Thursday, October 21, 2004

Glacier View Day 2 (finally)

The spirit of today's meeting was completely different. We felt that the Spirit of God was truly present. Everyone felt that we broke new ground.

New ideas were nurtured that could (if taken to their final conclusion) completely transform the structure of the Adventist church in North America.

We started out with worship and prayer time. Jim Brauer got up and told us how the premise for this meeting was completely unprecedented. He pointed out that many of the planters are second career pastors and most have been in ministry for only a few years. It was completely unprecedented that we had a hearing with the number and level of administration that had shown up for the meetings. But it shows that the church takes church planting seriously and wants to go forward with it.

Dennis Carlson, who would chair the rest of the meetings, got up and spoke about his belief in church planting. He himself had planted several churches, bla, bla, bla. Then he finally got around to addressing the elephant in the room. We all wanted to know why Ron was let go. And we had all heard (from Ron) that it was Dennis' fault. Dennis talked about the two tracks that led toward Ron's dismissal.

The first track was structural and organizational. The MAUC and NPUC had been funding the Church Planting center as a joint effort. And the two organizations were unable to continue the joint effort, due to lack of funding and tapering off in planting activity (among other things). The other track was Ron's personality. It was obvious to everyone in the room that Ron would be very difficult to work with. Dennis showed that proper procedure was followed and that the personality and power conflicts had gone on for a couple of years.

What we had for the first time was open communication from the church administration. Ron had been open (perhaps a little too open) with us for years. We all realized that every issue has two sides. But we had only heard Ron's. At this point in the day, the planters took the opportunity to apologize to Dennis for believing the worst about his motives and intentions (and to chide him for lack of communication). Suddenly, the meeting took on a whole new atmosphere.

For the first time, it seemed like we were all on the same team with the same goals. At this point, an administrator said he wanted to go home with something tangible. And another administrator brought up one of the planters' brainstorming ideas from the night before. Suddenly there was energy in the room, as ideas were being bounced back and forth. What if this? And how could we that?

Here's what we came up with: The Unions (in conference with the conferences) will identify church plants that are having some kind of significant impact or growth. The Union will resource that church to develop materials and training. Then the rest of the planters in the two Unions will go and learn everything they can from those churches over a couple of days. We would do this twice per year (once in the Spring and once in the Fall, for instance). This idea goes well with the concept of the Church as a Training Center (see Christian Service, chapter 5).

If this concept were fully developed to encompass the rest of the work, the administration could flatten out over time, and our resources could be concentrated in areas where quality ministry is being done in local churches. For instance, in the past, if a pastor were successful in running a "Marriage and Family Ministry" in his local church, he might be removed from the local church and be put into the administration to run a "Marriage and Family Ministries" department somewhere. This cripples the work. Suddenly, the pastor is no longer running a good "Marriage and Family Ministry" in the local church. But he goes around telling others how to do it in their churches (even though he hasn't actually done it now for several years).

What if we recognized his excellent "Marriage and Family Ministry" in his local church and resourced it to be more effective? We could then establish it as a learning lab for new ideas related to "Marriage and Family Ministries." The local church is still making an impact on the local community. The projects are being adequately funded. People come from all over North America to learn how to do "Marriage and Family Ministries" in the local church setting. And we haven't added any new bureaucracy to the administration.

The outreach, effectiveness, and relevance of the program have been preserved.

I believe this approach will encourage local leaders to innovate and experiment with whatever it takes to be effective for the kingdom of God. They won't be slapped on the hand for trying new things. Instead, they might be recognized and resourced. This is the way the church was meant to run.