Monday, October 6, 2014

Do We Need More Participation in Churchwide Governance?

George Clifford has put up insightful reflections on the TREC report and meeting at Episcopal Cafe.  I agree with many of his points.  However, I want to address the following statement he makes about participation in diocesan, provincial and national structures: 

I'm guessing that fewer than 20,000 Episcopalians participate in diocesan, provincial, and national TEC affairs, i.e., less than one percent of TEC membership. Substantially increasing the level of participation and sense of ownership from among the 1.88 million non-involved Episcopalians requires enlisting them in meaningful and rewarding opportunities for worship and service. Current legislative and administrative agendas provide few such opportunities that most of the 1.88 million find attractive. I've not seen any report of the number of the people who participated in TREC's Churchwide meeting, but infer from the silence (always a dangerous way to draw a conclusion, no matter how tentative) that many fewer than 20,000 persons participated, either in person or via the internet.

This statement represents one way of thinking about our church structures beyond the local congregation that is prevalent in our church-wide conversation, but I think is unhelpful.  We do not need more participation in larger church structures.  We may need better representation by gifted people from across the widest spectrum of the church, but we don't need more of them participating, especially in legislative and administrative enterprises.

Our focus should be on finding the most effective way to provide the services a denominational (or diocesan) structure needs to provide for thriving congregations and mission enterprises (including social justice and evangelism efforts).  We want to free up as much of the time of our best leaders as possible to focus on their congregations and mission.  Every hour spent at a diocesan or church-wide meeting is an hour not spent on the front-line work of the church.  Certainly there is a value on being personally part of something beyond the local congregation, but for most people that should be gained through mission projects, retreats, or diocesan celebrations, and other events that people could easily invite their un-churched neighbors to be a part of (and we have too few of those). 

We need good, gifted people doing the important hard work of church governance and administration, and, as Bishop Rowe reminds us, we need both managers and leaders.  However, we don't need more of them then the minimum number necessary to get various voices heard, good ideas brought forth, wise decisions made, and the day-to-day implementation overseen.  Everyone else has other needed work to accomplish before the church can live into its calling.       

Parable of the Corn Fields

Last Sunday's Parable of the Vineyard (or Parable of the Wicked Tenants) got me thinking about how American Christianity is doing as stewards of God's vineyard.  So I adapted Jesus' parable to our current situation. (You can read the entire sermon this parable was part of here.)

A corn farmer had a farm that he leased out to tenants.  He put his Son in charge of tenant relations.  The tenants liked the Son, and they really liked the farmer’s land.  For years they produced bumper crops, and they shipped all the appropriate documentation, notarized and in triplicate, off to the farmer’s Son via Federal Express.  But their harvests were so large, they realized they didn’t have to plant all the fields to have as much produce as they needed.  So they planted less and less.  Eventually, the farm didn’t produce as much, but the tenants were happy, and they figured they could always plant more for the farmer if he needed it.  Harvests got smaller, but the tenants still took the same share.  Then one day the farmer’s Son came back for an inspection and found most of his fields overgrown with weeds while the tenants were in the barn gorging themselves on the seed corn.

What do you think will happen to these tenants?