Friday, July 24, 2009

Policy vs Practice??

Dwight,
In my last entry on this blog, I mentioned a confusion some have had about the proposed ABC structure change on one hand, and the change in the method of funding missionaries being implemented by International Ministries on the other hand. Once again, this week, I had to clarify to several people that the two are not connected.

I am encountering frustration in some instances and rage in others about the change in missionary funding. Unfortunately when people get mad at one part of the family, it tends to affect the rest of the family. I’m spending a good deal of time trying to explain.

Why does it matter so much to people?

I wonder if it is a problem of a common understanding of what is a value and what isn’t. We have had an historic practice in the ABC that overseas missionaries don't have to spend time fund-raising. For some of us that is a "value." Because it is a "value," life gets tense when someone changes it without engaging us in the decision. For others it has simply been an operational matter that gets changed when needed. This is a question of a change in policy vs a change in practice. [If fully funded overseas missionaries is not a value, it is at least what makes us unique. –And we tend to have problems when people take away our uniqueness/identity.]

The problem has arisen because The Board of International Ministries has more missionaries in the field than it can support. A few years ago a strategy was implemented to put more missionaries on the field. The decision to move to this approach was part of a larger planning process conducted by IM. The planning process took several years, involved interviews with people from across the country and around the world. The process was motivated by a desire to continue to update the way we do mission AND because nationwide, United Mission giving was dropping. The whole idea of Mission Partnership Teams was introduced and we were told they didn’t have anything to do with fundraising. Yet, everyone knew they did.

A big fundraising push got the money for the first year to put more missionaries in the field. Some of us were asking how this could be sustained. Some strategies work, some don't, and some only work partially. There was certainly some significant energy generated by the emphasis -- but not enough money. Then . . . the stock market problems of last fall. In April, Reid Truelson, Executive Director of IM, told the General Executive Council (all region execs, and heads of other ABC organizations) that IM would continue to pay a portion of missionaries’ expenses. He said that income had not grown sufficiently to continue to support the missionaries without their (the missionaries) help in the fundraising efforts. He said they had hoped to make the transition much more gradually to missionary-help-with-fundraising. He said declining church giving, the economic crunch and increased costs had made them move the date to Sept. of this year. There is not enough money coming in to support the number of missionaries on the field.

The problem for many is that in some places this strategy is not raising new money but diverting funds from other purposes. And so, money is taken from the local church, the region, home mission, and ABC general ministry. It feels like we are engaged in a win-lose game instead of a win-win partnership.

Another "value" is that ABC historically has been committed to doing what Jesus told us to do and that getting the job done is more important that who does it. We have not been "personality" driven although we have certainly loved our missionaries. If we discover than in Borneo we can win more souls by supporting a locally driven effort, rather than placing or keeping American missionaries there, that's the way we've gone. The current emphasis seems to be strongly personality based. And it seems to be popular. Some churches are much more passionate about “their” missionaries than about the mission.

Another characteristic of ABC overseas mission work has been that missionaries had excellent training and supervision. The perception is that we do an excellent job of quality control. When missionaries need help, often their supervisors see it first and take action. I hope this is still true. I keep hearing stories to the contrary.

These are challenging days. Is there a way we can address the policy vs practice issue. Might that help us help our constituencies to understand changes? How do we constructively engage a discussion?

A pastor asked me this week if the denomination understood how frustrated churches are about this, would it change. Well, I don’t know how many are frustrated. Certainly the calls I’m getting indicate frustration. But I’m sure others are probably happy. I’ve heard that missionaries have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to raise funds.

How do we help the part of our family in great pain over what is happening?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Restructure

Dwight,

Well, we’re back to blogging. I agree with your comments. The Biennial was very, very good. I heard much positive response and almost nothing negative. Congratulations to all who worked on it.

In terms of the failure of the proposed restructuring of the denomination, I begin with your conclusion . . . from the bus stop outside the hotel . . . Don’t give up! I agree with General Secretary Roy Medley that this must not be the only thing we do for the next two years. I agree with Associate General Secretary Jeff Woods who wrote, “I caution us, however, to think that we only need to “sway” 18 people to get an affirmative vote next time; for this particular group of delegates will never assemble again. As we present a revised proposal, we will need to think of this as a newly assembled group and communicate with them accordingly.”

The General Secretary reports “the proposed amendments to the bylaws failed by a small margin to gain the 2/3 approval required for adoption (377-for; 217-against; 20-abstentions = 63.4%).”

A group of us sat down in a hotel lobby that Saturday night in Pasadena and tried to unpack what happened. I value these kinds of “de-briefings” because they are often progressive. As we talked, new thoughts emerged. Our original thoughts began to be informed by further thought and – by the end – I felt we all had a deeper understanding. . . and certainly a different perspective on what should come next. You, Dwight, might say we just had more informed confusion! At any rate, I value group-think at a time like that.

I believe there were many reasons the proposal failed.

  • Delegates needed a summary in their packets. You are right, Dwight, the internet is not enough. And we probably should have done better with the presentation and process of discussion.
  • There was confusion – and plenty of it to go around. At one point I thought you were going to try to “table” the motion so I asked a question that I hoped would satisfy you and help the proposal go through. The answer helped me but it was a question that only made sense for those of us that had been waist deep in this process for several years. It only confused others.
  • The use of “uncoupling” language raised huge red flags for some. There is still fear of the program boards moving away from the ABC. I believe the program boards have been working hard to make the adjustments necessary. This has to be frustrating to them (as well as to the rest of us).
  • We wanted this to be mission driven but at some time we needed to make it much more clear that WE CAN'T AFFORD THE CURRENT STRUCTURE.
  • UNEXPECTED reaction. Some folks are confused/concerned/angry about the shift in philosophy of mission in International Ministries and somehow connected the change in IM with the proposed ABC structure. I had to contend with this in my region prior to the Biennial and I heard it from others while at the Biennial.
    [The IM philosophy of mission and the ABC Structure proposal are not related.]

    We have some work to do and we’ll get it done. Don’t give up!

Susan



Correction

As I said in my previous post, I was not present for the last business session. Unfortunately, I was confused about some of the second-hand information I received. The vote to reduce the General Board numbers was NOT in response to the defeated reorganization proposal. It was something already in the works. I apologize for the mistake.