CTA says Rule Suspension is “A Key Responsibility of Leaders”

One of the most remarkable features of the United Methodist “Call to Action” report is its requirement for suspending the rules. Rule suspension is not described as a regrettable but necessary option, but as a “key responsibility.” While it is mentioned specifically only once, the surrounding verbiage clearly places rule suspension as the unspoken background of much of the CTA/Apex report.

Note the broad, undefined circumstances and purposes for rule suspension.  Any of the following rationales may be invoked by the church’s “courageous, collaborative leaders” to justify their key responsibility for rule suspension.

  • Mission Effectiveness
  • Connectional Spirit
  • Affordability
  • Relevancy
  • Innovation
  • Continuous Renewal
  • Viability
  • Test and Assess the Efficacy of New, Worthy Ideas
  • Observable Ministry Outcomes
  • Bountiful Ministry Outcomes
  • Sustainable Ministry Outcomes

The clearest statement appears on page 21 of the first CTA PDF file: “A key responsibility of leaders is to suspend rules in order to test and assess the efficacy of new, worthy ideas.”

Vitality will take multiple forms in light of varying circumstances. Since rule-bound structures inhibit innovation, continuous renewal, and viability, a key responsibility of leaders is to suspend rules in order to test and assess the efficacy of new, worthy ideas. (p 21, emphasis added) 

The 2012 UMC General Conference will vote on legislation to give the new “General Church executive function” authority to bypass, ignore, and suspend the rules put in place by the General and Annual Conferences. Since rule suspension is “a key responsibility of leaders,” a Bishop, District Superintendent, pastor. or any other functionary can and, according to the Doctrine of Accountability, will be held accountable if they fail to implement any policy or achieve any target goal established by their “courageous, collaborative leaders,” despite any misplaced regard for the Book of Discipline or the Book of Resolutions.

Until the Call to Action is fully implemented, courageous and collaborative leaders are called upon to make changes toward measureable and quantifiable priorities that do not require legislative action.

 To carry out its mission, The United Methodist Church must . . .  Clarify the who, what, and when for leadership activities and responsibilities that do NOT require legislative action and call for that work to begin in earnest now. (p. 29)

The leaders whose input determined the final result of the Apex section of the Call to Action have a disdainful attitude toward the democratic process of UMC rule-making. This disdain is apparent in the following passage:

We need passionate and focused leaders who will name the truth of the current situation and lead us toward bold and achievable goals consistent with our calling. We yearn for leaders who take responsibility and deliver observable, bountiful, and sustainable ministry outcomes. Courageous, collaborative leaders are much more important than layers of intricate legislation or revamped organizational structures. (p 18, emphasis added) 

In the Call to Action, any time mention is made of rules, impatience in the face of rules, or the fact that the UMC is “rule bound,” the key leadership responsibility of rule suspension is in view.  Rule suspension is in view in from discussions of the alleged structural “mismatch of form and function,” to the lack of a “leadership culture.”

“Management through legislation — increasingly rigid and rule bound culture during time of transition” is cited as a key problem.  The “mismatch of form and function of legislative and operating entities with their respective governance structures is a ‘blocking factor’ in achieving greater organizational effectiveness.” (p 141)

In other words, too much democratic discussion and voting interfere with efficiency.

The Church’s rule bound and prescriptive culture was often cited as a root cause for lack of “leadership culture” i.e. risk taking, ability to make mistakes, innovation. (p 36)

Our finding is that the Church’s reliance on management through legislation is leading to an increasingly rigid and rule bound culture during a period of time when the Church is attempting to adapt to a changing environment and accomplish the transitioning of its generation bound structure from the older to the younger generations. In the lexicon of the Operations Assessment Project, this phenomenon is a major “blocking force” which is not only frustrating the Church’s overall mission effectiveness, connectional spirit and affordability, but also its relevancy. (p 170)

“Culture of courageous leadership versus rule bound, prescriptive culture” is described under the rubric of “Leadership”. (p 138)

The discussion of the “Church’s overall mission effectiveness, connectional spirit and affordability, but also its relevancy” is fraught with political implications. Suffice it to say that the Call to Action will, if implemented, allow its crafters to wield Alexander’s imperial sword with no input from the Phrygians.

It is no accident that the proposed rule suspension has many possible justifications. In the event of the “double dip recession” economists fear, speedy action may indeed be necessary. Reasons for church closures, clergy and staff layoffs, and agency eliminations will need to be flexible enough to sell to a variety of constituencies.

It is essential to remember, however, that the financial crisis we may face is only the “opportunity,” or excuse, to change the “mission/values/culture” of the United Methodist Church (p 149) by means of executive fiat instead of the democratic “rigamarole” referred to so dismissively by Bishop Palmer.

Any time rules are discussed, rule suspension is in the background. Any time leadership is discussed, rule suspension is in the background. Any time structure is mentioned, rule suspension is crouching at the door. Any time accountability is extolled, rule suspension is lurking. Any time distance or relevancy is mentioned (code words focused on “liberalism”), rule suspension is in the background. Any time sustainability, affordability, or viability are mentioned, rule suspension is imminent.

Because the justifications for rule suspension are so deliberately broad and vague, the scope for unilateral executive decision-making is vast. It could conceivably range from a pastor’s circumvention of the Board of Trustees, the decision of a D.S. to close a well-propertied church, a Bishop’s arbitrary refusal to allow certain motions to reach the floor at conference, to the COB’s cancellation of a seminary’s affiliation with the UMC.

What? Impossible? Against the rules?

That’s the idea.

Let’s make this easy. What would your superiors like to see happen? What are you unable to do right now because rules are in the way? What would you be able to do if it weren’t for the rules?

Or, what would other people do to you if it weren’t for the rules?

And the Call to Action cites the UMC’s lack of trust as a problem (pp 7, 11, 25).

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.
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1 Response to CTA says Rule Suspension is “A Key Responsibility of Leaders”

  1. John E. Harnish says:

    I am really confounded by a proposal that assumes giving the Bishops more power and authority will somehow create revival. What organization in the world is moving to a “top-down” system rather than away from it?


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