Monday, April 24, 2006

Where There's A Will, There's A Way

I’ve been silent long enough. Where are we now?

The April meetings of the General Executive Council left more folks than normal with some degree of hope. This is good.

The task ahead of us is formidable – finding a better way to do what Baptists need to do as a family.

The ABC-USA President has called together a meeting in late May of Board Presidents & CEOs and REMC officers. The GEC will again go to work in June and Sept. The hope is that something may be set in place in time to be presented to the Biennial in 2007. This is a big mountain to get over.

Can the ABC family become a fellowship characterized by commitment to mission, and fluidity of trust, communication, actions & responses? Can we respect our right to have differences? Where is the boundary?

Can we effectively put in place administrative structures nationally and regionally that are under positive, constant review? Can we keep our structures lean? Can we be clear about what we are doing and why?

How do we meet our mission with as few administrative players as possible? Can we create a culture that continually pushes the focus of the mission action to front line missionaries and local churches while providing appropriate systems for motivation, education, support and quality control?

It is boring to hear people bad-mouth Valley Forge. Many of the critics haven’t taken the time to really find out the phenomenal amount of work that is generated from that place by dedicated persons of faith. Are there problems there? Of course. There are problems in regions and local churches, too.

I was driving to an Association meeting yesterday, listening to a Canadian interview program on my satellite radio. The fellow was talking about self-righteousness. We expect others to meet our expectations, never realizing we are not meeting theirs. In our ABC family, we tend to think that someone else is dropping the ball, not us. The reality is we are all failing each other in some way or other.

Let me say a word about bureaucracies. Their natural tendency is to grow. This can be good or bad. But you’ve got to watch them.

But we also need to grow up and realize that it takes people to make things happen. Americans want the best government in the world but don’t want to pay for it. In ABC, it takes people God has gifted with administrative and bureaucratic skills to make things work. I believe that excellent bureaucracies make it easier to get a job done. They are the oil that makes it possible for machinery to run smoothly. Denominational organizations, mission agencies, and local churches are most effective over the long haul with really great system support.

In the ABC we have the capacity to resolve enough of our conflict so that we can move ahead. The only question is whether we have the will (and enough of the love of Jesus) to keep at the task.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

From Thomas Oden

I just finished reading Thomas Oden’s newest book: Turning Around the Mainline. Even though Oden is Methodist, and his writing can be edgy, I like him for several reasons, not the least of which is that this faith pilgrimage seems to parallel my own. It is a good read that I heartily recommend. For your consideration, I offer his opening words from Chapter Two – Discipline, Not Separation:

The major issue before the mainline churches: Will they submit to their own discipline, or will the absence of discipline finally require division? Some leading commentators like Lyle Schaller have already predicted the necessity of division.

Countering this view, confessing Christians seek to maintain the unity of the church through discipline, not through division. The confession movement is strongly committed to staying within. It is better for churches to learn to respect their own legislative processes and discipline themselves accordingly than to face the even greater problems of separation, division of property, and the anguish of divorce.

Confessing Christians seek to reform their churches, not leave them. Those who split off leave the patient in the hands of euthanasia advocates, the Kevorkians of dying modernity. The Holy Spirit will not bless willful unnecessary divisiveness.

If classic Christians self-righteously leave, they abandon the legacy, the patrimony, the bequests, the institutions, and the resources that have been many generations in the making with much tears and sweat.

Walking away turns out to have weightier moral impediments than hanging in. It seems unthinkable to abandon, without further prayers for special grace, those historic communions by which so many have been baptized. The faithful have committed themselves for generations to the support of these communions, which their classic doctrines and evangelical revivals have engendered. To allow these resources to be permanently taken over by those inimical to the faith cannot be an act of responsibility.

Those libraries, these alumnae/alumni, these endowments, and these mission boards will be abandoned only at great cost. A clean sweep seems both necessary and impossible. Hence there is a need for prayer for special grace, and for an army of prayer for the urgent reform of representational systems, wayward educational institutions, and world missions.

To flee the church is not to discipline it. No one corrects a family by leaving it. Separation does not foster discipline. Discipline is fostered by patient trust, corrective love, and willingness to live with incremental change if that is what the Spirit is allowing. Discipline seeks to mend the broken church by a change of heart.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

GEC Meeting April 2006 -- News Release

General Executive Council Delves Into Weighty Matters At Meeting

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS)—The General Executive Council (GEC) meeting of the American Baptist Churches USA took significant steps in attempting to position the mission and ministry of ABCUSA for the 21st Century. The stage for this meeting, which was held from April 5-8 in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, was set by the action of the GEC itself at its November 2005 meeting in Green Lake, Wisconsin. The GEC in its gathering acknowledged the brokenness of our relationships and need for healing.

Internationally recognized facilitator, Trish Jones, led the GEC through the process of examining the operational system of ABCUSA. Dr. Jones assisted the group in identifying four critical areas for review: structure, leadership, the representative process and relevance. These four areas represented common ground for the GEC participants.

A scheduled meeting in June will involve a brainstorming session to clarify solutions with a high level of specificity. The outcome will be distributed to a wider ABC audience for input. A September meeting will negotiate possible courses of action. This GEC meeting was imbued with a sense of hope as well as an element of urgency. Participants experienced movement and progress toward consensus, and the day and a half of discussions were held on a positive and high level without conflict or confusion.

Also leading a session of the GEC meeting was well-known consultant, Dr. David Roozen, who placed the weighty issues facing ABCUSA in a wider context. Dr. Roozen pointed out that mainline or oldline denominations as well as other denominations in the United States are all facing difficult issues regarding downsizing, diminishing financial resources, and other troubling matters between leadership and congregational life.

For the GEC, however, their meeting was touched with a God-moment as new light began to emerge from the distant horizon. A new day seems to be dawning as a new vision is birthing around the Focus Statement: American Baptist Churches are Healthy Missional Churches that Nurture Devoted Disciples of Jesus Christ who Live Their Lives in Mission and Ministry for the Healing of the World through the Love of Christ. This Statement grew out of Seek It! and the Seven Key Ministry Areas of Radical Discipleship, Healthy Missional Churches, Leadership, Church Planting, Youth, Stewardship and Mutual Faithfulness.

Rev. Dr. Leo Thorne
Assistant General Secretary, ABCUSA Director, Mission Resource Development

Dr. David A. Roozen is Professor of Religion and Society as well as Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary. His work focuses on national religious trends and organizational change.

Dr. Tricia S. Jones is Professor of Adult and Organizational Development in the Department of Psychological Studies, College of Education, Temple University. Her work focuses on: 1) negotiation and mediation theory and practice, 2) conflict competence and social and emotional learning for K-12 populations, 3) organizational conflict and dispute system design, and 4) interpersonal communication and conflict. Dr. Jones was our facilitator in the Common Budget Covenant process.