LOUISVILLE (Outlook) – Hoping to spend more time thinking about big issues facing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Presbyterian Mission Agency board will at its meeting this week put into play a new committee structure and a new way of doing business.
The basic idea: Spend less time at meetings on routine business and more on “generative thinking.”
The agenda for the board’s meeting Sept. 13-16 will be a mix of ideas and business – including discussion of shifting more responsibility for operating the Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in New Mexico from the Presbyterian Mission Agency to the National Ghost Ranch Foundation.
The board will spend time discussing two generative topics – “What is mission?” (on Wednesday morning) and “What is the purpose of transparency?” (on Thursday morning).
Generative thinking is an approach used by nonprofit boards to determine the important problems, challenges and opportunities. William P. Ryan, a research fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University, has described it this way:
Generative thinking drives all the other processes. It frames the problems that we solve, it determines what needs deciding before we make decisions, it suggests what’s worth a strategy before we develop a strategic plan. If boards are not involved in this generative thinking, they’re not governing fully.
Under the new board structure approved last April, the board now has two kinds of subgroups, both of which will report back to the full board:
Administrative committees. These are the board’s standing committees, consisting only of voting board members. Those committees are: audit; executive; finance; mission effectiveness; and personnel and nominating.
The mission effectiveness committee is split into two teams, each of which will work to assess mission effectiveness of collective goal areas within the Presbyterian Mission Agency structure. Typically, four collective goal areas will be evaluated at each board meeting – at this meeting, they are communications; evangelism; mission personnel; and young adult volunteers. Tony De La Rosa, interim director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, described this in an interview as “another layer of review” in a much broader process, taking advantage of the diversity and range of experience that board members provide, and not involving performance evaluations of particular employees.
Ministerial teams. These are short-term teams consisting of both board members and PC(USA) staff members who will work 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) have voice and vote in those teams.
The ministerial teams (which usually will work for about six months, maybe more, doing much of the work between board meetings) will meet for the first time this week. The first round includes eight teams focused on these issues:
- Addressing power & privilege. What are the three most important things the Presbyterian Mission Agency can effectively do to address power and privilege?
- Overhead costs. How should overhead costs for the Presbyterian Mission Agency be managed, allocated and communicated?
- Implementing the Belhar Confession. What strategic steps should be undertaken to resource mid councils and worshipping communities desiring to implement the vision of a fully inclusive church informed by the Belhar Confession? The 2016 General Assembly voted in June to add Belhar, which focuses on justice and reconciliation and was written by South African Christians in the midst of their nation’s struggle over apartheid, to the PC(USA) Book of Confessions.
- Increased coordination with the Office of the General Assembly. What are the two areas in which increased coordination with the Office of the General Assembly would better serve the church?
- The role of print. How will print be implemented in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s communications strategy?
- World Mission competencies. How can the competencies of World Mission be implemented in the PC(USA)’s domestic mission work?
- What are the next steps for the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative?
- Young adult volunteers. What are the next steps for the Young Adult Volunteer program?
The proposed assignments for who will serve on each team can be found here.
The board also will consider goals for its work for Sept. 2016 to Sept. 2017. Those proposed goals can be found here.
The board also is expected to hear from J. Herbert Nelson, the PC(USA)’s new stated clerk, and from Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 2016 General Assembly.
Before the full board meets, its new members will spend an afternoon in orientation. De La Rosa said the General Assembly elected the new appointees in June and “there’s a particularly strong uptick in the representation of people of color who are coming in on this board, which I think is particularly exciting,” given the emphasis the 2016 General Assembly put on addressing issues of racial justice.