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General Board Redesign Steering Committee

Questions

by Christopher Bowman
(General Board Chairperson during Redesign)

Table of Contents


Twenty Questions . . . about the new design of the General Board  


1. Why has connecting with congregations become the top priority
for the use of denominational resources?      

Congregations are the building blocks of the church, the "front
line" of ministry in today's world. They are primary places for
"Continuing the work of Jesus." Many of our congregations are in need
of a renewed spiritual heartiness nurtured by pastoral and lay
leadership and bolstered by districts and the General Board.
Without strong congregations we cannot be a strong denomination.  
     

2. For a century now Brethren have enthusiastically given
themselves to global mission, be it exchange programs, overseas
church development, volunteer service, disaster response,
reconciliation teams, or Gifts of the Heart and SOS kits. Does the
new design sideline such efforts?       

To the contrary. These successful programs model the direction for
future mission efforts. A Brethren Witness unit is to address peace
and justice concerns, care of creation, and public advocacy.
Volunteer Service Ministries is to keep Brethren Volunteer Service
strong while broadening the place of volunteers throughout
denominational life. Global Mission Partnerships is to focus
international mission on the Africa and Latin America/Caribbean
regions. The latter also is to retain a strong emergency response
program with domestic and international aspects, and to extend the
refugee resettlement and material aid components.         


3. Where does the calling and training of a new generation of
pastors fit into the new mix? And support for current pastors?    

The primary responsibility for calling and training new pastors and
supporting current pastors continues with districts. In keeping
with the current five-year emphasis of Annual Conference,
collaboration on ministerial leadership de-velopment is to be
heightened among districts, Annual Conference, Bethany Theological
Seminary, and the General Board.        


4. How does the new plan address the need to grow more new
congregations?       

It does not directly. New church development is the responsibility
of districts. The consultative role the General Board has carried
in the past continues through the Congregational Life Ministry
teams. Pastoral screening and training for new church development
projects may continue to be contracted out.        


5. What theological assumptions underly the new design?       

Brethren have always espoused a relatively simple theology: We want
to continue the work of Jesus. We desire and promise to walk in
simple obedience to Christ as revealed through the New Testament
and through the revelation of the Holy Spirit.            

Underlying the new design of the General Board is the belief that
"following Jesus" cannot be done by proxy. Understanding ourselves
as one body (1 Cor. 12), the new design encourages member
participation in the deciding, the doing, and the stewardship of
ministry and mission of the General Board.        


6. Is the General Board abandoning its original calling to bring
balance and unity to denominational program?       

The General Board recognizes it is no longer the only provider of
denominational programming. Hence it envisions contributing to
balance and unity more through collaboration than direction.      


7. Granted, the era of expansiveness is over; the dollars will not
stretch to cover all the bases once dreamed of. How in the emerging
configuration will new program proposals be processed?       

At this juncture the General Board must narrow its focus. The Board
simply does not have the money to do all the good things it has
done in the past. Thankfully, God is not through with the church
yet.              

To encourage and empower new initiatives, the Mission and
Ministries Planning Council, a body made up of board, district, and
Annual Conference representatives, is to discern whether proposals
for new ministries submitted by congregations and districts are to
be recommended to the Board for imple-mentation. Congregational
ownership and financial support are essential, however, lest the
Board become overextended again.        


8. With a considerable reduction of employees, how will the General
Board be able to work from the "bottom up," as the new model has
been described?       

This will not be easy with some 50 fewer workers. In its commitment
to "equip congregations to make faithful disciples to carry on the
ministry of Jesus Christ, locally and around the world," the
General Board is determined to be present with and to respond to
the expressed needs of congregations in a concerted way.         


9. With the General Board trimming its 1998 expenses by nearly
one-third, might local churches anticipate reducing their
commitment to the General Board program proportionately?       

The General Board's 1998 budget is dependent on continued strong
congrega-tional support. With the reduction of the 1998 budget by
$1.9 million, the proportion of income dependent upon
congre-gational giving is increased. Reductions in congregational
support will directly affect the ability of the Board to carry out
its vision and ministries.        


10. Will the placement of Congregational Life Ministry teams in
three or four parts of the country save the General Board money?  
         
There is no assurance it will. The deploying of Congregational Life
Ministry teams is an effort to better interact with congregations.
If the result is the strengthening of congregations, conceiv-ably
the Board may gain added support.        


11. Are districts to be more fully integrated into the work of the
General Board than before? If so, how?       

The new design offers this potential. Districts are helping give
shape to the Congregational Life Ministry teams. They also will
have a part in the mutual discernment of the Mission and Ministries
Planning Council.        


12. What's the case for fewer General Board members, of whom
one-fourth are to be appointed and confirmed rather than elected by
Annual Conference?       

Reducing the General Board from 25 to 20 members will save money.
For the General Board to be directly involved in calling one new
member a year will enable the Board to acquire people with
particular skills -- accounting, legal counsel, and investments, as
examples, thereby strengthening the General Board's fiduciary
activity.        


13. What's to keep the General Board and Annual Conference and
other agencies from working cohesively without all this structural
change?       

On the surface, nothing. But unless procedures are stipulated for
mutual planning and working for the whole, such integrative work
tends to be overlooked. We must do everything we can to en-courage
agencies to work collaboratively and not competitively.        


14. If Annual Conference does not approve the proposed polity
changes, what happens?       

Wherever Annual Conference finds itself in the discernment and
decision-making process, the General Board will organize its
ministries to work within the polity decisions. Budget limitations,
however, preclude the Board's returning to the former level of
programming and staffing.        


15. Why does the Review and Evaluation Committee Report appear to
be at such variance with the General Board's own self-assessment in
filtering feedback from the constituency?       

The Review and Evaluation Committee of Annual Conference and the
Redesign Steering Committee of the General Board had distinct
assignments and carried out those tasks in quite different ways.
The Review and Evaluation Committee was to evaluate the work of the
General Board, which it did by surveying 724 Annual Conference
delegates, 28 percent of whom were pastors. The Redesign Steering
Committee was to analyze problems facing the General Board and
propose changes that would ensure the Board's financial future. Its
sounding board was a selected group of 200 people, 50 percent of
whom were pastors.        


16. Did the General Board seek professional counsel in shaping its
new plan of organization? What experience did the counsel bring?
What was the cost?       

John Talbot, a consultant with the Program for Management in
Voluntary Organization at Princeton Theological Seminary, was hired
in October 1995 to assist the General Board in redesigning its
structure and ministries. A Presbyterian clergyman, Talbot provided
counsel over 18 months at a cost of $41,000.             


17. So much of the planning seems vague. Why don't we hear more
concrete information about the Congregational Life Ministry teams,
the Mission and Ministries Planning Council, and the status of
programs that seem up in the air?       

The Redesign Steering Committee members saw themselves as idea
people. Their work resulted in more of a concept than a blueprint.
The details of shaping the new design were given to a Transition
Team to work out, and that task continues. Much of the work of
phasing out the previous structure and creating the new has been
assigned to the interim Leadership Team. For a while, there will be
more questions than answers.         


18. Is a nine-member management team an oxymoron?        

The new design is organized around seven core functions of the
General Board. Accordingly, seven directors, along with the
executive director and the treasurer, constitute the Leadership
Team. The role  and management style of the Leadership Team are in
process of being defined.            


19. How does the multiplicity of denominational agencies (that is,
less oversight by the General Board of such heart-beat ministries
as peace, evangelism, health, and deacons) address the need to use
the funds and energy of the church more judiciously?       

Oversight is viewed as the task of Annual Conference. Though the
General Board undertakes a wide range of ministries with
constituents, the Board lacks sufficient funds to carry on all the
demands the denomination puts upon it. The goal is for all agencies
of the church to function together for the sole purpose of building
up the body of Christ.              


20. What, in a nutshell, is the vision driving the new design?    

The dream is vital congregations and responsive denominational
staff working together in a conversational style of decision-making
and participating enthusiastically in the ongoing work of God.    
                     

June 1997

RSC