Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Strategic Service?

Good afternoon God,
I’ve been trying to reflect theologically on matters of strategy – to be exact, I have been trying to determine the place of strategic thinking and strategic management in the life of the Church. That it has a place, I have no doubt, a chaotic Church makes nonsense out of the relationship between faith and order, it disturbs the balance between law and grace so that accountability before you and the faithful for the bountiful resources you provide for the proclamation of the Gospel becomes impossible.

But when the life of your Church is determined by adherence to strategy as the best or only proper means of achieving priorities, it is evident that there is an even greater disruption of the means of grace.
Faith and Order – both are needed – Law and Grace together enable your kingdom to flourish – but surely, God, in your Church, final authority should lie with the Spiritual leader, not with the strategic manager?

What would be the difference?

Strategy and resources belong together and it is natural for the strategic leader to mete out the resources of your church, both financial and personnel, based on a budgeting strategy which naturally includes balancing the books.
You however, repeatedly create something out of nothing, and encourage us to join with you. You take phenomenal risks for the sake of your people and the Kingdom of justice and peace. In fact – I don’t know you as anything other than the risk-taking God.
So I am concerned about the proposed ‘clarification’ of the role of the SRC (strategy and resources committee). as recommended in the Council's report

I am concerned because, whether intentional or not,  it places, at the head of our Church, a body which is, by its own description un-representative, and unelected. The changes in the standing orders do more than ‘clarify’ they change the POWER and the AUTHORITY of this small unrepresentative group, making them, in effect, the gatekeepers rather than the servants of the work of your Church. 
It gives the SRC the power to act with regard to finances, personnel and the Church's other assets such as buildings, colleges etc without necessarily firstly consulting with the Council or the Conference in each instance. (2b)

According to para (4) It will be the SRC’s interpretation of the mission strategies of the Methodist Church that will form the rationale for the Church’s budget – not Conference’s or the President’s, or the General Secretary’s. (Neither Conference nor Council need necessarily be informed of the projects etc. which have not been allocated resources because they fall outside of the SRC’s interpretation).

The largest percentage of the committee will be chosen, not for their spiritual insight or their ability to discern your vision for our Church, but for their skills and experience in the specific items of governance. That’s fine, the committee has a particular task to do. It does mean however that there is even less surety that the committee will be able to hold before it, the risky nature of the body of Christ, and the necessity of being willing, if called upon, to ‘give all that we have to the poor’ in order to follow Christ, rather than just balancing the books.

Even more distressing is the idea in (4B) that this committee will be responsible for implementing the Church’s duty of care to some ministers and deacons. The Church has a duty of ‘Pastoral Care’ not  ‘Strategic care’, and Ministers and Deacons, are in a COVENANT relationship with the Church – even if they do work for the Council or are a part of the Connexional Team. As is hinted at in the preamble to the recommendations, this is an area of some controversy – not least the perverse reluctance to allow ministers to be known by the title Rev when they work for the Connexional Team.

All of which leads me to say, I want strategy in SERVICE to the Church, not GOVERNING or LEADING the Church. Jesus did not call us to preach, baptize and make disciples of all nations according to how much money the SRC is prepared to allocate to that particular task according to its interpretation of our priorities and when balanced against the other priorities such as teaching them all that Jesus has said, or enabling them to love you God, and their neighbours as themselves.

It is worth reminding ourselves sometimes that Methodism began with nothing. That the greatest gift to Methodism’s early growth, the class system, came about because we had nothing and needed to work together to make something out of nothing!  That Methodism’s decline, like that of so many other Churches and Denominations may have more to do with the emphasis we place on balancing the books, compared to proclaiming the Word.

The SRC may be frustrated by the fact that it cannot do as much as it would like to in holding the Church to the priorities it has set itself, but the existing standing orders do necessitate the SRC serving the Church as the Church decides – not as the SRC interprets past decisions.

The existing standing orders serve us well. I agree with the need for an SRC. The proposed standing orders changes however, could make the Church a servant of the Connexional Team – rather than the other way around. In so doing it makes us all slaves to limited human strategy instead of obedient to your vision for us all.  Worse, it is unwittingly predicated on the belief that we must act, because you will not. We have to have a strategy for dealing with your absence God.  Only then can we be confident that we will continue to exist to fulfill OUR priorities. I think it’s time we remembered that we exist to serve YOUR priorities and that strategies might need to change according to YOUR will, not the budget.

After reflection therefore God, I really do think that Conference should resist the changes to these particular standing orders on the basis that they redefine rather than clarify the role of the SRC so that it lies outside of our faith and order.

1 comment:

  1. That's the problem when you get appointments filled by 'nomination' from little power cliques, and Conference never votes against them. They'll always end up giving themselves more power. The only way I can see is to start running churches by open democracy not by cliques, let people see that it works, and hope it catches on. As it will if God's in it!