CTA Response: “So Where do We Begin?”

Dayton left a comment in the “Rigamarole” post, and my reply grew into this:

Dayton, regarding your comments, 1) “there are no truly effective governance boards on a local level for lead pastors/superintendents/bishops, etc. We would need to overhaul the SPRC/Committee on Superintendency/Committee on Episcopacy etc. in order to really hold our leaders accountable to lead,” and 2) “we have to rethink what it is that we want our leaders to do for our organizations.”

First, the proposed stream-lined executive function would have the authority to bypass all existing structures. The Steering Committee has the same set of talking points as Bishop Palmer: the structures and rules as they exist are dysfunctional and only produce “rigamarole.” The CTA Manifesto says that “courageous, collaborative leaders are much more important than layers of intricate legislation or revamped organizational structures.” (CTA, 18)  It seems that accountability really will really be top down, and theoretically horizontal (collaborative).

Second, if the CTA’s recommended executive function is enacted, “we” won’t have to rethink anything regarding accountability, except for accountability as practiced in traditional hierarchies like corporations and the military. That is unless regional pastors will be holding one another “accountable,” in which case you can kiss frank and supportive collaboration good-bye. I don’t think so, not if the pastors in a district be required to offer up one of their own as “the low performer.” I don’t think so. It’s already been thought out, and right now there’s this menacing stick being waved in our faces, together with a possible carrot.

Frankly, the stick is all there needs to be to start with. The impending/possible changes are, by themselves, enough to “provoke us to love and good deeds.” My guess is that the Bishops and Superintendents all have short lists of one or two people they’d like to sack, who might possibly merit expedited dismissal. The sheer possibility of such unilateral actions is quite enough to get any intelligent person thinking. And just one expedited “exit” in every district, and one at the next level up, would have everyone sitting up to take notice. In the new “accountability” regime, all that is needed to justify the “human” exits is to produce the person’s stats. 

But this “trickle-down accountability” in itself offers no solution, not for the pastor whose church is at the bottom 5% or 10% of the Church Vitality scale, not for anyone. Pastors can be threatened with their jobs, but how do they hold a stick over the heads of their parishoners? Threaten to sack them? But this too has been all thought out. The threat is closure of course, but good grief.

Evangelism to stave off closure is as bad as evangelism to pay the bills.

How often have we confessed, “We have failed to be an obedient church”?

Somehow we need to move from our failure in obedience to the four factors that influence Church Vitality.  And that doesn’t have to be just a programmatic move, something to justify accepting the CTA’s commonsense four-fold “prescription,” or an attempt to induce guilt for the sake of institutional survival (although it certainly could digress to that). God help the parishoners who hear the message, “If we don’t get our numbers up the district will shut us down.”

Whatever our specific failures to be an obedient church include, the Church’s failure to provide people with the kinds of assistance and experiences they genuinely need is a sin. The four-fold CTA solution includes koinonia, nurturing, discipleship, coordination,  guidance, and a host of other Biblical, spiritual, and commonsense provisions.  The four-fold CTA solution is legitimate short-hand for legitimate expectations from any church worthy of the name.

• Effective pastoral leadership including inspirational preaching, mentoring laity, and effective management
• Multiple small groups and programs for children and youth
• A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services
• A high percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership roles

These are not magic fixes impossible for muggles, no more than anyone else’s guaranteed how-to formulas. And the technocrats* at Towers Watson and Apex know this. What pastor doesn’t want to be an inspirational preacher, able to mentor the laity, and effectively manage congregational life?  What pastor doesn’t realize the value of having multiple small groups and programs for children and youth, and culturally appropriate worship experiences? What pastor doesn’t want, at least in theory, to have a high percentage of spiritually engaged laity in leadership roles? (Yes, I know. There are some pastors don’t get it. Characterize them as you will.) 

What the CTA Manifesto does have is the potential to drive clergy to their knees, to their personal journals, to their quiet walks in the sanctuary, to their furious pacing in the office–whatever it is they do when they are in real need of spiritual illumination and insight.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

If effective ministry isn’t one form of pastoral righteousness, then I don’t know what is.

“The purposes of the human heart are deep waters,
but those who have insight draw them out.”

Our pastors have all heard the four-fold CTA prescription, or something very similar, many times. If it were easy, they’d already be doing it. There are a whole slew of genuine problems to resolve. The “difficult laypeople” are people with a history of interacting with one another, a history that includes many previous pastors and their mistakes, a history of church splits and defections. Continuing education for pastors and lay leaders alike should include books like Kenneth Swetland’s Facing Messy Stuff in the Church: Case Studies for Pastors and Congregations But we’ve all read genuinely good books. We’ve recommended good books, and had good books recommended to us. There frequently comes a point when we need to stop to ask for the help we need.  

For some of us, the prayers will sound like this:

God, forgive me, but I don’t know how to lead these people. I know my weaknesses, they are ever before me, but knowing them doesn’t help. I don’t know how to nurture my people. I don’t know how to disciple them. I don’t know how to equip them for ministry. I either micromanage or don’t manage at all. God, help me.

People have already observed that the Church (read: hierarchy) doesn’t have a solution. Not a clue. They have made a sweeping proposal for change. But there aren’t enough church consultants on the planet to take us all by the hand and give us the discipling, coaching, mentoring, and spiritual direction we need to bring us to peak performance.

I may be off here, but I wouldn’t look to your D.S. or your Bishop for your personal solutions to ministry problems. Your clergy colleagues, your husband or wife, some of your parishoners, your friends (if you have any)–that’s where I’d start. Try googling “significant conversations” and see what you come up with.

In many ways, we’re on our own. But we are not helpless. Yes, we have the resources of the Quadrilateral, but instead of restricting their use to theology, let’s use them for some practical, personal, relational problem-solving. If there is a problem that the Bible, reason, experience, the Holy Spirit, introspection, and your friends (with heaping helpings of humility and repentance) can’t solve, then I don’t know what the Bible teaches.

* Technocracy is a hypothetical form of government in which engineers, scientists, and other technical experts are in control of decision making in their respective fields.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Call to Action, Church Closures, Pastoral Ministry, Repentance, UMC, United Methodism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to CTA Response: “So Where do We Begin?”

  1. Pingback: One lay leader’s take on Call to Action | John Meunier

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