Thursday, June 21, 2012

Abandon All Hope?

Abandon All Hope?

“The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow. It is to decide what to abandon. In order to grow, a business must have a systematic policy to get rid of the outgrown, the obsolete, the unproductive.”

So stated the world's leading business guru Peter Drucker over forty years ago.  His “principle of abandonment” was central to his teaching, and has been incorporated by virtually every American corporation and business writer since then. According to Mr. Drucker, institutions must constantly examine their structures and methods to determine what is productive and what is not. If it is not working, get rid of it. Growth will never take place as long as time and energy are spent supporting people, programs, and products that do not produce. Before management can decide what needs to be done differently, they must first “clear the decks” of anything from the past that may restrict innovation. We can honor the past without letting it set the agenda. For an institution to move forward, it can never look back. In Drucker’s words, “Abandon all but tomorrow.”

Drucker’s words are wise council for us in the church as we face our task of “restructuring,” which will begin in just two weeks at our General Convention.  My fear is that rather than follow Drucker’s tried-and-true strategy of purposeful abandonment of structures that do little or nothing to further our goal of spreading the Good News (aptly defined in the “Five Marks of Mission” that we adopted and then largely ignored), we will instead settle for an ongoing tinkering process, referring our problems to various committees, which in many cases helped create the mess we are in.  If we are to truly restructure, then we must first be prepared to jettison everything, and I mean everything, that holds us back.  To that end, I offer my own “abandonment list.”  I admit that this is not a good word for us Episcopalians. We think of abandonment as a negative word, as in child abandonment, abandonment by God, abandonment of communion, the opposite of the concepts of covenant and commitment we are more comfortable with. But if we think of the word in its original sense, not as desertion or forsaking but as a “release from bonds” (what the world literally means) then we can understand abandonment as a pathway to the kind of creative freedom Drucker is talking about. I don’t mean this to be an extended snark. I have great regard for those involved in the day-to-day operation of the church, and I include myself among those who have spent a lot of time trying to shore up structures that should have been junked long ago. Our inertia was largely due to fear, apathy, or just cluelessness about how to proceed. To our malaise, Drucker offers a starting point:  “don’t tell me what you are doing, tell me what you have stopped doing!”

Since General Convention is imminent, I will start my list with some recommendations for this gathering. Lest I be accused of finger pointing, I will then turn to some unproductive ways of business which are closer to home—i.e. Diocesan-level—and which also in my opinion need to go.

1.  Reduce the size of General Convention.
One bishop, one priest or deacon, and two lay people from each diocese should just about do it.  This body would meet every three years for three days to do the business work of the church.  No ecclesiastical supermarket, no special interest presentations, no banquets.  

Since it is important to have the opportunity to worship, learn, and enjoy fellowship, let’s move those activities to a new churchwide assembly or “tent meeting”  which would do no business, and which would be attended, not by deputies, but by those up-and-coming designated young leaders selected by their diocesan conventions just for this purpose.

As for bishops, we see quite enough of each other. One (shorter) meeting a year is quite enough.

2.  Limit resolutions to matters having to do with the immediate and concrete issues of faith and practice in the church.
Changing insurance plans, setting standards for ordination, or adopting a new prayer book are fine.  All other non-essential debates over such things as adding politically correct persons to the liturgical calendar, writing special liturgies for the loss of a pet, sending “feel good” political resolutions to Congress (not that they in any way care), those things should be addressed locally.

3.  Scrap the budgeting process.  
Who ever heard of an institution doing a budget by consensus?  Let the Presiding Bishop propose a budget and then have General Convention vote it up or down—as she has thankfully done just today!  It is a futile waste of time to try to fund the pet projects of every special interest group and it detracts from strategic goal-setting.  It also goes without saying that any money not spent on realizing the “Five Marks of Mission” should be on the chopping block.

4.  Dump the current mission asking.
It is effectively ignored by many dioceses anyway.  Figure out what revenue is required by the more streamlined budget, then make the mission share a flat percentage (10%?). If you don’t pay it, you don’t get to vote.  Period.  

5.  Scrap ALL boards and commissions and start over.  
They should be appointed and staffed by General Convention, and half the members should come from outside General Convention so as to encourage “outside the box” thinking.    

6.  Redefine the office of the Presiding Bishop.  
I am not among those who think that this office should or can be held by a sitting diocesan bishop, as was the case in the past.  We need a “head of state” for the Episcopal Church, particularly one like our present incumbent who has a real charism for leadership and spiritual direction.  

A bit closer to home:

1.  Reduce the number of seminaries to three (I would go for East, West, South).  
This will be hard, since each of our existing institutions is in effect its own financial fiefdom.  The graduates they turn out—and I speak from personal experience—are not exactly well-formed, either in intellectual knowledge or leadership ability.  We need scholars in the church, to be sure, but even more we need young men and women who can grow the church. This clearly is not happening, which means...

2.  Send fewer people to seminary and create more local training programs.  
This is especially important if we are to place priests and deacons in nontraditional settings—the places that will be the cutting edge of church growth.  I am looking for ways to follow the example of the African church in which a candidate for ordination is licensed as an Evangelist for an indefinite period, which includes close, local mentoring.  When that Evangelist proves his or her gifts and ability to gather new Christians, then, and only then, is that person ordained priest. You can see here that I am arguing, not for making ordination standards lower, but higher.

3.  Reduce the level of diocesan paperwork.  
Our staff is constantly looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy.  For example, it is a waste of my time to license eucharistic ministers—their local clergy can do that.  If the Canons would permit it, I would also delegate permission for remarriage to priests-in-charge, who actually happen to know the couple!

4.  If diocesan staff work does not directly serve the needs of local congregations, get rid of it.
All our work needs to be tied to “customer service” model.  (I highly recommend the work of Russell Crabtree and his book, A Fly In the Ointment).  It should be noted, however, that unlike a business (which has the job of keeping the customer happy), our job is to help the customer be transformed to the image and likeness of Christ. Not the same thing.

Are we up to abandoning the practices that hold us back?  I am not sure, but I do know the consequences of trying to carry a lot of useless baggage. I am often reminded of the story of the Franklin Expedition of 1845.  In that year, Captain John Franklin set sail from England to find a Northwest Passage through the arctic ocean to shorten the route between Britain and the Orient.  Being a proper Englishman, he brought with him everything he thought necessary for such a trip—dress uniforms, silver tea service, tins of gourmet food, ceremonial swords, and cannons (for use on seals?).  They were so loaded down with “necessities,” that their heavy ships quickly became trapped in ice floes.  The crews tried to jettison the now useless “necessities,” only to find they had not brought along what they really needed—foul weather gear, non-perishable rations, and ropes.  All 129 crew members perished on the ice. The mission failed because it was weighed down by frivolous items which were totally unsuitable for the new environment in which they found themselves, and yet they could not, or would not, jettison them.

Drucker makes it clear that the principle of abandonment must be an ongoing task.  Without such a mindset, an institution might make radical changes but all too quickly settle back into the comfortable status quo.  If our church is to affect productive change, we will have to begin somewhere, and I suggest a thorough housecleaning.  I have my doubts that any institution— General Convention, diocese, or congregation—can really be reformed from within, but I also know that such reform is the only acceptable way forward.  Sadly, at this writing, even though there are plenty of resolutions which address restructuring, there is nothing which calls for the principle of abandonment I am talking about, although the Presiding Bishop’s offer of an alternative, mission-based budget to General Convention is a good start. To suffer a failure of nerve at this point will only serve to point our great church on a path to irrelevance and eventual collapse.  We need more than structural puttering by trimming a committee here, shaving costs there. But does this mean we must abandon all hope?  I think not.

There is still time to get the process of creative abandonment started. Furthermore, we can face such a radical restructuring with a sense of joy and excitement about the future.  As people of faith, we have seen again and again how powerfully the Holy Spirit can move in our lives when we make room for that to happen, when we let go of customs and procedures which have become familiar and comfortable—and counterproductive.  Abandoning those structures which are hopeless does not mean abandoning hope.  

*For a very readable summary of the life and work of Peter Drucker, see Jeffrey Krames, Inside Drucker’s Brain (2008).


Matt Marino said...

I give a "hurrumph" to your article in its entirety.

Poulson Reed said...

This is absolutely right.

Revnawny said...

Absolutely love the idea of creative abandonment! Was disappointed however that you stopped at the diocesan level...what about the local parish????


Anonymous said...

I am so proud of my bishop.

spankey said...

Thank you Bishop.

Anonymous said...

Honest appraisal...

Chuck Till said...

Right on target.

Melody Mom said...

I agree wholeheartedly with much of what you've said here. I'm all for creative abandonment, and I think you're right on target with much of what needs to be left behind. I am, however, both skeptical and concerned about your statements about seminaries and the need to move to other modes of educating priests. I have seen a great movement of anti-intellectualism in the Episcopal Church which is both unfair and unfounded. It is my experience that a rigorous seminary education, with a solid background in Biblical studies, history, theology is essential to forming healthy, creative clergy. The Episcopal priests I know who are doing exciting things, who are challenging the Church and growing their churches, who are remaining faithful to our rich and varied heritage and who are forming disciples, are those who both attended seminary and took the work and study seriously. In my experience in three dioceses, it is a rare priest indeed who was formed outside of one of our seminaries who possesses the necessary biblical, theological, and ecclesiastic knowledge to effectively lead out in front of the church. The things that are most compelling in the church are the things that are grounded in and spring from that deep knowledge and wisdom. The "practical components" are important, yes, but are learned through a combination of experience and education. They are also, in my opinion, best learned in community, from a variety of teachers, rather than from a single mentor. Do I think our seminaries could be strengthened-- absolutely! I would even agree that a number of them could be consolidated, so that we might have fewer, stronger seminaries. But I think that abandoning multi-year, residential seminary education as the norm would greatly impoverish and endanger the future of our Church.

Chuck Till said...

The seminary system is collapsing under its own weight. The only thing keeping it alive is massive student loans that new MDiv's will find nearly impossible to pay back. Why? Because the number of full-time clergy positions will begin to fall as baby-boomers pass away and their stewardship generosity dies with them.

Distance learning in conjunction with localized spiritual formation is the only viable way to go forward. No one proposes that we have priests who have never seen a Greek text, for example, but you don't have to spend three years physically resident at an outrageously expensive TEC seminary to learn Greek.

Jim Strader said...

The former Total Quality Management consultant in me loves Drucker's work. Refine processes, get rid of wasteful tasks & unnecessary costs while searching for means to improvement performance, " customer" service, and reduce waste. Most such solutions are made by "management" and can be implemented by people possessing the authority and means to implement such change. However, such "technical" solutions may not necessarily be transformative and/or involve all of the stakeholders in re-inventing the process/processes on the table. Consequently, a "fix" is made often leading the need to make subsequent fixes at latter points in time. These solutions can be wasteful and inflexible within hierachal and bureaucratic systems. Drucker was not a fan of "re-dos."

This leads to my second point of striving to learning how and when to make more challenging and earnest solutions that are adaptive rather than technical in nature. These changes require involving more people, wrestling with differences of opinion, obtainingd a shared yearning to improve organizational (spiritual?), cultural life over the longer haul.

Clearly, there are opportunities for improving many technical processes within and for The Episcopal Church, now. However, the reformative or adaptive changes presently taking place for us as Episcopalians are not all technical, many of them are coincidentally adaptive and consequently more cumbersome, organic, and revolutionary.

The dilemma as I see it is for the people exercising leadership such as yourself, especially at this upcoming General Convention, to prayerfully and pragmatically determine what "Both/And" solutions exist as well as how and when to think and be technical as well as adaptive. Godspeed to you. 'hope to see you in Indy.

Melody Mom said...

Well, Chuck, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.
I graduated from seminary 6 years ago with an excellent education and no educational debt, as did many of my classmates.
If you look at the state of the church report for this GC, you will see that we are going to need more priests, not less, because even if full-time jobs decrease, over half our clergy will retire in the next 10 years, leaving a dearth of priests to staff the open positions.
And, in the churches that I've served, boomers are usually among the lowest pledgers, not the highest.

(The Rev.) Brian McHugh said...

I am in almost total agreement. A courageous statement. And I think we could go further. Do we need a priest for every small parish? Why not have one priest for x number of people. And we could make it the norm that layfolk run the institution, and train them to do it - be the ministers on all levels. Do we need buildings for every local gathering? We could get buses for those without transportation and establish vibrant centers of worship and spiritual formation. And what about financial support? Except for the genuinely poor, perhaps those who don't pay don't vote, as you suggest re GC? Some of the things you suggest cut close to the quick ... but you're right about where the vitality will come from.

Anonymous said...

Ordinariate: here I come.

Christopher T. Cunningham said...

I would like to hear more about point #5 - as I think two things are being said: (1) Revision just what Commissions and Committees we need; and (2) Whatever groups we have, start with a whole new slate of members.

Serving on Committee 6 (Structure), I would especially like to hear some proposals regarding my (1). Specifically it seems the primary purpose of many of these Commissions and Committees is to report back to GC - is this what we really need and/or want? Are there other ways to organize that ensure adequate representation and cover the important areas we want to cover?

Chris Cunningham+
Southern Virginia

Muthah+ said...

I have always been uncomfortable with the business model for the Church. It is so easy to compromise the Gospel when using it. Granted there does need to be a modicum of business practice to maintain an institution, but all too soon it is easy to 'throw the Gospel out with the bathwater' with the business model.

It is the business model that has made the Church the unwieldy institution that it has become and which needs to be pared in order to make its message clear.

Vatican II did this for the Roman Catholic Church 50 years ago but it's intent was thrown out with the bathwater. We need to also be careful with what we delete to save money--it may just be what will save us for a new age.

Matt Marino said...

With foot firmly in mouth I would like to mumble that I have a lifelong misunderstanding of the definition of "hurrumph" derived from being taken to see Blazing Saddles at too young an age. What I meant was "hear-hear"! ...As in I agree wholeheartedly, think you are spot on and am spending today mortified and wondering how many people I have incorrectly "hurrumphed" in my life. :-)

Anonymous said...

Look at the state of businesses today! Maybe we can outsource to Indonesia...

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said except about the PB being a spiritual visionary. I see her as a spiritual lightweight.

She has been an embarrassment--and I am a person who agrees with much of what she says. But this endless litigation has got to stop--it drains energy and resources.

Rhino said...

Bishop...Can you e-mail your article to me please? I am a priest in Dioc. of Nor. Cal. and involved in transitioning ministries, churches, and dicoesan as well as local situations. Thanks for saying so eloquenty what some of us have been trying to get out for some time!

Jon said...

I'd be more impressed with seminary education as a way of forming priests if I, with a mere BA (admittedly in Religion and primarily theology), weren't able to keep up with most priests on biblical studies, history of the church, and theology.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against having seminary trained clergy, I just think their value is more likely to be found in teaching pastoral care, teaching congregational dynamics, and fostering conversations about how the church is called to live in the future, than in making more gifted amateurs in theology and biblical exegesis.

Jon said...

Actually, I just recently saw a study on millennials and how they relate to non-profits that suggested that, as long as they feel meaningful engagement, they're delighted to serve the non-profits in a wide variety of ways, including financial giving. Of course their ability to give is still relatively low compared to the boomers, but that's rapidly changing since the oldest millennials are now 30ish.

Jon said...

I'm ambivalent about the idea of consolidating seminaries, primarily because they are institutions independent from TEC, but also because I doubt TEC's ability to accurately determine which programs are worth keeping and which are not. I'd rather let the seminaries find their own ways of coping while dioceses do whatever it takes to make sure their ordination candidates receive adequate training and formation including telling the seminaries what you're looking for them to teach.

Jim Clark said...

Good job, Bishop. Thank you. I hope we can continue to think bigger.

Anonymous said...

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Wendy Dackson said...

Bishop Kirk, be in touch with me about alternative local ministry training programs. I was Director of Studies for a diocesan program in the CofE, and am well familiar with how good-quality, intellectually respectable ministry training can be done in part-time, non-residential settings.

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