missionary Society

What does a 21st century missionary society look like?  Much can be (and needs to be) said about structure, funding, ecumenical partnerships, social media presence, and the like.  As the core, however, I think the following five marks are key to any successful society propagating the good news today. 

1. Prayer.  Any Christian enterprise is probably nothing more than prayer followed by living into prayer's fruits.  To spread the gospel, however, prayer is essential for two reasons.  First, our intercession opens up the way for God to draw those he is calling into his Kingdom.  Jesus' saving work is reconciling all creation back to God, and our prayer is the spiritual work cooperating with God's love to bring it about in our time.  Second, prayer is the only way to open our hearts up to love the lost in the world deeply enough to make the sacrifices necessary to take the good news to them.  We see many Christians and churches today that have not spent enough time in prayer to cultivate a deeper longing for the healing and salvation of the world than they have for their own comfort and convenience.  Without significant prayer, no missionary society is going anywhere except, perhaps, to tea.

Copyright © 2011 The Zondervan Corporation.
2. Responsibility for Individual Evangelism.  If a missionary society wants to reach anyone, the responsibility for evangelism will reside in everyone, wherever they are.  Not only the professional church planters "in the field", but also the treasurer, the intercessor team, and even the sergeant-at-arms will all look for daily opportunities to connect with unchurched people and share their testimony to how God is at work in their lives.  Evangelism, in its many forms, becomes a core piece of living their Christian life, and an essential component of daily morning prayer is the petition, "Lord, let me share the Gospel today with someone who you want to hear it."  

3.Focus on Making Disciples.  A successful 21st Century Missionary society will not be one that has established the most churches and religious institutions, but the one that has created the most disciples who have changed their lives, follow Jesus, and are able to reach others.  The work of discipleship is the work of multiplication, not addition, meaning it starts slow and builds over time.  Jesus had thousands of people come to hear him preach and attend his feeding programs.  But the primary discipleship work took place not even in his small group of the twelve, but in Peter, James and John who were with him at key points in his life, learned by experiencing how Jesus handled things, and became the leaders who could carry on once Jesus left.  Successful missionary societies will be patient enough to do the slow groundwork initially to have a powerful impact over the long-term.

4. Accountability. Members of the missionary society will be accountable at a deep level to one another to do God's work.  Part of Billy Graham's success came because the four people on his leadership team were an accountability group for one another.  They made sure that everyone was focused on what was important and that no one got not distracted by the temptations that accrue during long road trips and successful ministries.  How many evangelists have fallen into the pits of power, sex and money?  The old adage, "What is measured gets done," is true.  If we regularly ask each other, "Did you share the good news with anyone today?" we look for ways to do so.  If we are asked, "What have you done today to show forth the glory of God?" our lives gradually take on the kind of character that God's glory shines through.  If we are honest with one another about our own struggles with whatever would turn us aside from our life of discipleship, we gain the freedom to live lives of evangelism and love beyond anything we could ask or imagine.  Non-believers start to notice God in our life, and we have more stories to share.

5. Taking People From the Harvest to Work In the Harvest.  Remember the Gerasene demoniac who was healed, had a conversation with Jesus in the cemetery, and was sent to proclaim what God did for him to his people?  Or the woman at the well who thought she was flirting with her next husband when she was told everything she'd ever done, and then brought her whole village to Jesus?  Once people have an experience of God's healing love, they need to be sent out to share it.  They don't need to wait for a class, a training, or a license.  They just need to go tell their story and see what God is going to do.  Part of the common experience of everyone involved in the missionary society, including those who are the recipients of its efforts, should be the joy and power of sharing the good news to someone, sponsoring them for baptism, and incorporating them into the Body of Christ.  This experience of evangelism will be the common thread that holds together a true missionary society, as opposed denominational background or churchmanship, political beliefs or economic class, or even language, race, family or nation.  The absence of this experience from so many churches, including the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (which is the official name of the Episcopal Church), is one of the true tragedies of our age.

When these five marks form the foundation of a missionary society, any number of structure can be built around them, and those structures will stand a much better chance of being both beautiful and successful.

This post is a participating post in the Acts8 BLOGFORCE on "What does it mean to be a 21st century Missionary Society?"
Other BLOGFORCE member posts on this topic (Link active on the Friday following this post)

The Acts8 Moment is a missionary society whose purpose is to proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.

Monday, February 17, 2014

First Who, Then What, Then How -- TREC and Networks

The Task-Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church recently put out a study paper on Episcopal Networks and requested responses.  Here is my contribution to that conversation.

I am initially disappointed by the length and difficulty in reading the study paper.  For example, I don't really understand why we need an entire treatise on sin in this document.  Certainly all of our networks, ecclesiastical and otherwise, have fallen short of the glory of God, but so much energy is taken up by going down background rabbit holes that I couldn't even bring myself to read the entire paper the first two times I looked at it.  I can't help but wonder how many interested people never found the time to wade through the document in the midst of the rest of their lives.

My more serious criticism is that the document doesn't seem to have a sense of why networks exist.  Networks exist because people want to accomplish something and they decide a network is the best way to do it.  If a centrally organized top-down network is effective, that is chosen.  If a loose spoke-less network makes sense, they go with that option.  If people need more social interaction, a model that involves cocktail parties is selected.  If people want to compare saints in a way that lets thousands cast ballots for one over another, we get a web-based Lent Madness.  No type of network is necessarily better than another or theologically privileged. A good network is one that accomplishes its goals, and a better network is one that accomplishes its goals more effectively.  TREC's four-tiered system may be an interesting description of different types networks, but their sense of hierarchy among them is not helpful.

Let me offer two examples from what the document would call Network 1.0 and 2.0 (which is a false dichotomy).  My parish Episcopal Church Women do much good, including raising thousands of dollars through rummage sales and cookie baking for important causes.  They are an entirely traditional network with no social media sites and most connections made via (probably rotary) phone lines.  But what they do is effective and works.  Conversely, a teenager in my church just raised $1,500 via Kickstarter to publish a book to help other teenagers like him write iPhone apps.  Many people in the parish got together and supported him through what is probably a network 2.5 model.  His network was also effective, even if none of the ECW members saw it.  Are there issues about viability and sustainability here?  Yes, but actually with both networks.  ECW probably can't continue all their work the way they are doing it, but other groups that connect in other ways are filling in gaps that the ECW would have done 50 years ago. At the same time, if our teenager doesn't have another book idea, his network will not have other work, no matter how cool his technology.  The goal is not to find the right Platonic form for the Episcopal network of the future.  The goal is for people who want to accomplish something to use a network that works for them.

The biggest problem in my mind for the Episcopal networks is that we have reversed the process that makes networks work, and this troubling reversal runs throughout this study paper.  To repeat what I said earlier, networks are effective when working in this order:
1. People
2. Have a goal and then
3. Create a network to effectively meet that goal

Most of our ineffective Episcopal networks fail because at this point we have:
1. Created a network (like a task force, committee, or board)
2. With a purpose determined by some third party (like General Convention or a bunch of people that first created the network 50-150 years ago but are now dead) and then
3. Find people to fill the network.

Many of our ineffective CCAB's don't function properly because we begin with a structure (including a budget), give them a mission that may or may not be anything anybody really wants (like creating more General Convention legislation and reports), and then we look for people willing to participate in the network.  Using different technology is not necessarily going to make a CCAB more effective.  Instead, what will work is allowing people to identify their goals and then have access to the networks that will help them meet those goals.  In some cases these will involve technological connections that haven't been invented yet, and in some cases someone just needs to get folks together for a long lunch.  The network depends on who is involved and what the goal is.

TREC's work could best foster effective networks in two areas.

First, TREC could work out some sort of process that allows all of our church networks to determine if they are institutionalized networks looking for people to fill them, or if they are the clear result of people trying to accomplish a specific purpose.  If a CCAB or other budgeted Episcopal network can't identify the individuals who are trying to accomplish something specific through them, and if those individuals are not involved in their work, that network is no longer functioning effectively, and no amount of restructuring is going to save it.  Identifying and eliminating these legacy networks would be a great step forward.

Second, TREC could recommend reducing the TEC budget significantly so that legacy networks are no longer supported.  This move would allow individuals who do have the vision, energy and inspiration to  to devote more of their resources to effective networks they are invested in.  Here I am not advocating another layer of funding bureaucracy, but actually taking in significantly less money so that resources can go into participatory networks directly instead of being funneled through TEC's budget.  Of course, those networks that are currently effective could also be supported directly by the people involved instead of via the TEC budget. (On a side note, most new effective networks cost much less than ineffective legacy networks).  Individuals with a passion who felt called to do important work created the effective networks in the church, whether we are talking about the 19th century missionary societies, the 20th century networks that were once effective but no longer are, or the current networks like Episcopal Cafe that don't have a church budget line item but are making a difference.

Let's keep our focus on what has always worked:  First Who, Then What, Then How. 

For another take on the TREC report, you might also want to read Crusty Old Dean's blog post.