When I woke this morning I padded sleepily out to the computer to check the weather forecast and to see if I had received any mail. I was surprised to see several messages on Facebook and opened them to hear voices of dismay over the news that two staff members at the Tennessee Conference Council on Ministries office had been informed that they were being terminated in 90 days. These two persons were focused on ministry with youth and children, and many of the persons who were expressing their anger at the situation were currently, or had been, youth in the TN Conference who had been blessed by the ministries of these persons. The reason given for the termination was a restructuring of ministries at the CCOM, but according to the persons involved, no vision for future directions was given.
Our bud Gavin has been blogging about this, noting that the Conference Committee on Youth Ministries, of which he is the coordinator, had not been informed of this impending decision, nor given any information that would lead one to believe that youth or children’s ministry would even be a priority in the Annual Conference. You can read his timeline and his letter to the Bishop.
I too had concerns about the way in which the transition has been handled, arising partially out of my wife’s poorly handled recent separation from her church. While I appreciate both the persons involved and believed that they had been effective at a certain level in their work, I could understand the desire for a change of focus and/or new visions in those positions. At the same time, there seemed to be no forethought at the CCOM level regarding how to inform the stakeholders about this change in direction, and getting multiple constituencies on board with the changes. Thus, I sent an e-mail today to Loyd Mabry, Director of the Connectional Ministries, and Bishop Dick Wills, Bishop of the Nashville Area, asking for additional information and clarity about the decision and expressing my concern over the communication breakdown (since, the decision seems to be widely known on the net).
I was surprised this afternoon to get a phone call from Bishop Wills. He was traveling in his car and I was driving in mine so that the conversation wasn’t as thorough as it could have been, but he asked me to share his perspective, which are the points that follow:
- First of all, he expressed his belief that the CCOM dropped the ball in regards to how this was communicated. He agrees that a better job could have been done.
- He suggested that talk of restructuring the conference staff levels has been in place since Loyd first took office six months ago. The Bishop is convinced that a weakness of our current CCOM work is that it has been focused on activities, often at conference facilities, but less directed at facilitating ministry in the local church. He believes, and I think the CCOM Executive Committee agrees, that we need to be doing more in regards to youth ministry than propping up existing structures; that we need to be more proactive in our evangelism to youth; and that staff persons will have to be willing to be present in local congregations on a regular basis to train and facilitate these changes. This vision was supposedly shared with the staff members and they were given the opportunity (at least to his knowledge) to restructure their ministries in new ways that fell in line with this vision. According to the Bishop, they chose to focus on their traditional duties and seemed unwilling to embrace this new vision.
- The ultimate goal is not to marginalize ministries with youth and children, but to direct more resources toward ensuring that youth and children become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. The vision is especially directed at reaching at-risk kids in a more effective manner, providing resources that help churches to reach out in new ways. The current staff persons will be replaced with someone hire through a nationwide search. Ultimately, the bishop hopes that we will be directing more resources to youth and children than we currently have been, not yet.
- There was a recognition that the existing staff persons have been faithful in their work, but that our conference needs to move in a new direction and that these persons didn’t fit into that mission.
So what do I make of all this?
First, as is unfortunately typical in the TN Annual Conference, communications was given short shrift with bad results. A change of this magnitude requires a comprehensive plan of communicating with stakeholders about new directions, while at the same time allowing for the natural grief that comes in these changes. These considerations were not given and so now there will be a great deal of energy spent in cleaning up the mess. Communications is central to what we do in ministry, so why is it that we take it for granted and do such a bad job of it?
Second, it is certainly appropriate for the leadership of the Annual Conference and the bishop to claim a new vision for ministry with kids and youth in our area. Certainly this vision must be shared with others to gain their trust and acceptance, and it must be communicated to those effected by the vision. My fear, given what I’ve noted in the preceding paragraph, is that this wasn’t as clearly shared as it should have been to the effected persons, and thus confusion has ensued.
I don’t believe that these decisions are a reflection on the performance of the individuals. Universally their work has been praised. However, there are times when an organization needs to make a change to facilitate fresh ideas, and this may be one of those times. However, if that is the case, then we simply need to say so in specific terms. Yes, there is pain and discomfort in doing this, but organizations that try to bypass pain and discomfort in seeking healing and life ultimately die.
What is needed now is not a plan to restore these persons into their jobs, for the damage and the loss of trust has already been done and probably can’t be restored. What is needed now is a clear interpretation of the vision for ministry with children and youth from the leadership of the Tennessee Annual Conference. Without the sharing of this vision, the pain, mistrust, and confusion will continue.