A Statement on Change — A Deconstruction

I have spent a bit of time recently talking with many folks about the staff restructuring at the Tennessee Conference Council on Connectional Ministries office, focused in the discontinuation of the positions focused in ministry with youth and children. As has been suggested here earlier, the process for this change seems flawed in many ways, and Bishop Wills has taken responsibility for his part in how this was handled. However, an official statement from the CCOCM Director who was a primary mover behind this decision was slow in coming.

Today, this statement was released on the Clergy Listserv and posted on the one of the TN Conference blogs. It’s not a bad statement, in fact it could very well have served as the basis for starting a conversation on the organizational development of the conference, but given the circumstances it seems a bit inadequate in dealing with the pain that many feel in how this decision was reached.

As I have reviewed the document, I have found myself asking several questions along the way, and this post is an attempt to flesh out my concerns, recognizing that I am limited in the information that I have, but feel that the questions are valid.

The statement, written by the Rev. Loyd Mabry, Director of Connectional Ministries for the TN Conference, begins by attempting to connect the overall statement to the theme of the Annual Conference, which has been taken from Adam Hamilton’s “Leading Beyond the Walls.” The implication is made that the book is a treatise on ministry to the unchurched by a successful church leader, and indeed, Adam’s work at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City has been exemplary. And yet as successful as COR is, it only represents one segment of ministry to folks, some of whom are unchurched—those who are white, middle class, relatively affluent, and pretty homogenous. It’s a good church and Adam is a good leader, but we have to be careful in thinking that the COR experience can be replicated easily in other areas among other populations. However, in all honesty, Loyd doesn’t suggest that we are being called to replicate the COR model, but rather should be thinking about how we are functioning outside the walls.

He then goes on to say:

In 2007 the Annual Conference approved the report of the CCOCM Task Force. The Task Force presented a change in the way the CCOCM functions. The new model is based in four words—Engage, Receive, Equip, and Send. We are called to engage the community around us. We are called to offer them Christ and receive them into our midst. Our calling continues as we equip persons for the ongoing ministry of the church and theses equipped persons are sent out to engage their communities. The cycle is to continue.

I found myself confused by this time line, for I had no memory of a CCOCM Task Force ever making a report at the Annual Conference. I has been a cosigner of a resolution asking the Bishop to appoint a task force to study the operations of the CCOCM with a special emphasis on financial stewardship, which was adopted, but that task force has yet to report. So what is this CCOCM Task Force Report that was mentioned.

Going back to the journal, I found a statement included in the report of the CCOCM that an internal task force had been created to review the conference structure. This internal task force report had been adopted by the CCOM in February of 2007. The report says:

The CCOCM approved the following at it’s meeting on February 1, 2007 as a way to “live into” a change of structure by implementing the strategy outlined below. There was consensus that the primary function of the Tennessee Conference Council on Connectional Ministries is to strengthen ministry and mission at the local church (emphasis added) where Engaging, Inviting, Equipping, and Sending Disciples for Christ takes place.

This is a document “under construction,” continually seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit toward effective ways of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Structure will be determined by the way we live into the function set forth in this document

The report then goes on to outline some common values and offer a mission statement, as well as some possible actions that might accompany the goals of “engaging, inviting, equipping, and sending.”

So what’s the concern? For me it comes in what seems like an attempt to clothe the staff changes as being authorized by the Annual Conference in the adoption of the CCOCM report. And yet there was no suggestion in either the written report or reflected in the minutes of the Annual Conference that staff changes were a possible outcome of adopting this new strategy. I, and I assume many in the Annual Conference, saw this as another in a long line of reorganizations of work areas, a means by which conference committees and ministries work together and communicate around common themes. While it makes some sense that changes in staff responsibilities might be helpful, I would be hard pressed to believe that anyone in the Annual Conference believed that the discontinuation of existing staff positions would result from adopting this report.

Loyd goes on:

To pursue this direction, a restructuring of the CCOCM staff resulted. For the conference to change direction, to reach different people, to minister in different ways, to reach out beyond the walls changes in job descriptions became evident. {emphasis added} The result is restructuring of the CCOCM staff and the way it functions. These changes in staff are not related to job performance. The CCOCM program staff fulfills their present job descriptions. With a changing job description and direction, it was felt that staff changes were necessary. The infusion of new ideas, methods, and styles of ministry is needed for us to fully engage the world around us. Again, let me say that the change in staffing is a result of changes in job descriptions not job performance.

Okay, remember the comment above — “the primary function of the TCCOCM is to strengthen ministry and mission at the local church” which is identified as the place where engaging, inviting, equipping, and sending happens. The CCOCM is not charged with reaching different people, ministering in different ways, and reaching out beyond the walls. The CCOCM is charged with resourcing the local congregations where those things happen.

Yes, a restructuring of the staff may indeed be needed to help congregations better carry out the tasks they are called to, however that staff restructuring needs to involve a clear process of conversation and evaluation with persons in the local church about how the staff is meeting or not meeting their needs. After all, as I read the statement above, the local church is customer who needs what CCOCM has. Doesn’t it make sense that persons involved in ministry in the local church might be a part of the conversation on what’s needed?

Of course, some could (and will) say that it’s clear that the local church can’t make the needed changes on their own, so we need to bring folks in to shake things up. I don’t disagree with this at some level, however the restructuring plan so far does not suggest any models for what is to come, only that the existing personalities could not come up with new ideas, methods, etc., and that new energy is needed. It may be true, but what I hear from those person who interacted with the persons being cut is that they were extremely effective in their ministry. If there is a desire to change the job description, then give them a chance to live into the new job description before letting them go.

Overall, I find this statement less than satisfactory. Yes, it does affirm the persons currently in ministry but it offers no explanation why this decision was made in a top down fashion without input from the work areas effected by the decision. In many ways, it feels like an attempt to gloss over a situation that has been painful for many folks without truly answering any questions. I had hoped for more.


6 thoughts on “A Statement on Change — A Deconstruction

  1. Sounds like this “task force” is the same thing as the “conference site committee”- a body that never met and is used to cloak the decisions of a few people behind closed doors. Our Discipline is designed so that all decisions are a democratic as possible, with transparency and integrity: values that are sadly lacking in this conference.

  2. Jay,
    Thanks for articulating so clearly what so many of us are feeling. I still don’t feel the basic questions have been answered.

    One more question I would add – if it was clear that Beth and Susan couldn’t do these “new jobs,” why have the Bishop and Loyd claimed that they are welcome to apply for the new position(s)? It really upsets me that they would make this hollow statement with no intent to give them a fair shot just to placate those of us who have been hurt by this top-down decision making.

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  4. I have to agree with Jay’s comments. Could Lloyd Mabry’s statement be any more vague, veiled, or self-serving? Clearly, he is either unaware of or unconcerned about the hurtful implicit messages recent actions sent to all the work areas to which the affected staff members related. His comments appear to be a very weak attempt to sweep his own accountability under the rug. There is a clear disconnect between his office and the maelstrom outside its walls.
    No one seems to be asking about the elephant in the room: what was this REALLY about? Have other offices/employees been evaluated by the same standard (and whose standard is it?). Obviously, these decisions are not about the things that have been suggested by the powers that be. If their reasoning was valid, at some point an attempted explanation would be received with at least a modicum of understanding or satisfaction. Instead, the frustration level escalates with each new statement. What has been revealed so far simply does not make sense; it is not reasonable. It circumvents the connectional system for no apparent reason. So that leaves people to wonder: what is the hidden agenda? And why can’t the members of the Tennessee Conference be trusted with it? Was it worth damaging the reputations of two staff members who have serve d faithfully and competently (some would even say exceptionally)? And more importantly, was it worth damaging the trust between the affected laity (including youth, children, parents, committees, work areas, and local church congregations) and the conference “hierarchy?”
    I agree with Jay. I was hoping for more—a lot more. The circumstances would certainly dictate more, Rev. Mabry—beginning with an apology to all concerned parties.

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