There is a phrase that gets whispered, “managing the decline.” As someone once said to me at a winkel “we are a dying organization.” That was of course immediately inspiring to someone who had just left a nice career, spent a ton of money to finish seminary and was relatively new in the parish. Both of these phrases would find a home in leadership like Denethor, Steward of Gondor – poor steward that he was. Neither of those phrases have to be true. And even if a certain expression of an institution is dead, or no longer sustainable, a truly necessary institution like the church rediscovers her first love and the King returns. Not to take away the lampstand, but to secure it (Rev 2).
The purpose of this letter is to explain some of my background and experience, and to flesh out a part of the vision I am arguing for. And I am arguing for a vision, because I want to know one of two things. I would hope that I would earn your nomination and vote to implement that vision. If I do not, I would hope that you and this effort would require those you are nominating to spell out their agenda.
I have no interest in taking part in managing the decline. While there might be enough stock of churches in decline left for some to safely reach retirement, there are not enough for me, and there sure as heck are not enough for those we are supposedly recruiting into the pastorate. Rediscovering our first love and renewing our common mission requires some significant change in our hearts, and I am convinced a normal election will just produce more of the past. Our God is one who takes complaints seriously, even invites them, but those complaints must be directed at those who can do something. In this case, that is you and me. You are the people who will elect our next leadership. Expect something! And in my own case it means this, trying something different.
Once upon a time, in my life prior to ministry, I was an engineer with an MBA managing the financials of a multi-billion-dollar business. Being assigned out of seminary to a congregation that was worshipping 20 across two services might seem like a different world, but you’d be surprised at some of the continuity. And the biggest continuity is the necessity of leadership to be both truthful and attentive. Those phrases I mention above were attempts to be truthful and struggling if failing to find an answer. One answer was simply a separate peace which is a betrayal of fraternity.
The other answer was a lack of attention. In my time at this parish, we have never had more than next month’s payroll in the bank. Doing anything new meant something old had to stop. Proposing a budget was more like a covenant. Increasing numbers was a promise that they would be wisely used, because increasing numbers largely meant that those proposing and voting agreed to increase their giving. And you quickly came around to what MBA school would agree upon. If you are going to do something, fund it fully. If you are going to cut funding, cut it all, now. And make all those decisions based upon your principles and goals.
I wish that I had a full readout of everything the Eastern District has collected and spent over the past decade. Go ahead and try to find that information. Every time I’ve asked for numbers I’ve been told such things as “that is not what I do.” One thing that I can say, because it was shared at a winkel, is that we have spent over a million dollars on a campground. And that number would not include the separate money raised by the organization itself. I bring this up not to denigrate Pioneer or its ministry. I bring it up as the big example of funding something partially and letting it twist for years. Because we wanted to be nice. Because making decisions is tough. Because the mission caused a warm fuzzy. Because for some of that time we were in denial. Because we thought good times would come back, even though we didn’t have a plan. Maybe because some had a plan, but we wouldn’t commit to fully funding it. Insert your own reason. But this is what happens when leadership is not attentive. You manage a decline. Things like this are also why we are unable to accomplish anything together as all trust is squandered.
The first part of my agenda is to reestablish fraternity in the things we do together by:
1) Stopping things that are not fully funded and that are not clearly based in our shared mission.
2) Making our budget a covenant of that shared mission and making the district something you can trust
3) Being attentive in building a shared mission, in building fraternity under the Word
In my next note I will specify some investments that we need to enable that fraternity, and some shared mission that would be enabled by this.
PS: A Couple of pieces of housekeeping.
- These notes are being published at agricolae.net.
- I received a request after my first note “hey, what do you look like, include a photo.” On the about page of that website you can find a headshot of me. I’d include it here, but I’m already intruding in your inbox. I wouldn’t want to scare anyone with my mug.
- I also received a request about “how do I do this nomination thing?” You or your church office have probably received from the district a mailing by this time with the nomination procedure. Last cycle these were also on the district website, but they are not up yet. I will scan them in this week and put them up on agricolae.net with a short explainer. When they get to the district site I will also include that link.