I'm presently serving as chair of the Genearal Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church, (USA). We had the first meeting of my term earlier this month but I was unable to attend due to my Mother's illness and passing. So instead, I did a written report to lay out my vision for the board over the next two years. It was read to the board Oct. 7. Several folks have asked for a copy. You can find it here in pdf as a GAMC information item but I'm also including the full text below.
General Assembly Mission Council
Mike Kruse, Chair - Report
Hello friends. As you likely know by now, I will not be with you for this meeting. Family matters have emerged that prevent my attendance. Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement.
Though I can’t be present in person, I wanted to share with you a vision for our next two years. You might call it the “Make Sense” initiative. What does that mean? Let me give some background.
The GAMC has been subject to a cycle of restructuring and reductions in force for more than twenty years. These actions have been necessary but they alone cannot give as sustainable vibrant GAMC. The world has changed and continues to change at an accelerating rate. We need to make better sense of our mission context and our ministry if we are to do sustainable ministry. But how do we go about making better sense? I believe a key to answering that question is better understanding of our role as board members of the GAMC.
A few months ago, I asked GAMC members who attended the new member orientation two years ago what improvements we might make. The most common response was a need for clarity on the role of board member. There is confusion. As I’ve listened and reflected on feedback, I think we are struggling with confusion between volunteerism and governance.
For many of us, the session or the presbytery is the only board experience we have had. How did we come into these leadership roles? We were active in the life of our local congregation or presbytery. We taught Sunday School, led mission teams, helped manage finances or contributed in host of other ways. We were devoted volunteers. Each of us participate in our congregations on a weekly basis, we see how the programs work, and we know the people doing the work. Volunteerism (participation in the programmatic work) and governance (setting policies, verifying performance, and setting overarching objective) are rolled into one.
But when we come to the GAMC there are more than one hundred programs, more than 500 staff (including mission workers), and a budget of $82 million. We don’t have an ongoing intimate knowledge of the programming. We don’t know the staff that well. Our experience is one of dropping into Louisville two or three times a year for meetings. There is no way we can have the relationship to the GAMC that we’ve had with our congregation or presbytery. Our inclination is to volunteer by “helping” to manage staff and programming. Yet we are cautioned from doing this. So what is our role?
Over the past two years, the executive committee has been reflecting on a book called Governance as Leadership by Chait, Ryan and Taylor. They define governance in terms of three responsibilities: Fiduciary, Strategic, and Generative.
Fiduciary governance is asking the question “What’s wrong?” Legal documents are reviewed, budgets are scrutinized, and compliance with policies is measured in pursuit of identifying problems. It is focused inward on the operations of the organization. It is vital work. But as important as this work is, it can be a bit like being a police officer who signed up to protect and serve, but finds herself parked by a highway causing drivers to be more attentive to their driving by her presence. It may be effective and important but it is hardly inspiring. Sometimes we may feel that way about our own role.
Strategic governance is about asking “What’s the plan?” A problem has been identified … or maybe an opportunity emerges. How will we address it? Strategic work involves looking outward to see how our organization can best interact with the world. For boards, this usually means setting a strategic direction at the broadest level. But board members are generalists. Strategy specifics are usually beyond our scope. So when we move from high level strategy our role becomes one of ensuring staff has a strategy that answers the “What’s the plan?” question.
These two modes of governance have dominated the work we have done in my six years of service on the GAMC. Is this all there is to being a member of the GAMC board? I don’t think so. We are missing a generative component.
Generative governance is asking “What’s the question?” We want to know if we are asking the right questions. Is our perspective broad enough? Have we correctly understood the environment we are living in and how that shapes our options? Generative governance is about framing problems in ways that enable us to make effective strategic decisions. It is about “making sense” of our context and our work.
Generative governance is also the work where we board members have a unique advantage. We have the bird’s eye view of the GAMC. We are not caught up in the day-to-day details of operations. We also have the perspective of our own congregations and presbyteries where we live and serve. Jointly we provide a unique resource to the GAMC in that we are able to see connections, or the lack thereof, between the work of the GAMC and our local contexts.
All three types of governance are essential and it is not as if we can neatly divide our work into three discrete categories. But it is possible to develop a culture that focuses on some types of governance to the neglect of others. And frankly, that is what we’ve been doing. We’ve been neglecting the generative work that we are so uniquely qualified to offer. It no longer makes sense for us not to be making sense of the GAMC’s work.
So the Executive Committee proposes that we become more of a “sense-making” body. The Executive Committee is exploring ways to transform our culture. We are taking some first steps with this meeting. You are meeting with our Middle Governing Body friends. You will hear a report on the Congregational Life Survey. We are encouraging committees to take specific time to focus on generative topics and identify topics the whole Council might engage. Friday morning, committees will be teeing up some of these topics. Friday afternoon we will have a variety of generative discussions you can pick from that have emerged from these prior discussions. More details on that later. What we want to emphasize is that the executive committee has decided to devote a minimum of 50% of our meeting time to focused on sense-making work.
But as I noted above, sense-making, or generative work, is not a discrete task. Rather, it is a frame of mind that needs to permeate all we do. We’ve copied two charts from “Leadership as Governance” for you that frame the differences in the three types of governance. I hope you will occasionally take a peek at these charts as you proceed through your work and reflect on the nature of the business you’re doing. What would it mean to put on a generative “sense-making” lens for the item of business you are considering?
I will also tell you that we want to create more of a retreat-like atmosphere for our meetings … possibly holding some GAMC meetings at retreat centers. We are looking for ways … possibly through the use of social media … to foster ongoing sense-making conversations between formal GAMC meetings. We also expect to incorporate more time for prayer in our work. We welcome your thoughts and ideas as well.
We’ve identified some important foci for GAMC. We need to be about inspiring, equipping, and connecting. We know some strategic actions we need to take. But if you’re looking for master plan that transforms the GAMC, neither the Executive Committee nor I have such a plan. Sorry. Maybe you’ve heard of the Jabez prayer? Well I’m more inclined toward the Jehoshaphat prayer. Jehoshaphat is about to be attacked by armies much larger than his. He calls the people to fasting and they meet in a large assembly. He offers a prayer on behalf of the people and concludes with these words, “Lord we do not know what do, but our eyes are upon you.”
So maybe if there is a theme verse for the next two years it is the Jehoshaphat Prayer, and our mission is to truly put our eyes on God as we seek to make sense of the mission to which he has called us. There are already many good things happening at the GAMC but I sense that if we are more willing to devote ourselves to seeking God’s Spirit, we will find there are opportunities before us we cannot yet imagine. And I hope that makes sense.
Grace and Peace,
Chair, General Assembly Mission Council