A lodestar for this discussion has been Phyllis Tickle’s book, “The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why,” in which she describes the fundamental shifts that rock Christianity every 500 years or so.
And leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), faced with some very practical questions — for example, how to cut millions from the denomination’s mission budget in May — are trying to put a conceptual backdrop behind some of the detailed decisions.
The council, along with the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, spent the morning of Feb. 24 discussing change, including generational shifts, changes in technology, the rise of globalism and pluralism, a shift in the role of mainline denominations, immigration, and the growth of Islam.
Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PC(USA), said he’s seen the changes firsthand. Growing up, looking at pastors, “they all wore black suits, they all were men, they all drove mid-range Fords.”
Now things look much different, Parsons said — with much change “that God is doing in God’s church.”
In the midst of all that change, leaders of the PC(USA) are facing real financial challenges.
And the council is being asked to approve a set of “Guiding Principles for Planning Decisions,” which will be used to guide the denomination’s national staff as it prepares a proposal for the 2011 and 2012 budgets. Among those principles:
* “We will focus on ministries that can only be done at the national level, then on what can be done at the national level. We will stop those ministries that can best be done by other parts of the church.”
* “We will avoid duplication within our own ministries.”
* And “we will operate according to fiscally sustainable principles in a commitment to live within our means and in alignment with funding trends.”
The principles also describe a “sunset rule to ensure we are relevant, faithful, effective, and accountable.” All programs would be evaluated at least once every four years, and “we will honor the value and loss of programs that may change or be eliminated.”
Some council members said they wanted more clarity about what exactly these principles mean, where they came from, and how they’ll be used. Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council, said they were developed through a series of conversations with key staff members, and later with a small group of council members via conference call discussions.
Valentine also said that top staff members — who will be responsible for helping suggest what should be cut from the budget — had asked for a “framework” from the council in making those decisions. And Joey Bailey, the denomination’s chief financial officer, told the council’s executive committee earlier this that projections show the mission budget dropping from roughly $93.8 million this year to $78.5 million in 2011— a decline of more than $15 million — and in 2012 to about $76.2 million.
Matt Schramm, a council member from Michigan who was part of those consultations, said during a presentation Feb. 24 that “we may have to say goodbye to some long-treasured programs that no longer serve the needs of the church”.
And “we cannot continue to balance the budget with prior year accumulations” or reserves, Schramm said; the denomination must learn to live within its means.
One suggestion raised during the discussion: that the denomination ask itself not just “what are we best at,” but also “what is it that makes us who we really are?”
The council is expected to vote on the guiding principles Feb. 26.