Continuing the work of Jesus : Peacefully ~ Simply ~ Together


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General Board Redesign Steering Committee


by Christopher Bowman
(General Board Chairperson during Redesign)


Rationale for Redesign

Rationale for Proposed Changes in the General Board
from the Redesign Steering Committee
June 1996

I. The Situation
   In March of 1995 the General Board was given the news that significant
budget shortfalls were expected for the foreseeable future.  In wrestling 
with the implications of this news, the board discerned that the problem 
involved something deeper than finances. While the financial realities had 
brought our situation to our attention most forcefully, this deeper problem 
had more to do with vision and identity.  The Board appointed a Vision 
Discernment Team and after receiving their report, established a Redesign 
Steering Committee.
   Over the past ten months?the committee has been working hard to sort out
what can be done to restore momentum to the program and mission of the 
Church of the Brethren General Board. The committee has been listening to 
hundreds of people describe what is going on, what has happened in the past,
and what their aspirations are for the church tomorrow.  Here's what we 
   First, the church has lost momentum and significance as a
centrally-directed endeavor. Since the Sixties, Brethren, along with many 
other denominations, have seen a steady decline in membership and financial 
contributions which has forced a series of retrenchments in programming and 
staffing. There has been criticism of leadership initiative.  Programming 
has, at times, been controversial.  Most significantly, many members feel 
that the church no longer speaks to them or for them.
   Second, leadership is perceived as operating in an authoritarian manner,
where Brethren in their tradition of openness, want to see things operating
in a more participatory way.  National staff at Elgin is largely invisible 
to congregations and is often felt to be interested in things which are not
concerns of local congregations.  The staff itself feels "controlled" by
those in authority over them. District staff is not related or accountable 
in the same system as national program staff.  Yet the perception continues
throughout that the Church of the Brethren organization is operating "top
down" rather than "bottom up."
   Third, the malaise is not just a concern about leadership initiative; it
is a disenchantment with the entire system.  When we first asked people 
across the denomination to tell us what they wanted, we received an 
avalanche of concerns about all parts of the system--Annual Conference, 
General Board, individual programs, Districts and District Executives, and 
a continuing call for help for congregations.  Certainly, we have a 
confusing structure and we have found that people have become disenchanted 
with the whole shooting match.  This disenchantment with denominational 
procedures has led to an organizational malaise in which each has done 
"what was right in their own eyes." 	Fourth, it is difficult to get 
things to happen in the current denominational system.  Many feel it is 
hard to get definitive initiatives and direction through Annual Conference.
Some feel that advocacy has replaced discernment in the work of the 
denomination. Joan Deeter wrote in _Who Are These Brethren?_
that "conversation is at the heart of what it means to be Brethren"
(Brethren Press, 1995, p. 29).  Yet we seem to have lost the art of 
conversation.  We know that the function of the General Board is to carry 
out the mandates and directives of Annual Conference.  Yet there have been 
times when Annual Conference has given the Board contradictory directives 
and numerous occasions when it has passed directives to the Board without 
provisions for funding the effort. Sometimes, Conference has passed 
directives which have been ignored by the board or by congregations. Not 
only do folks feel as though the church no longer speaks to them, they feel
that they can no longer speak to their church.
   What's wrong? What brings on this lack of confidence in the system?  The
Redesign Committee has come to believe the real issues are much deeper than
changing an organizational chart or changing leadership. Rearranging the
deck chairs will not change the fact that part of the boat is missing. 
Thousands of Brethren have been working valiantly to bail water and keep 
the boat afloat.  Their tireless dedication has maintained what the 1994 
Communicorp report called a plethora of far-reaching programs and a 
commendable service ministry.  But now it is time to stop bailing and fix 
the leak.  You see, we've lost something which is at the very heart of 
being Brethren. The Redesign Committee believes that we have lost the 
spiritual process of discernment as the essential way we work together.  
It is through discernment that the community diligently seeks the "mind 
of Christ" in study of the Scriptures, in dialogue with each other, and 
in openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, we believe 
the Church of the Brethren is in anger of losing Gemeinschaft, that 
intimate sense of union and interdependence as we are bound together to 
follow Christ.
   In the early days of the Brethren movement, members spoke to (queried) 
the gathered church, and the church spoke to its members on matters of faith
and practice.  Nowadays, having lost this dynamic connectedness,  the annual
meeting has become a policy-making process, a platform for advocacy, and a
battle of three-minute speeches!
   Over the past 30 years our denomination has reorganized on numerous
occasions to cope with changing conditions and economic retrenchment. Amid 
the din there has been a familiar theme repeatedly heard in all these 
revisions, "More resources for congregations!"  We have come to see the 
real, underlying issue as a two-sided dilemma. On one hand, it's an issue 
of identity. And on the other hand it's an issue of survival.
   The identity issue asks, "Who are we?"  Over the years we have gradually
lost the outward signs that reminded us of who we are, how we are 
distinctive, and who it is that Christ has called us to become. The positive
response to the Communicorp material bears out this concern.
   On the other hand, we're confronting the issue of survival. As a
committee, we sincerely believe that our denomination is in a crisis of 
survival. If Brethren believe we are to continue as a distinct body of 
believers, it is essential that we turn the corner now . . . before we are 
too weak institutionally to redirect our efforts.
   This excruciatingly painful process of growth and change exacts a price
from everyone who draws breath . . . we must make decisions about holding 
on to some things, and letting go of others. The awesome ambivalence we feel
about holding on and letting go brings each of us full face with the dilemma
of identity and survival which our Brethren community faces. Can we maintain
our uniqueness and still be open to other people? Can we demonstrate 
Christian community in ways that invite any person who will make a 
commitment to radical discipleship to be part of this fellowship?
   Brethren history--for all its ups and downs--demonstrates astonishing
vitality and balance in holding on and letting go.  The core values of the
movement seem to call us back and back again to renewed initiative and
balance.  That feet-planted-firmly-on-the-ground feeling we all get from
internal assurance about identity gives us energy to deal with our survival
issues in constructive, rather than defensive ways.
   The Redesign Steering Committee has kept before it the Vision Statement
adopted by the General Board in 1995, and the Statement of Core Functions
adopted this year.  Building on these, we now believe the essential task at
the core of any redesign is to help Brethren recover the life-giving
process of discernment in our organizational life as a denomination. 
Therein, we must affirm our identity and then move on to restore vitality 
in Brethren congregations.  This is a profoundly spiritual journey of 
worship, discernment, discovery, and caring for one another. Our work on 
redesign keeps this spiritual journey clearly in mind.

   We propose that any management system we adopt must do the following
things in order to focus the leadership efforts of the denomination on 
renewing the vitality of the Brethren community.
   1. Re-establish a sense of involvement in the Church of the Brethren
and in the journey of Brethren as a unique community within the body of 
Christ. Our first priority is to help the Brethren get "reconnected," so 
there is more involvement and communication across all parts of the 
denomination, and to close the perceived gap between staff and 
   2. Build participation in the organizational processes of spiritual
   Our second priority is to establish a continuous planning process which
starts with people in congregations.  We propose to involve congregations,
districts, and General Board in ongoing dialogue, working together at all
stages of the process as Brethren seek to continue the work of Jesus.
General Board can initiate this process and invite the contributions of 
all parts of the church organization in a manner that encourages a 
participatory, rather than "top-down," mode of operation. We believe this 
can go a long way to re-establish discernment as a mark of our life 
   3. Empower the leadership resources of the church to
       a) extend vitality in congregations and
       b) extend the work of Jesus to others around us and throughout the 
   Vitality in congregations and in missions are part of the same cloth.
   Our third priority is to better wed the concepts of discipleship and
outreach, of congregational vitality and mission, and of, as Don Fitzkee
puts it in this July  _Messenger_, "saving and serving: Overcoming 
'one-sided Christianity.'"  The General Board can begin this process by 
understanding the unity behind its various programs?congregational 
resources, service ministries, mission opportunities, leadership 
development, witness and stewardship.
   4. Be good stewards of the resources given to us.
Our fourth priority, which is embedded in each of the above priorities, 
is to use our resources (human and financial) to best advantage and to live
within our means.  Biblical stewardship reminds us of God's ultimate 
ownership of all the things which humans seek to control.

   The aim of the Redesign Steering Committee in proposing these options to
the General Board is twofold. First: to change the way we do business in 
order to address the spiritual and process needs of the church; and second:
to find a more effective and less costly way to run the organization.
   To live within our means, a major restructuring and downsizing of the
organization is immediately necessary. Simply put, we must reduce yearly
expenses by approximately $2.5 million. In terms of staff, this will
require a 30-40% reduction.
   Please hear us. This means we can only afford to keep about 65% of our
present hard-working and dedicated staff persons. This is very painful to
say and it is where the pain of our present denominational crisis will hit 
most personally. Yet this reduction is necessary to give the denomination 
an operating base which it can maintain in the foreseeable future.
   To change the way we do business there will need to be major changes in
the primary functions and job descriptions for program staff: a new priority
will be to extend the interaction of program staff with congregations.
Coordinating work with district staff and leadership in congregations has 
become essential to the life of the denomination.
   We are presenting three configuration options for the church to study and
discuss.  Each has strengths and weaknesses.  As we attempt to discern
God's leading among these options we believe it will become apparent to all 
that the old institution is dying and that God is making something new. Cost
parameters are being prepared for each option.  More importantly, we must 
weigh these options based on the spiritual needs and strategic actions 
needed to revitalize the Church of the Brethren long term.  This is less a 
matter of changing budget or size; it is a change in the way we do things.

Church of the Brethren General Board
Redesign Steering Committee

	Christopher Bowman
	Steve Bowers
	Donna Ritchey Martin
	Wayne Miller
	Tracy Wenger Sadd
	John Talbot, consultant