2013 16 February

Comprehensive Review Meeting #4

Posted in Steinbach United

Blog of Moderator Gary Paterson for February 14 2013…….

So, last week, another two days of Task Group meeting, working away at how to engage the challenges facing our church and eventually bring in recommendations for change. Lots of discussion, and a bunch of things I’d like to share.

First, we spent a morning with a change management consultant (who just happens to be a member of the United Church). He started off by reminding us that the only person who enjoys change is a wet baby—there will always be enormous resistance to change in every organization, and the church is no exception. (I think our founders built in huge barriers to our ever being able to change our structures—on the eighth day of church creation, once they had forged a liveable compromise among the original denominations, they established REMITS….)

The consultant suggested that we needed to do two things:

  • First: Establish the urgency for change—the threat or “burning platform” (a metaphor from a real-life incident in the North Sea oil industry—if you stay on the platform, which is in flames after an explosion, you fry; if you jump into the ocean, you have 20 minutes before you freeze; choose possible rescue instead of certain death). How to convince our church that we’ve now hit the point where we simply must change, that maintaining the status quo is certain death? We know we’re in trouble, but I’m not sure we’re convinced that we have to jump. We have had, in the past, a habit of always punting our concerns to the “next General Council.”
  • Second: Offer a compelling vision—we can do better, there is a different way of doing things—“See, it looks something like this….” We need to lead, offer a dream of far distant shores, and invite people to raise their sights. Then, and to a lesser degree, we need to manage, to point to practical management concerns, if only to indicate that we know what we’re talking about. Our essential task is the dream, the vision, but we’ve noticed that in past General Councils people appear to want all the details spelled out and nailed down. How much will be enough?

Another question: is it better to lead with the “threat” or bad news because, unless people really get the total urgency of it all, nothing will change? Or is it better to lead with vision and hope that people are inspired and see the possibilities? This sounds like a familiar conundrum (afflict the comfortable; comfort the afflicted).

I was reminded of a theory of change that I came across some years ago:

MC = FP x FV x FS

Motivation for Change = Felt Pain x Felt Vision x First Steps

If any one of the items on the right-hand side of the equation is missing—is zero—then the left-hand side, the motivation for change, is also zero. So…burning platform and vision and a plan. I know that I find it easier to jump when I have some idea of “where.”

We spent a whole morning on change management, translating business terminology like “stakeholders,” “buy-in,” and “added value” into our own language. We talked about the need for all kinds of consultation and involvement of the whole church—we are absolutely committed to listening, to building excitement and momentum, and to there being honest, clear options and choices.

Second, we spent another half-day talking about ministry leadership, recognizing that it is a key issue when we envision the church of the future. A friend talked to me recently about our being a “mixed economy” church, where future ministers will need to care for and nurture (“traditional” but changing) congregational forms of ministry and, at the same time (or will they be different leaders?), be able to explore and support new forms of community and fresh expressions of the faith. “Bi-vocational” was a word that was used.

We talked about ongoing explorations of “regional leadership,” whereby a team of two to four ministers might support a large number of congregations—10, 15, or 20—as a possible response to the many congregations that can afford only part-time ministry and the big dilemma this creates for ministers who are hoping for and needing full-time employment. (I’ve been told that in one presbytery in southern Ontario, 42 percent of the ministers are serving in part-time positions; I don’t think this is an unfamiliar situation.)

We talked about local ordination, how communities might call forth their own leadership—but if so, what kind of training and education would be needed and helpful? And how do we distinguish between ordered ministry and designated lay ministers (and we do need a new name for these folk) when we don’t hold a sacramental understanding of ministry? We talked about the need to develop individualized learning plans, recognizing that “second-career ministers” might not fit into our traditional three-year, post-B.A. seminary education, followed by an eight-month internship. But if not that…then what?

We talked about new ways of recruiting new ministers. Is that something that can happen only at the local level, or are there ways to assist at the national or Conference level? I was visiting Bay of Quinte Conference last week. They’re one of the three Conferences experimenting with the Candidacy Pathway, part of which includes shifting the discernment process to a weekend event organized by Conference rather than a year-long, six-meeting process in the congregation. They now have about 100 people expressing interest in various forms of ministry. Talk about good news! (If the link to the Candidacy Pathway report doesn’t work for you, go to http://www.gc41.ca/workbook and scroll down to “Reports 79-124.”)

We also spent a lot of time discussing how and when consultation will occur. When we are bit clearer about details, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, feel free to send in your thoughts and comments, and please keep the Task Group in your prayers.