Reorganization Concluding Comments, August 2007
What about funding?
Funding questions lie just beneath the surface of these discussions. But it is not just a question of funding for mission and ministry, it is a question of funding for the structure that was intended “to give general oversight and direction to the life and mission of the Denomination” and “set policy in the areas of program functions, planning, coordination, and evaluation….” In other words, the funding question focuses on the governance process—the work and staff of the General Board.
An elaborate proportionately representative process with a grand vision (i.e. the General Board) has proven to be unsustainable financially. The response to this reality in the plan under discussion is to radically reduce the size (and operating costs) of governing boards. But the price we pay for this is reduced representation and less engagement. At the same time, we must compensate for this reduced representation with a more modest vision for the denomination. Those who expect that we can reduce the size and costs of representation, then go on to continue business as usual will be disappointed.
Do we really want an oversight and direction structure? What do we expect from it? What are we willing to pay for it?
There are many “what ifs” that complicate projecting operating costs. But we all understand that we must come to some clarity about this very soon. Creating a structure that we cannot support will do no good for anyone. Merely shifting costs to other ABC entities will not be acceptable either. There must be a real reduction in the costs of operating the denomination. Most of all, the organization must prove itself worthy of the financial support of churches because declining finances is merely a symptom.
What about covenant?
There seems to be a general assumption that “covenant” will continue to be the mechanism for holding the denomination together in the new organization. Questions about the Covenant of Relationships started this ball rolling in the GEC. Eventually, we must get back to those questions. That conversation will prove more difficult than the work on reorganization, because covenant gets to the root issue of who we are together. The so-called “Tucson Covenant” that GEC members made with one another was not only absolutely essential for reorganization work to continue, it will reappear when we begin talking about covenant.
Do we want to be in covenant or not? What does that mean? What do partners voluntarily surrender in order to enter in to and maintain covenant? What do partners gain by being in covenant? How do covenant partners submit to one another in covenant? Where is the meeting of “covenant partners?” How will they govern themselves, attending to and caring for covenant?
In all this, I am troubled that the organizational plan so far has been driven by denominational staff. It is not that I don’t think we are competent or qualified. I wonder about energy. The creation of the Northern Baptist Convention 100 years ago was almost entirely the result grassroots insistence. SCOR/SCODS was carefully representative of the denomination. But more recent attempts at reorganization that tried to tap into grass roots and/or representational energies failed. Now this present effort is being sustained almost entirely by denominational staff. What does that mean? Why is the engagement so low? Whence the passivity?
In conclusion (finally!), you may have the impression that I am resolutely against this plan-in-the-making and throwing every rock I can. That is not true. I have recognized the need for reorganization for 10 years. I am generally supportive of the plan as the outline is emerging. This is serious business. I take it seriously. I feel compelled to keep the churches of the Region I serve informed.
Please read this seeing that my colleagues and I are asking hard questions of one another and remembering that it is a point in time. Some of those questions don’t seem to have answers. Other answers cannot co-exist. Many “answers” come from compromise. Not political compromise between conflicting personalities, but compromises between irreconcilable expectations, values, finances and reality.
In any case, relationships need to be healed and rebuilt before any formal reorganization plan has a chance. It may pass—but that does not mean it will work.
I confess that I have not yet been given a vision by God. (But the denominational vision I had 10 years ago is gone.) If anyone else has such a vision, they are not sharing it with the rest of us. We need your prayers if there is to be any hope of creating a structure that captures the hearts and minds of American Baptists.