Starfish And Spider, part 2

Continuing my interaction with the book, The Starfish and the Spider, I’d like to see what relevance their discussion of discerning the one from the other might have for the United Methodist church. The authors give these questions to ask when trying to tell spider from starfish:

  1. Is there a person in charge? The UMC as a whole has no person in charge. The General Conference, and the General Conference alone is supposed to speak for us. In the Annual Conferences, however, the bishop is in charge, in the District the Superintendent, and in the local church – to some degree – the pastor is seen as being in charge. In each of these cases the actual degree of control varies from setting to setting, partly determined by the nature and history of that setting, partly by the personality and style of the leader. My guess is that more of us like being in charge than ought to, partly because we think something along the lines of “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” We’re take charge kinds of people.

  2. Are there headquarters? Each Conference has a headquarters (at least in my experience), and we have various Boards and Agencies that in some ways serve as headquarters for the church. Personally, I feel a gap between Nashville and New York on the one hand, and the local church on the other.

  3. If you thump it on the head, will it die?The UMC is not vulnerable to thumping on the head – though it may well have been at some point in Wesley’s day (in the UK) or in Asbury’s day (in the USA). I don’t think our death is coming from the top.

  4. Is there a clear division of roles? We have a nearly absolute differentiation between clergy and laity. We have begun to speak in terms of spiritual gifts, but whether that will overcome our strict dichotomy, I don’t know. I have often heard people ask someone whether they have the proper authority to do what they are doing (or proposing to do). This sounds like a spider concern to me.

  5. If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed? We have enough units (at this stage) that taking out one won’t harm the organization. We’re in decline, but losing units (churches/members) seems to still be more of an effect than a cause.

  6. Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed? We try to concentrate knowledge in our Seminaries, Boards and Agencies, and power in those Boards, Agencies, and key leaders. We need to do better at giving them away.

  7. Is the organization flexible or rigid? We’ve started talking about being flexible, but it’s hard to make the shift. Our Book of Discipline still reads like a mid-20th century bureaucratic manual.

  8. Can you count the employees or participants? We act (mistakenly, I believe) like counting all the employees/participants is a good thing.

  9. Are working groups funded by the organization or are they self-funded? Funding varies from level to level. Most Boards and Agencies are funded by the organization. Each local church is self-funding. Because of tax laws sub-organizations in the local church often are pressed to be centrally funded.

  10. Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries? In my (limited) experience most groups communicate through intermediaries. In the current Texas Annual Conference structure, we have so many new groups, and are pushing to do things in new ways, that we don’t know what we’re doing. The downside of that – from what I’ve seen – is that it means we just keep doing what we’ve always done, though with new names and titles pasted on.

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