Monday, August 17, 2009

Values and Our Future

Susan,

I confirm and affirm your observations and thoughts in Policy vs Practice. The only thing that surprises me is that churches around you are only now speaking their frustration about MPTs (or maybe I just missread what you were saying).

1. You are absolutely right that the "financial crisis" of International Ministries was, to a very large degree, created by their strategy in the late 1990's to radically increase missionary placement, using the double-digit income from endowment. Sundquist saw this as a temporary strategy, believing that churches would "step up to the plate" in financial support of this expanded missionary force. That did not happen and endowment income did not keep up with the financial commitments.

2. The "missionary partnership" funding strategy goes way back to this same era (I will refer to this as MPT, even though I know there are differnces between "network," and "team"). I am not sure which came first. But I do remember that the old World Mission Support Council (WMSC) approved "targeted giving" in 1999. This was a special funding category that MPT would be using. The special category was necessary because the strategy was in clear violation of the Common Budget Covenant. It was also approved as a temporary, two-year experiment. I voted against it; the Region I serve rejected it. Despite its experimental status, it was later codified in the new Common Budget Covenant without any evaluation of its success or impact.

3. It is hard to establish cause-and-effect, But there is a correlation between the appearance of the MPT strategy, the conflict over homosexuality, and the dramatic decline in United Mission giving across the denomination. Many believe that the support of missionaries was the lynchpin that held United Mission together. While UM is less important to IM and NM, it has been the dominant funding stream of regions and the General Board.

4. So far, the MPT strategy has not resulted in the dramatic increase in mission support that was anticipated in 1999. Many of us can clearly demonstrate the movement of dollars from United Mission and World Mission Offering to MPT categories. IM will argue that gifts from individuals and non-ABC sources has increased. In any case, the pattern of giving has shifted, but the net has been neglible.

5. The response to the MPT strategy in the Region I serve was overwhelmingly negative from the very beginning. Yes, there are a handful of churches (and individuals) what love it. Most do not. A few are very angry about it.

6. Until your post after the Biennial, I did not connect the frustration over MPTs with denominational reorganization. When you told me your experience, I remembered two Q&A sessions I had about reorganization leading up to Pasadena. It was evident that some in those two sessions (but not others I held) linked changes in IM funding with denominational reorganization. At the time, I thought it was just a peculiarity of those meetings. Now I wonder if the perception is more widespread.

7. Some analogous concerns were raised over National Ministries. In one meeting I held, I ran into the understanding that there was a stable of home missionaries on the payroll of NM, and people wondered what would happen to them if reorganization passed. It took me a long time to work through that. The strategy to brand denominational staff (both regional and national) as "missionaries" has not been bought by most of our constituents. They know what a "real missionary" is, and they are not likely to be persuaded differently. The realization that this was not the case was clearly a deep disappointment to many in the meeting.

8. Yes, there are "value" issues all through this. There are competing values. There are different values in different regions (small "r") of the country. Values are shifting as part of the dramatic cultural shift we have been experiencing as a nation. And there are generational differences.

9. Yes, we are changing. Yes, we must change. But it seems to me that at some point we must talk about these value differences and determine if we can find a constellation of values with enough gravity to hold us together. We need to talk about the question: "What do we want to become together?" Even more fundamental is the question: "What does Christ want us to become?"

10. We do not like such discussions. We prefer to ignore or avoid them. Without those discussions and a clear presentation that our constituents can claim and say "Yes! That IS who we are!"-- we will continue to fumble about.

11. This is what I was talking about (and probably did not say well) in my first Post-Pasadena post, when I said many (not all) delegates sensed we were becoming something different and reacted negatively.

One last observation in this too long post. Our polity and tradition make it fruitless for denominational leaders (regardless of how well-intended) to attempt to brand and define who "the denomination" is and expect churches and pastors to fall in line. Only our constituents can create and live out who we are as a denomination. Despite what some may think, our polity is bent toward populism, not hierarchy. Both have their weaknesses and shadow-side, but we need to know the general direction of the wind.