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Jan 26, 2006


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will spotts

Thank you very much for this and previous posts that provide insight into the (often mysterious) workings and rationales of the GAC.

Much of the information you have provided is very positive. I believe many Presbyterians share a desire for a more efficient and responsive Presbyterian apparatus. That this desire is also expressed by the GAC seems to be a positive sign.

That said, a couple of questions remain.

The issue of trust assumes a certain prominence -- whether rightly or wrongly a lot of people have become accustomed to a culture of mistrust that may be unfair, but is a product of experience. What in this plan (or what other discussion or provision) encourages greater oversight of the activities of the national organization? Presbyterians historically, buying into the total depravity idea, attempted to create a self-limiting structure that has long since eroded. A "sleeker", more efficient unaccountable apparatus would not really be an improvement in this area. Especially since the smaller GAC claims to represent all Presbyterians by representing Christ, I'm wondering what explicit mechanisms are being suggested to insure this is the case and limit the range of GAC (and staff) activities?

A second area that I'd like to see more fleshed out is the ecumenical emphasis. If by ecumenical you mean cooperation with other religious organizations on areas where common goals and priorities are held, then I can buy this. If, however, by ecumenical you mean organizational relationships in which the bureaucracies of different religious bodies together make common goals and priorities and then try to advance them with their own constituencies, then I find this very unethical. (I mention this because it has happened in the past -- for example, our common Middle East policy was partly born out of our uncritical participation with ecumenical partners -- many of whose public statements and assertions of fact were insanely biased.)

A third issue is the emphasis on speaking prophetically to the church, nation, and world. Many Presbyterians (myself included) are very out of step with most of the political stances that seem self-evident to the higher governing bodies. A large number of these are disputes about process rather than desirable product -- as you're well aware. In some cases there is a very real dispute about desirable product. The church organizations political stances often claim to represent the church -- or by using the term prophetic, the voice of the Lord. When such stands appear either factually or morally wrong to members this increases distrust. Personally, I'd like to see a "less is more" approach so that the church does not lose its credibility by claiming policy expertise it in fact lacks. Is there any thought to limiting the range of such stands -- especially those that are enjoined on the intiative of the GAC, staff, or committees?

Michael Kruse

Will, the Mission Work Plan is actually only one of four task forces. Our mission was to come up with a plan for determining and prioritizing mission. There is also the Governance task force, Mission Funding task force, and the Performance Excellence work group. I have seen and read the Governance final report but not the other two (although I know generally what they are proposing.) These four reports will have an impact to varying degrees but I think there are least three themes that are running through all of them.

Focused Accountability – If the GAC establishes clear objectives and outcomes, then we GREATLY increase the clarity of operations. We must not only ask is something important. We must ask is the GAC the optimum level of the structure for accomplishing an outcome and is there some other entity we should partner with who is already doing what we desire to do.

As it stands now there are no criteria for evaluating whether any one program is more critical than another. This leads to free-for-all fight between competing interests over which programs to keep or end. The factions often find themselves emerging within the GAC elected as well. Some programs that are useful and valued by some are going to have to end! Because we don’t like them or the people running them aren’t doing a good enough job? No. We simply do not have the resources to everything and therefore most do only those things that will bring the greatest benefit (not just a benefit) the denomination.

By focusing on outcomes, the mindset shifts from the protection and advocacy of programs to accomplishment of outcomes. The GAC needs to focus less on what stuff does and more on what result staff achieves. In one sense this gives staff greater room for flexibility and creativity. In another sense it constrains their work to only those activities that contribute to the outcomes. The debate at GAC moves from a turf war over the functioning and protection of programs to a debate about what result do we want and is it happening.

While not explicitly stated in any of this I believe it will move us toward another healthy aspect. My position is that the GAC should be interacting primarily with the Executive Director. Furthermore the Executive Director is the one the GAC needs to hold accountable for the outcomes. Having individual staff answer ultimately to the Executive Director AND to GAC elected members creates chaos and diminishes accountability. I think the changes that are being made will edge us more in that direction but it has not been stated as a specific strategy.

Also, as to accountability, the Governance task force is recommending that one of the GAC meetings every two years should be a joint meeting with Presbytery and Synod executives. The desire is know better the mind of the middle-governing bodies on issues confronting the church and learning how the GAC can be of service. I think this a good step toward keeping the GAC rooted in the regional functioning of the church.

The proposed council structure intentionally includes commissioners from each of the three previous GAs, current and past GA moderators, synod and presbytery execs, with half the council being from presbyteries. This also should help keep the GAC in better contact with the function of the denomination at all levels.

You wrote, “A second area that I'd like to see more fleshed out is the ecumenical emphasis.” That leads to my second theme.

Partnership – The honest truth is I can’t tell you how that plays out. We are in partnership with national churches across the planet. We are in partnership with a variety of groups in the US some of which are controversial. It would be foolish to duplicate structures that already accomplish our outcomes when we get the same results by working with partners. So which partners and under which circumstances? Again I would ask what are our objectives and outcomes. What partnerships we develop should be ultimately grounded in those questions.

I don’t know which partnerships you may have in mind but at the risk of being a broken record I want remind us that the GA often establishes partnerships that GAC has the obligation to create. Some partnerships are initiated by the GAC to accomplish certain ends. I just want to remind folks that the GAC is the implementation and oversight arm of the GA.

You also “A third issue is the emphasis on speaking prophetically to the church, nation, and world.” I agree that “speaking prophetically” is an abused concept. Nevertheless, I do believe there are ways in which the Church does so. It does so through the witness of individual Presbyterians in daily living. It does so its witness as a congregational communities. It can do so with a unified denominational voice. The question must be about how we can best be truly prophetic within our mission context. Educating and equipping people to promote kingdom values in their local contexts? Supporting a national lobbying office? Those are the issues that have to be wrestled with on a case by case basis balanced against competing ministry chasing limited dollars.

Transparency – The objectives and outcomes model is one piece to having a transparent denomination. When people can understand outcomes and how they came to be, they will be more inclined to accept the discernment of the community, even though they may still have differing priorities. I believe the process makes lines of accountability clearer and the decision-making function simpler, enabling people to better see and understand what is happening.

Transparency is also another reason why I am so adamant open meeting policies. Closed meetings, even when done for very good reasons, demolish transparency and breed suspicion. People need to be able to see their leaders in disagreement and understand how they come to resolution. It is often uncomfortable and can lead to various interest groups using such debates to advance agendas. Tough! Leadership is about doing the right things even when it is unpopular and people misrepresent you.

I have gone way too long here but these are some of the thoughts I would offer in response to your question.

Michael Kruse

I wanted to add that if others are out there that want to make comments about the MWP or other GAC proposed changes I would love to hear from you. I plan to at least summarize what I am learning from you all to fellow MWP team members at the end of next week. Don't be bashful about telling me what you like and don't like.

will spotts

"I have gone way too long here but these are some of the thoughts I would offer in response to your question." Thanks for the response -- it was not too long.

My argument with "speaking prophetically" is purely linguistic. (I'm sure, for example, Pat Robertson believes he is speaking prophetically . . . ) I fully understand the need for the church to speak to the larger culture. What is for me problematic are those occassions when the church speaks (ostensibly "prophetically") and is either factually wrong or goes against my understanding of Scripture. Admittedly this is my understanding, but the claim of prophecy is a bit hard to take.

I believe most of what you describe here will be beneficial. I am still a little nervous about the role of middle governing body executives as the connection point between national organization and individual congregation. While the goal of knowing better the mind of the church is laudable, this would still be an unofficial structure without procedural accountability. It can result in simply better coordination of efforts that don't reflect the members or congregations. (It is sort of analogous to the role of NGO's in UN conferrences . . . they sort of represent people, but at the same time, they don't.)

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