At its next meeting in September, the Presbyterian Mission Agency board will have a new internal structure and a new way of doing business.
The changes, which the board approved April 28, are intended to make the board’s work more creative, and for the board to focus more deeply on fewer and more significant things.
The current organizational chart of the board “is like a huge octopus with more than eight arms,” said Melinda Sanders, who leads the board’s Governance Task Force, in presenting the group’s recommendations to the board’s executive committee.
“We think we need to change because the greater church is asking us to.”
The changes the board approved April 28 will:
- Set aside a full day at each board meeting for “generative discussion” – an in-depth dive on subjects the board considers worthy of deep attention.
- Allow the board to create short-term ministerial teams, including both board members and Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) staff, who will work intensively on specific issues or concerns emerging from the generative discussions. Staff members as well as board members (including voting members, non-voting members and at-large members of the board) would have voice and vote in those teams.
- Reconfigure the standing committees of the board, which will now be known as administrative committees and will consist only of voting members of the board. Those committees would be: executive; mission effectiveness; finance; personnel and nominating; and audit.
Sanders acknowledge that the governance task force wasn’t presenting all its ideas in a “neat package,” and that the order of the changes it’s proposing wasn’t so much a logical progression as starting with things the board has authority to change on its own, without approval from the General Assembly.
The work is also continuing. While the board approved the task force’s recommendations on April 28, the task force will stay on in Louisville for a while after the board’s meeting ends April 29 to discuss possibilities and logistics.
“I admit to you we don’t have all the answers,” Sanders told the executive committee. “This is a work in progress.”
Some board members did raise concerns about the changes – including whether institutional memory would be lost as the board’s current committees are reconfigured, and whether not having committees with a focus such as justice or leadership will mean those matters will no longer been seen as priorities.
“I am a part of this church because I believe in justice,” said board member Noelle Royer, who said she would vote against the proposal because she did not want to see that commitment diluted.
Some suggested that the short-term ministerial teams would require more work for board members between meetings – and concerns were raised about whether that might exclude from service people who have work or personal commitments that preclude them from giving even more time to denominational service.
Concerns also were raised about the role of corresponding members of the board – who would not have a vote on any of the administrative committees. Currently the 57-member board is composed of 40 voting members; four at-large members; and 17 non-voting members representing a variety of groups from across the PC(USA).
“Nobody wants to see more of a shift towards visioning and strategy and discernment,” said Ray Roberts, co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. But Roberts said he wonders how his committee would be able to raise issues it cares about in the new process. Raafat Zaki of the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns also voiced concerns.
Asked who would set the agenda for the issues the short-term ministerial teams would take on, Sanders replied: “The executive committee would be setting the agenda.”
Neal Presa, moderator of the 2012 General Assembly, said he’s seen a half-dozen attempts to reorganize the board during his tenure on it.
One issue the assembly’s The Way Forward committee will be talking about in Portland in June: whether the assembly itself might want to consider making changes to the structure of the board.
The Committee to Review the Presbyterian Mission Agency, whose report is coming to that committee, is recommending that the assembly instruct that a committee be named “to review the responsibilities of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board to provide a plan for restructuring the Board so it can be better able to do the adaptive work necessary to provide leadership and guidance for the PMA and the Church, today and into the next generation.”
Board members talked about whether they could try the new approach in September without formally approving it – or whether they could approve it now, try it in September and change it back if problems emerge. There was discussion of how The Way Forward committee might interpret what happened if the board had considered making changes, and then backed away.
“This is why young people think we’re crazy,” said board member Gregory Chan. Presbyterians say they want change, then get “bogged down in how we’re going to get there.”
In the end, the board voted April 28 to take a chance and move ahead.
“I hope we will go ahead with seeing how this works,” and then make changes or adjustments as needed, said Heath Rada, moderator of the 2014 General Assembly.
Said board member Marianne Rheebergen: “We need to risk and trust.”