If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it’s broke, restructure it.
Presbyterians in the pews may be excused for rolling their eyes over reports that the General Assembly Council is restructuring itself. Many will tell you that the GAC is broke–functionally, if not financially. Many wonder if it can be rebuilt at all. Some think it’s not worth the effort.
Such a state of affairs is tragic, to say the least. Organized to implement the directives of the General Assemblies to facilitate the fulfillment of Christ’s commission, the GAC is endowed with a high purpose, a broad authority, and huge resources.
The model currently in use was structured to broaden the representation on the elected GAC and to recruit multi-gifted members to serve. On paper the structure is very post-modern, being led not by a lofty hierarchy but by representative elders and ministers who share equivalent authority with their colleagues throughout the denomination. True to those intentions, the members of the GAC have invested an enormous number of hours into the task entrusted them.
Nevertheless, the processes keep stuttering, the work keeps stumbling, and the systems keep imploding. And folks in the pews sense a widening disconnect between national church and local church.
Most problems have evolved in spite of the best intentions. Eager, earnest General Assembly commissioners over the years have mandated more unfunded policy positions and program initiatives than GA staffers can adequately fulfill–especially while suffering a string of staffing cuts. National program leaders have been forced to become proverbial jacks-of-all-trades and masters of just a few. The present GAC structure, with its 78 voting members, was supposed to broaden representation, but its members have become specialists for separate aspects of ministry rather than overall leaders for the whole range of denominational ministries.
In this final year of John Detterick’s leadership as its executive director, the GAC is promoting a restructuring model to redress the problems. This model proposes shrinking the GAC membership to little more than half the size of the present council. It aims to transform the members from specialists into generalists. It aims to empower the staff to carry out its work and to consolidate all hiring of staff under the authority of the director.
Initial response from GAC members has been positive, so recommendations for implementation are being forwarded to the General Assembly.
Some lingering questions now need to be answered for the whole church.
“¢ How will the national staff be empowered to focus on major ministry goals and at the same time be held accountable to fulfill its duties as directed by the GAs?
“¢ How will the budget to be proposed at the April meeting of the GAC bring a sunset to lesser important programs so the remaining staff and programs can effectively implement the mission plan?
“¢ How will the work of the GAC maintain accountability to the General Assembly?
“¢ How will the next GAC executive director operate as a visionary leader, one who will help rally grassroots connections and participation, so that he or she will not be relegated to being merely a staff and program manager?
“¢ How will the next executive director be empowered to lead the staff and not have his or her hands tied by overlapping layers of bureaucracy?
“¢ How will the new GAC redress the lack of parity in its membership, where elders outnumber ministers two-to-one?
“¢ How will the ho-hum attitude felt in so many pews toward our denominational leaders be transformed into an enthusiastic, committed love for the national church?
Simply put, is this the fix for whatever’s broke?