Bishop Huie, Rick Goodrich, and District Superintendent Jerry Neff led the 2 hour meeting in Longview yesterday. This meeting was mandated last year as a way of assessing the changed in the Conference. You can find a power point version of what they shared at the Conference website (http://www.txcumc.org) or you can get a pdf version (much smaller file) here. I turned in my sheet (which was much too small) with some of my questions and comments. Here are a few of the things I wonder about.
First, a number of pastors are still skeptical. They’ve been in the System long enough that they’ve seen big plans for change come and go. The latest was Vision 2000 which was supposed to turn us away from decline, but for most churches did nothing lasting. They figure this is just another occasion of people at the top telling the lowly peons in the churches to be quiet and do what they’re told.
While some of the leadership seems to frame it this way – last week at Elder’s retreat a response to some questions was put in those terms – I very much doubt that is what Bishop Huie intends. Unfortunately the trust level is so low in some parts of the connection that she has to work overtime to get the pastors to believe her. As for the laity, my perception is that the vast majority don’t have a clue what’s happening yet.
Following closely on the first point is the issue of discontent. In his work on leading change, John Kotter says one of the most important things leaders need to do is create discontent with the status quo. My reading of the church on the conference and the local levels is that we have plenty of discontent, but that discontent is not aligned, it’s not about the same things. Bishop Huie (and at least some clergy and lay leaders) have a primary discontent with the lack of success in winning people to Christ. The bishop’s articulation of that discontent is what makes the project so important to me. But in our churches we have many other discontents: our buildings, our programs, our staffs, our ever-rising apportionments. Here in Pittsburg we’ve done pretty well over the past few years. Attendance and giving is up. People are feeling good about what’s happening. When people are feeling good it’s harder to create discontent. “Didn’t 6 people join last Sunday? Isn’t that god enough?” Well, if we’re trying to help people come to know Jesus, it’s not enough that some saints have moved to town and joined us. That’s a good thing, but not enough.
I’ve served on a few committees in the local school district, so I’ve had many occasions to interact with teachers. Their field is also dealing with calls for increased accountability. In Texas education accountability means doing well on the TAKS. Because the TAKS is the Measure of accountability, they are finding they much teach to it. This “teaching to the test” goes as far as scripting the whole teaching process on some grade levels. And this at the same time more demands are put on teachers to be “highly qualified.” A third thought is that this looks an awful lot like what we’re seeing in the TAC. We need increased accountability. We make that happen by offering more programs and “trainings” to go to. So pastors, who are required to invest years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars getting their education to be pastors, are now treated as program-using-automata. From what I hear, this is especially true with regard to summer camp. Without including local camp coordinators in the evaluation process, the powers that be have decided that all camps will use a uniform curriculum. If we’re going to get buy in from these leaders (and we say we want more clergy leaders involved in camp) we need to find better ways to draw on their creativity, education, and experience.
At the same time, and I will stop here for now, we need to find ways to multiply the options. If the vision is, “Vibrant growing congregations changing lives and reshaping futures for Jesus Christ,” and the mission if to “make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and to the glory of God,” then surely there are multiple ways to do that. Granted we have discovered many ways of NOT doing that over the past generation. I suspect there are more theological reasons we’ve failed in our mission than our talk admits to, but our practices (and lack thereof) have also contributed to our decline. We have a wide diversity of churches in a wide diversity of settings across the conference. Surely we can develop multiple models for achieving our goals. Perhaps we can rely on something like the Open Source model used now in much software development (you can find some discussion of that phenomenon here). We shall see.
Little journeys hither and thither have for these two or three weeks taken up much of my time. You know I am a busy kind of mortal; however, I am always glad to see my old friends. Keep fighting the good fight! Remember to first do no evil, second to do nothing but good and third to continue to attend to the ordinances of God.
Making of disciples for Jesus is a most auspicious goal!
Wishing you every gospel blessing;
I remain, dear James