Task Force Report on Reimagining Church lacks Imagination

Trec log

 

 

 

by Ken Howard

I just finished reading over the TREC Letter to the Church (9/4/14) which contains the preliminary recommendations of the Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC), which the panel will discuss formally at its TREC Churchwide Meeting on October 2 at the Washington National Cathedral.

I have to say that I was hoping for more imagination.

But my initial reaction is that, while there are some positive recommendations contained in the report, compared to its laudable goals, its results are disappointing.

The Task Force goals spoke of making The Episcopal Church’s churchwide structures more focused on enabling mission and ministry, and on making the church organization more innovative, flexible, and collaborative in the way it operates. Instead, the majority of its recommendations read as though its main objectives were to reduce costs and increase the power of the executive.

Early on, the letter speaks of a need to move from the old paradigm of bureaucracy and regulation to the new paradigm of networking, which would be all to the good if that were the current business paradigm. But the business world has moved beyond networking to a paradigm of lean and focused experimentation and extrapreneurialism (a kind of networked entrepreneurialism)..

The letter suggests four primary roles for churchwide structures: Catalyst, Connector, Capability Builder, and Convener. The Convener role seems appropriate, but the others seem somewhat problematic.  The Catalyst role seems out of place within a highly hierarchical organization like TEC, lacking the indendence to truly instigate and too engaged in heirarchy of power and control to speak truly prophetically, as truth to power. The Connector and Capability Building roles have merit, and could be made to work effectively, but only if exercised with a light hand and only if TEC would eliminate its largely dysfunctional, unproductive, and in some cases obstructive provincial structures.

Meanwhile, if one practical yet critical role that our Churchwide could play most effectively — that of Capacity Builder, leveraging our aggregate size to benefit local level dioceses and parishes by facilitating programs and services at a lower cost and denomination-specific customization — seems to have been entirely overlooked.

[Examples of where such negotiating leverage would pay off might include: (a) churchwide (or diocesan level) copyright permission costs or waivers for Church hymnals, (b) churchwide digital use agreements to use hymns to permit hymn use on iPads and other tablets, (c) churchwide reduced-price contracts with approved vendors for record keeping software, (d) churchwide reduced-price contracts with approved vendors for online giving, (e) churchwide reduced-price contracts with approved vendors for church website development, etc.]

Some of the document’s “critical path” recommendations are reasonable, or at least steps in the right direction. But some don’t go far enough, while others would seem to have to the opposite of the intended effect.  For example, the reduction of Excutive Council from 40 to 21 members is a start: it moves the body from being impossible to govern effectively to merely highly unlikely. Reducing the time allotted for General Convention without re-thinking the entire resolutions process seems likely to produce only frustration. Meanwhile, the out placing of mission and program oriented staff, while retaining only support staff, seems to have it backward. Financial, IT, Legal and Archive services are mission independent, while mission and program staffs are not.

Finally, it strikes me that the three recommended agenda items for future years amount to “kicking the can down the road.” Capacity-building around evangelism, community leadership, and non-traditional parish formation, exploring mixed models of clergy employment/leadership, exploring seminary education requirements and debt burden are issues we should be dealing with now. And on the later issue, we should be re-thinking the entire clergy formation process, from discernment to seminary to deployment.

If our church is to not just survive, but figure out how to thrive in a future yet to be fully discovered, it’s going to have to find a lot more imagination — and be a lot more daring — than this.

 

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