Monday, October 16, 2006

A Preview of Things to Come? Reflections on ABC Structure by an Insider (Dr. Wright-Riggins III)

Several readers of His Barking Dog have requested information on the specific shape of the proposals being massaged into a final work product by the committee deputized with the assignment by the General Executive Council of the ABC. With insiders such as Drs. Medley, Wright-Riggins, Trulson, and Woods attempting to distill a consensus product from the five structural ideas presented at the most recent GEC meeting, one would expect a somewhat conventional shape to the solution.

In the interests of wider discussion among American Baptists, the following preliminary draft by Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III, one of the two principal documents reportedly under consideration, has been reprinted below for your consideration. Note that Dr. Wright-Riggins III sees this as a prelimary, tentative, and provisional piece of out-loud thinking. It should be read in that light.

The ABNS has already reported "The GEC named a transition writing team to continue to develop these elements, charging them with the following responsibilities: Continue to refine and build upon the key elements that contained the greatest level of support. Gather feedback on these elements from the General Board and others. Cast an eye and ear toward prophetic voices that can help the denomination to adopt a structure more appropriate for the 21st century. Shed unnecessary components in order to create the new future.

Transition writing team members are: Michaele Birdsall, Sarah Hallstrand, Desmond Hoffmeister, James McJunkin, Jr., Roy Medley, Larry Swain, Reid Trulson, Aidsand Wright-Riggins" (emphasis mine)

Since you, dear readers, are certainly part of the "others," please forward your insights and input on ABC structure to the transition writing team members in the best Baptist fashion!

"THINKING OUT LOUD" with Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III
REFLECTIONS on leadership, Structure, representative process and mission in the ABC USA

Assumptions- Biases- Affirmations

A. American Baptists at the regional and national level are experiencing a number of systemic frustrations:

(1) Financial - There has not been enough money coming into the regional and national and general pools to sustain the level of ministry and mission that we are accustomed to or would like to aspire to. The reasons for this are many and varied. They range all the way from the graying and shrinking pool of traditional Euro-American givers, to the growth of people of color groups with a radically different understanding of mission and denominationalism that are not primarily financial but familial; from an increasing localism to the practice of punitive stewardship; from the collapse of the concept of United Mission to the desire of a new generation to target and specify their giving. There is no one answer to the decline in the resources available to us. There are a whole lot of reasons behind the decline in United Mission giving.

(2) Strategic - We have yet to determine how to do strategic thinking and planning in a denomination such as ours. The "Seek It" process, a process where NM, IM, MMBB and the Office of the General Secretary invested considerable staff time and thousands of dollars to create a "denominational vision" and to identify Key Ministry Areas was immensely helpful at the national level and is still gaining legs.

Nevertheless our current attempts to more closely align the General Board and OGS to NM, IM and perhaps MMBB to address how we link all of that with Regions, Institutions, AMO's and local churches, still lacks congruency. We are not yet talking about the same thing when we say "the denomination," "ABC" or "we." From my perspective, Regions think strategically. National boards (NM, IM and MMBB) think strategically. The General Board wants to think strategically but struggles to do so as it has not yet carved out its essential mission as distinct from other entities.

(3) Paralysis - How "we" have dealt with or not dealt with homosexuality has driven a wedge into the heart of our denominational family that is impairing our ability to do and be in mission. We clearly hear Jesus asking us, "Do you want to be well?" In our saner and more sober moments, we confess to him, "Lord, we don't know how to be well."

B. All ABC related missional and administrative units must demonstrate that they are worthy of constituent support. We should not place unnecessary constraints on those units from seeking that support.

C. All ABC related missional and administrative corporate entities have the right and responsibility to be governed and managed without interlocking board structures.

D. Where we are (financially, strategically, and missionally), is not the fault of the Office of the General Secretary. OGS (personally, it is more helpful for me to think of it as the Office of the General Board) is a victim of the denomination's failure to fully implement SCOR and SCODS, a victim of the historical recalcitrance and obstinacy of the Home and Foreign Mission Societies and far too many regions for a denomination of our size from the mid 70's going forward, a victim of having poorly opted to tie its financial fate to United Mission forever and to the San Diego, GEC Budget Covenant. Moreover, OGS (the General Board) is the singular entity in our denominational family perceived to be or charged with implementing every last one of our myriad policy statements, resolutions and declarations. However, over the course of the last 50 years, the General Board itself has actually self initiated less than two such statements per decade.

E. An important reason we are in our present state is that SCODS attempted to overlay a hierarchical structure on a free church polity. Baptists don't respond well to command and control. It was just a matter of time before Baptists of various theological strips began to feel that the current system is just to "tight."

F. The "Center" or "passionate core" of ABC USA is mission and fellowship; mission on the local church doorstep, mission within regions, mission among regions, mission nationally and mission internationally and fellowship as an expression of our oneness in Jesus Christ. We need each other in order to hear and be the voice of Jesus Christ.

G. We exist in an increasingly post denominational cultural context. It will become more and more difficult for any missional entity to assume loyalty from individuals and from local churches simply because those individuals and those churches share a common history and heritage with larger (regional /national/international) entities.

H. Racial, ethnic and theological diversity has been the "family gift" by which God has blessed the ABC for the last century.

I. One of the greatest challenges to the American Baptist family is how we manage our diversity going forward.

J. The cutting edge of ABC USA growth (but not necessarily financial growth) will be determined by how well we work with and incorporate long standing people of color populations into representation and leadership (African Americans, Asians and Hispanics in particular); how well we reach out to immigrant groups, women, and theological moderates and progressives; and how well we reaffirm the critical and perhaps special role clergy play in our fellowship. We are morphing from a missionally "sending" denomination to a missionally "engaged" denomination where except for the economically elite (across racial ethnic classifications), and Euro-American constituents in general, mission is increasingly being defined from a familial perspective and much more locally.

(1) It would be helpful that as we "determine the mind of Christ on issues of importance" that we no longer refer to them as 'Policy Statements." "Policy Statements" implies that someone or something has the ability to enforce them. Perhaps we should refer to them as Social Statements or Public Witness Statements. With these Public Witness Statements should come a higher threshold for adopting them as truly representative of the "mind" of the denomination on a particular issue.

(2) Determine that our Public Witness Statements are simply a determination of the "Sense of the Body" at a particular time and place in our history with the matter discussed and debated at the "General Board level" being non-binding on national, regional or local expressions of ABC USA. Nothing can be imposed on the local church or by other churches or assemblies of churches. Each church has this liberty to find the mind of Christ.

(3) Task an entity to review existing policy statements and resolutions for their contemporary relevance.

Mission Boards
I start with the assumption that there will be national mission boards and that National Ministries and International Ministries are American Baptist entities. Both need governance structures that are as representative of as possible, while the ABC/USA may be more in need of a representative process with few governance functions.

The mission boards (IM and NM) could have as many as 30 board members, selected with an eye to skill, multicultural, gender and lay/clergy balance ( I would further propose that all members of these boards be members of American Baptist churches). These boards, as all other boards do, would determine length of terms, selection process, etc, in order to serve the needs of the program/mission. The would recruit individuals They would probably meet twice a year, fully responsibly for the board expenses of their board, not funded out of a "representative process." Language should be written into the By-Laws guaranteeing perpetual relationship with the larger denominational ABC family. I am sure that there are attorneys who could draft appropriate language and terms.

Two members of the mission board shall be a Regional Executive Minister or other regional staff, nominated by and elected by the respective mission board. As many as 10 members of the 30 person mission board would be elected to the mission board from a larger pool of candidates maintained and nominated by the "General Board" of ABC USA. In my view, an important role of the "General Board" in the life of the denomination would be to create and maintain a "leadership" data base of persons from which a variety of ABC related institutions could call on for board service.

Some of the persons elected to the mission boards from this pool, may or may not serve concurrently with both a mission board and what I will refer to later as the "Board of General Ministries."

The "directors" of the mission boards would also serve as its "members," if membership is deemed to be important or essential.

General Board/board of general ministries

A leaner yet optimally highly representative General Board (needs a new name, so I am suggesting here for example purposes only, "board of general ministries" needs to be created. I propose that it be made up of:

(1) Up to 42 persons, nominated at the regional level and elected to the Board of general ministries. Regions shall be geographical entities and churches may freely choose to belong to any region(s) they choose. I am proposing that regions be geographical rather than affinity based. Otherwise, there would be no end to the spectrum of affinity groups. Nevertheless, a church located in one geographical area may have a greater affinity with those in another area. Each region shall be entitled to one (1) board of General ministries representative. If a region exceeds a yet to be determined threshold, perhaps related to number of churches, number of resident members or amount contributed to the board of general ministries, that region may be eligible for as many as two (2) Board of general ministries representatives.

(2) 10 persons, (4 from among the directors of NM, 4 from among the directors of IM and 2 from among the directors of MMBB shall be nominated for election to the Board of general ministries.

(3) 6 to 8 persons from among the recognized ABC Caucuses
-10 persons from among networks like colleges and seminaries, ABHAA, ABWM, ABMen, ABHS, Ministers Council, ABEC, ABF, Green Lake, etc.

(4) 8-10 at-large members to help assure greater diversity than previous categories will provide.

Initially, each region may need to nominate four or five potential representatives to the board of general ministries in order to have a pool large enough to draw from to guarantee national creative diversity.

The Board of general ministries would probably meet once a year, funded by a rep process that is not separate from the total budget of the board of general ministries, perhaps with a meeting of the mission boards attached, which would mean that the rep process would cover the costs of travel, with other expenses unique to the mission board time picked up by the mission board. This would create a Board of general ministries somewhere around 80 people.

General Board Purpose

The function of the board of general ministries is simply to carry out the purpose statement of ABC USA:


"American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., as a manifestation of the church universal, bears witness to God's intention to bring redemption and wholeness to all creation. American Baptists believe that God's intention can be sought and followed in local congregations and other gatherings of Christians and in associational, regional, national and world bodies as they receive from one another mutual counsel and correction. Since Jesus Christ is the head of the church, each body of Christians, seeking to order its life in accordance with the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has a proper responsibility under God for maintaining its life of worship, witness, and ministry.

In every area of their common life, American Baptists, acknowledging the importance of creative diversity, seek such a balance of freedom and order as will keep all parts of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and at the same time enable them to work responsibly to carry out the common task of mission and ministry in our time."

As I reflect on this purpose statement, it seems to me that the board of general ministries would function to:

(A) Bear witness to the American Baptist expression of what it mens to be a part of the church universal.
(B) Call all parts of the ABC to bear witness to GodÂ’s intention to bring redemption and wholeness to all creation.
(C) Attend to matters of our common life.
(D) Affirm the integrity and dignity of each component of the family, whether that component be local, associational, regional, national, or international,- as a valid expression of the church, and facilitates opportunities for mutual counsel and correction among those bodies.
(E) Acknowledge our creative diversity helping the partners to better use it.
(F) Attend to keeping all parts of the family together to carry out the common task and mission and ministry in our time.
(G) Provide opportunities for the family to become open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
(H) Prompting and challenging us to working together responsibly.


Board of General Ministries
If the board of general ministries is the shared table where our varied and sundry local, regional, national and international missions and ministries come together to fulfill a common task, it is worth of being funded. In a former time in our history it made sense for that funding to come through United Mission dollars. If we are committed to a common denominational task of mission and ministry, we will need to find a way to fund our "general ministry" going forward. I propose that we do so with some form of annual proportional assessment on covenanting ministry partners, and a fee from AMO's set aside to benefit the mutual ministry of the board of general ministries. In my view, the board of general ministries is not a party to the Covenant. Instead it is the one place in our denominational life where all the covenanting and associated partners come together for mutual ministry. The board of general ministries is the repository or "keeper" of the Covenants made between the partners.

Regions and National Mission Boards
If the board of general ministries is taken out of the current (United Mission) funding equation, and receives an assessment from regional and national partners, then the formula of the distribution of United Mission funds toward regional, national and international mission work will need to be reexamined.

Scope of the board of general ministries' work
The board of general ministries is not primarily a legislative or policy making body. Instead, as a "worshipful/working" body, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it exists primarily to encourage and enable covenanting ministry partners to serve cooperatively, collegially and responsibly to carry out the common task of mission and ministry in our time. Critical functions of the board of general ministries are:

+ Vision and Leadership around mutual ministry endeavors
+ Representative Process
+ Networking with Regions and Mission Boards
+ The Voice and Symbol of the ABC Family (Internally and Externally)
+ Communication and Development Support
+ Stewardship of American Baptist Tradition
+ Administrative Support for the Organizational Purposes (Internal and External)
+ Encouraging Unity

(1) The board of general ministries is responsible for calling a General Minister (formerly known as the General Secretary) whose role it is to specifically staff the board of general ministries with employees according to the prioritized organizational purposes of the Board and within the annual budget of the Board.

(2) Covenanting parties, at both the regional and national levels of denominational life, as well as those AMO's that contribute to the financial under girding of the board of general ministries (Just a thought here. I am more concerned about representation of these groups at the table than I am in financial contribution. Their value added is often at the local level as we drive down to congregational life) shall serve as secunded non-employed staff to the board of general ministries through the executive staff leadership council (ESLC) which replaces the GEC. The primary business of the executive staff leadership council is to support and assist the General Minister in fulfillment of his or her duties to the board of general ministries as listed above. As an associate general minister for abc usa (This replaces terms such as National and Regional Secretary), each member of the executive staff leadership council shall play a role on a committee or task force of the ESLC around one of the "Critical Functions" listed above. A committee head in the ESLC might staff a corresponding such committee on the board of general ministries .

In this model, the Executive Staff Leadership Council intentionally serves as the key staff consultative and planning venue, in response to the vision and mission of the board of general ministries, around common mission endeavors, especially as they relate to the ABC Vision and identified Key Ministry Areas. The ESLC would seek to do together what the several missional entities can not do separately or independently. The General Minister would serve as the leader and facilitator of the ESLC At least 80 % of the time devoted to ESLC meetings should be time devoted to the critical functions of the denomination as a whole and the planning, relationship building, improving communications and training needed to make it so.

Each year, a quarter of the Associate General Ministers for ABC USA and the organizations they represent shall be evaluated through a 360 degree feedback process of his and her peers regarding the level of mutual ministry engagement, contributions made toward the whole, and degree of cooperation and collegiality. This feedback shall be communicated by the General Minister to the Associate General Minster and to the President of his or her board. I propose this as one way to develop a greater sense of "We" in ABC and as a way to hold us all accountable regarding the ABC USA purpose statement which reads, "American Baptists believe that God's intention can be sought and followed in local congregations and other gatherings of Christians and in associational, regional, national and world bodies as they receive from one another mutual counsel and correction." One of the difficulties in our covenantal system is how we keep each other accountable to each other, when covenant, rather than contract is the order of the day.

Thank you for taking this "thought flight" with me. I would appreciate any response or questions that you might have regarding what I have written. My habit at home and at the office is to think out loud with the people I care for and about so they can ask me, "Do you know what the heck you just said?" Sometimes, I am not sure what I really think until I simply say it out loud and have it challenged and refined by other minds besides my own. If what I said here is offensive or dismissive or threatening to anyone, please charge it to my head and not my heart. In the end, I think that this whole enterprise must be about relationships rather than structure. Yet, our current structural dynamics and our dogged determination to define ourselves by where we stand on issues rather than how we flesh out the good news incarnationally in daily life is squeezing the soul out of our denomination. I want something better. I am working and praying towards that end.

With hope-
Aidsand III

[His Barking Dog found this thinking piece out back of the Valley Forge Hilton when I was rummaging for some scraps of food. Although arguably not as nourishing as the almost untouched 16 oz sirloin and twice baked potato found in the same trash can, this proposal gave me more than enough to chew on for the night. As always, my masters in the southwest had nothing to do with my rummaging any more than they do my yipping and yapping.]


Kevin Comfort said...

My first thought: The changes thought about are not much, it is just a rearranging of positions and responsibilities. Maybe we need something more radical: Start with a clean sheet of paper and don't think in terms of what we already have. Find out from the churches what we need! That is if this denomination is about the local congregations. I am in the camp of blowing it all up an starting from scratch. Of course, in order to that, those in leadership need to be willing to give up their jobs.

Dennis E. McFadden said...


I have the other proposals being considered as well. They are just too long to post. However, since Aidsand is on the committee drafting the final document, it seemed like a good idea to run his thoughts up the flag pole.

Jerry Graham said...

"An important reason we are in our present state is that SCODS attempted to overlay a hierarchical structure on a free church polity. Baptists don't respond well to command and control. It was just a matter of time before Baptists of various theological strips began to feel that the current system is just to 'tight.'"
"With these Public Witness Statements should come a higher threshold for adopting them as truly representative of the "mind" of the denomination on a particular issue."

I reprinted these two comments to highlight what is my concern about the process we are going through. I agree with Kevin. Get out the dynamite. Let's look back (in the scriptures) and around at other denoms. or associations) and see what God is doing in them. What I see is this- 10's 100's and thousands. Representation from cluster to area to region to denomination- elders. Not any old person desiring to run for office, but biblically (see 1Tim etc)qualified Godly leaders who understand the authroity of Christ and the truth of the scriptures. My concern is that we no longer know what the mind of Christ really is. We want our own opinions heard, not His. We have lost the understanding of the word submission in our culture and have replaced it with the phrase "soul freedom". I for one struggle when told what to do. But it's not something I cherish. I'm not being commanded to sin. And no I won't see eye to eye on everything, I'll need to pray for clearity. If I am not receiving it then the answer is easy- obedience. Again I offer you to check out Paul's adventures in chapter 15 of Acts and he and Barnabas' dispute in Acts too(I forgot where it is at the time of writing this). Easy? No. Necessary. Yes. If you want to keep fellowship with each other.

Jerry Graham said...

I wrote "I'm not being commanded to sin" In my haste I must have not realized what I wrote. What I meant was- IF I'm not being commanded to sin (by those in authority over me) then I must seek the mind of Christ and obey (unless God is directing me elsewhere which is the Paul and Barnabas thing I was refering to).
Though I still believe there was an authority issue in there somewhere.