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.

Glacier View Day 1

Yesterday, some 45 people were present for the Adventist church's official response to Ron Gladden's Mission Catalyst Network. Those present included Don Schneider, North American Division president; Dennis Carlson, Mid-America Union president (and the ring-leader for forcing Ron out of his job as Church Planting Director); various other Mid-America Union and North Pacific Union officials (although Jere Patzer was conspicuously absent); conference officials from many of the conferences involved; and church planters from both unions.

The day started out with worship, several prayers, tone-setting remarks by Jim Brauer (conference president of the Rocky Mountain Conference), public prayer requests, and group prayer time (lasting about 10 minutes).

Next, Don Schneider got up and told us how he doesn't know anything about church planting. He actually said that. In a corportation, real leaders and CEOs will spend a tremendous amount of time being briefed and brought up to speed on the issues, history, methods, realities, threats, opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses of any group they will be meeting with. This kind of preparation and confidence was sorely lacking. But I have seen this before in Don Schneider. Several years ago, when he was giving a speech at Sprout, he got up and started out by saying, "I really don't know anything about church planting or what you all do." I was dumb-struck then and I'm dumb-struck now.

Much was said about Ron Gladden, but Don Schneider was not really the man to blame about how the church treated him. Today, when Dennis Carlson is in charge of the discussion, perhaps we will see the blame for Ron's carcass laid squarely at his feet.

Don Schneider's demeanor disturbed me. He claimed that he wanted to be open and honest. He claimed that everything was on the table for discussion and change. He claimed there was only one sacred cow, the retirement package, since we have promised that to pastors (and, no doubt, since he himself is nearing retirement age). But then he went on in rants and stories, showing clearly that other things - campmeetings, academies, religious liberty, world tithe distribution, Unions, colleges, youth camps - were sacred cows as well. In effect, a whole herd of sacred cows by the end of the session.

Any time an idea was brought up on how the church could change (or a tough question was asked), Don would launch into a long, drawn-out story, effectively shutting off communication and derailing the discussion. He seemed angry, defensive, and clueless.

After supper, the church planters met together, and the administrators separated off. Suddenly, the tone of the room changed. In the planter room, ideas were free-flowing. There was a sense that we could safely talk, now. We came up with 22 different brain-storming suggestions in 5 different areas about how the church should engage church planting. The first of those 5 areas was getting a clear mission and vision statement from Don. We, as planters, realize that the mission and vision define everything else. When you have a clear vision of where an organization is going, you know what to say yes to, and what to say no to.

When Don and the Administrators returned, Don was asked about his mission and vision for the church. He hemmed and hawed and finally came up with a mission statement: "love Jesus and tell your neighbor." That's right, friends, that's as far as the mission of the NAD goes (any Baptist could give you that mission). When asked about his vision for the church, what the mission looks like practically over time, he was confused. It is obvious he hasn't ever thought about what the future direction of the church should look like. Again, he hemmed and hawed, and said that it really wasn't his job to come up with a vision for the NAD. Finally, he talked himself into one: "everyone in North America receive one invitation within the next 5 years." Later on, when pinned down on this vision statement, he backed away (apparently afraid he might be quoted).

Over the rest of the evening, Don showed how none of anything was really his job. He couldn't make decisions or sell vision. It wasn't his job. He didn't have any clear direction for North America. It wasn't his job.

I was deeply disturbed by the smoke-screen that was Glacier View day 1. But the real thing that disturbed me? No vision. The Bible tells us that where there is no vision, the people perish. If I don't know where the church is going or how they plan to get there, why would I want to be a part? I believe it is this kind of lack of leadership that causes (yes, CAUSES) congregationalism. All the mission and vision and strategic planning is in the local church, if it exists at all.

Overall, I was saddened.