Tuesday, September 09, 2014

An open Blog 3: History of the World, Part 2

I am disappointed in myself when I make a promise that I fail to live up to; yet I'm doing it again.  So much conversation on this issue causes me to change my direction.  I'm still going to get to the part where we have fun with statistics (What I call "Figures Lie and Liars Figure") but you'll have to wait a little longer.  There is still some history to write that brings us a little closer to understanding where we are today.

The point in my first post was to call us all on the over-emphasis we place on specific locations when it comes to our faith.  I think it's a faith maturity issue for us.  We love the place we worship so much that when someone is sitting in our pew it messes with our whole experience of worship.  Those of us who are itinerant Elders in our system have the needed maturity forced upon us with every new appointment.  What we come to find out is, we can experience and proclaim Christ in the new pulpit even though our view is much different.  Does it hurt, you bet it does.  I would love to go back to Good Shepherd, Macon, The Oak and Salem-in-Ladue and gaze out upon those familiar faces that helped me grow in my faith and ministry.  However, I've come to appreciate, due to the unwelcome part of itineracy, that Jesus shows up in every place and not just in one place.  So that idolatry of place was the intent of my first post.  I also would concede at the same time the deep seated need for the familiar that allows us to experience Christ in new ways; tradition of place and liturgy and ministry and programs aid in that experience.

In my second post I hope you noticed the constraints what systems put on our camping ministry.  I don't mean to say "shame on you."  I sincerely meant it as "shame on us."  The call of the people of the Missouri Conference has been to hold the line on apportionments.  The call of the people of the Missouri Conference has been to hold the line on camper fees.  As a board member we experienced this frustration.  With rising costs and limited income streams, we did what we could.

One side point to this post that I also think is important is a correction to the statement on the Conference website, that camps "lost money."  In not-for-profit ministry you never "lose money," you are simply "under funded."  Why is this important?  "Losing money" suggests you have put a value on the lives and souls of the people whose lives were changed in the ministry.  No one would want to de-value them.  "Losing money" also suggests that a ministry has a profit motive, and that isn't the case either.  The reality is, through the downward pressure of apportionments and the imagined cap on camper fees, our conference was under-funding camps.  This caused the demise of Epworth and, shame on us all, seems to have meant the demise of our other four sites.

When you under-fund a ministry you participate in deferred maintenance, you must expect a decrease in services, and, as has happened, the number of people in our conference who participate in the ministry (a mere 2000 youth and 170 churches by the conferences statement) decreases.

So, let me share a little more on my experience with Camping and Retreat board membership and leadership from 2002 to 2012.  The decision to change the direction of our campus ministries was a shot across the bow of camping and retreats that caused us all to question the integrity of our bowel control.  We were the second largest line item on apportionments after Campus ministry.  (Not really, but I'll get to that whenever I get to the statistics post.)  While we were told that Pathways, the predecessor to the Mission Council, was not looking at camping at all, we still felt the implied pressure.  So we asked questions of people on Pathways, what should we be doing.  The answer was pretty universal and had a couple of points.

The first thing we had to do was to figure out how we were aligning the mission of Camping and Retreat Ministries with the mission of the Conference?  Namely, how were we "Leading Congregations to Lead People to Active Faith in Jesus Christ."  This was a new orientation for us.  In the past we thought it was our job to provide camping and retreat ministries that would lead people to Jesus Christ.  We were cutting out the middle man - congregations.  In this case, though, the middle man is the most important focus of the Conference.  Paradigm shift is an overused phrase, but it is exactly what was required.  I will confess that up to the point of leaving the board as the president in 2012, we never got there.  I'll take that blame if you'll take blame for under-funding the ministry.  Wink.

An important step we took was to change our mission statement.  Prior to this time it was a long and convoluted statement we couldn't possibly remember.  The new one was simple "Leading Congregations to Lead People to Active Faith in Jesus Christ... through camping and retreat ministries."  We knew we had to develop ways to empower the local church in camping and retreats.  As I said we never got there.

Another side note, it was reported in a statement from Rev. Ann Mowery (and she presents it in a way that I assume Rev. Ron Watts was in on the statement) that the board didn't have a mission statement when they began to meet.  That's simply not true.  One of the failures in our system is that when we replace 100% of a board we lose the important history.  Our new mission statement was a part of our board minutes.  It could be argued that we never got there, but we did have one and we believed in it.   I count Ann and Ron as friends and mean no offense, but there was a history before they arrived on the scene.

The other point that came from Pathways is a clue toward what recently took place.  As a board we were encouraged to take the site directors out of the conversation.  Why?  Stake holders are rarely able to consider completely new directions.  The experience with Campus ministry suggested that those who were economically and professionally vested in the ministry were making decisions based upon the continuation of a current direction.  Our site directors had a trusted voice at the table, but there is no doubt they influenced the decisions, we wanted their input.  It would also be fair to say that Lee and I were heavily invested as were most people on the board at that time.  Lee had years of experience in conference camping and had a great deal of influence on the current design.  At the time I became president I had eight years of experience leading conference camp events of that same design, as did most of the board.  We were probably too close to the question to be able to properly respond to it.

What does this mean going forward?  First, the only adequate mission statement for Camping and Retreat Ministries is the conference mission statement.  The new statement that Rev Mowery quotes comes close.  I think it fails in that it only addresses new generations.  In a future post I'll point out that new generations are not the only people who come to faith through retreats.  So moving forward, whatever is proposed should be measured against the way in which it assists the local church in making disciples.

The second goes to all the complaints about the process used to arrive at this controversial decision.  I agree with that process... in part.  Many people who are close to camping are complaining because they weren't consulted in the process.  Why would they be?  The question was, "How do we serve those 80% of churches who aren't using the ministry?"  You don't ask the current users who are already using the ministry that same question.  It's marketing 101, if you want to add to your market base, you ask those who are not customers what they are looking for in the service you offer and why they aren't using it.  That's why I wasn't consulted.  I get that.  They already had me as a user of camps.

The part that I don't get is that they've eliminated the service venue in which I participate.  Remember years ago when Coca-Cola eliminated their original recipe and came out with New Coke?  It was a fiasco.  Only later when they brought back Coke Classic did they get back their customer base and actually show a net growth in service.  Our conference just introduced New Camps.  They've alienated 170 churches and 2000 youth and children (and their families, who by the way fund the apportionment system.)  A lesson from the most classic blunder in marketing history would have suggested that you could have both rather than an either or scenario.  A saying I constantly borrow from an old friend is, "A farmer doesn't begin building a new barn by tearing down the old one."

Moving forward I would say that the new direction should be measured on how well they serve the 80% of churches who were not participating as well as the 20% they were.  Clearly the alienation that has taken place is going to make it difficult to serve that 20%.  Distrust goes a long way to prevent new ideas from having success.  Bear in mind that it doesn't matter if you serve over 2000 children and youth.  The conference needs to serve churches.  That's the number to count.  (At least in my own analysis of the mission.)

Now let me state the obvious for those who have read three posts and still aren't sure.  I oppose the decision made.  I'm sharing all the information that you are reading because I've been closer to the discussion than most.  I can understand how the decision was reached and I think I see most of the reason why, because I was on the board for 10 years and have been a leader in camps for the last 14.  I hope that the information I share share helps us enter into constructive and fruitful dialog with friends in the conference who have made decisions with which we disagree.

10 comments:

Susan said...

A good, and faithful, account of the history. I mourn that we learned little in our handling of Epworth's closing. I mourn that the current leadership of the body of faith I claim as my own (a United Methodist by birth, family, and choice) makes it increasingly difficult for me to continue to claim the name.

I'll echo your point... you CANNOT grow by alienating the people you already have.

Continue to advocate in this way, please!

Carl Knapp said...

Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts to us. They have been very insightful to me as I sort through my thoughts about all this. I look forward to the rest of your series of posts.

Anonymous said...

I love how you bring up apportionments several times...we the people do have a say in that at the local level... ;-)

Pastor Dave said...

On apportionments: I currently serve a church that pays 100%. I have had two appointments that didn't. The first was a new church start that was funded by apportionments. The other was a church at which all my efforts couldn't move them toward apportionment payments. (My successor has been able to and I tip my hat to his fine work.

When it comes to this conversation, I don't lift up apportionments as a threat. I lift them up because I think those who pay should have a voice in what is happening. We're the ones who are making it possible. Were I still in leadership at my previous appointment I would stay silent as I would have less of a base upon which to stand.

Pay apportionments in full and criticize from a position of strength. Withhold apportionments... keep your thoughts to yourself.

(Too strong?)

Melissa Dalton said...

Thank you for addressing the 2000 who will be without the programming they know and love. I have been in conversation with some since the news on Friday and I now can see the value in the two new programs which are being proposed, but I still am very frustrated in the decision to take away a program which is successful for the 2000 kids and youth who can say for themselves their lives have been changed through camp and retreat ministries. I hope and is my hope and prayer the conference listens to those who are grieving the loss of their program.

Anonymous said...

New Coke was a good idea too.

Pastor Dave said...

You never want to push a metaphor too far, but New Coke (later Coca Cola II) was officially discontinued in 2002. At this point Coke only sells it's original cola formula. By the way, at the same time new coke was rolled out, so was Cherry Coke. If you want to push the metaphor, segmenting the market was a grand success in the end. What does that mean for us?

Kurt M. Boemler said...

I think there's strong biblical evidence to paying close attention to the locations where we encounter God. If not, Christians should stop their pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the cities where Paul traveled, and Methodists should stop visiting the upper room on Aldersgate street.

And we should remove Come Thou Fount from the hymnal, at least the part where we raise our Ebenezer.

If there's idolatry going on in the Conference, it's with the offices of Bishop, the power of the Cabinet, and the itinerant system.

I'm no longer a UMCer, but if the Conference was trying to woo back the lost, this ain't doin' it.

Sarah Jane Blacksher said...

I am of the opinion that we should stop blaming the conference for this whole debacle and realize that local congregations also dropped the ball. Very important to get kids involved in camping ministry for the local church to participate. Paying your apportionments is important but so is making things a priority with your own decisions and funding. Encouraging fund raisers and giving families camp scholarships is something that could push camping ministries on the local level, but it is not done enough in my opinion. I am thinking, "we all dropped the ball"

Bruce Blair said...

Sarah,
Yes, we all dropped the ball so to speak, but those who had their eyes on the ball were remiss in informing those of us who did not that there was a problem. You cannot expect the laity or even the pastors to step up to fix a problem of which the leadership has not bothered to make them aware. There was NO communication, only pontificating after the fact.

I personally believe there may be a purpose behind the lack of information provided to the laity and in the authoritarian manner in which the decision was made. I believe that the bishop may have other plans for the funding and does not feel a need to consult the laity regarding those plans either. Call me paranoid or call me observant, either way I call it as I see it. This whole affair may have been a bumbling accident, but I doubt it. In any case the smell of it is not pleasant.

May God help us to return to the ways of the United Methodist Church throughout its history -- the way of Christ, not the way of the Scribes and Pharisees, who planned in secret.

Dave is the Lead Pastor at...
New McKendree United Methodist Church
225 S. High St., Jackson, MO 63755
Saturday Worship 5:00 pm, Sunday 9:00 am at High St. Campus 11:00 am at South Campus (1775 S. Hope St.)