Dear Revs. Godshall & Crittenden:
We write on behalf of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to share with you and the Board as a whole several concerns about the “Leadership Profile” and search process for a new Executive Director (ED) of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA). We thank Ms. Ruth Gardner for sharing the profile with ACSWP (and other bodies). Please forgive the formal structure of our letter, which we conceived on the model of an Advice & Counsel memorandum, to be attached to an update on the ED search.
We would respectfully ask that 15 minutes be docketed early in the agenda if possible, perhaps following a search update if one is scheduled, and would ask that Rev. Beverly Brewster, Esq. be recognized to speak to this communication to the Board (which we understand would be posted).
The Presbyterian Mission Agency is at very important crossroads in its service to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) is committed to a PMA that advances the mission and witness of Jesus Christ in a way that (a) complements the life and mission of our congregations and mid-councils, and (b) coordinates with the work of the Office of the General Assembly. Our recent A&C focused on the theological and ethical commitments needed in the body as a whole. Here we focus on tasks of leadership that we believe should be reflected in the position description of the Executive Director and make several suggestions to that end.
For Leadership with Vision:
We are grateful that the Board’s search committee, human resources staff and consultants have updated a leadership profile and are actively recruiting for this position. In our view the profile would be strengthened by including:
- A more explicit description of the actual mission to which we Presbyterians have committed ourselves for well over 200 years in this country. That description should include words like, “justice” and “evangelism,” and perhaps the names of the national and international ministry areas themselves.
- A succinct stipulation of the ED’s basic theological competence: to present the logic undergirding the unity of mission, evangelism, and justice in the Reformed tradition. Further, the ED must be able to present how the pastoral, prophetic, and diaconal aspects of our witness and ministry connect congregations and pastors to the work of PMA. Specific reference to the Book of Order, 3.0501 (c) for the overall mission of national and international ministries might be helpful. The ED needs to lead with vision that builds upon these elements of our common calling.
- A clear commitment to the PMAB itself as a deliberative body whose decisions need to be solidly supported by research, discernment, and open debate, consistent with the democratic, representative, and inclusive ethos of our councils and our tradition of non-hierarchical governance. Participation and leadership in the councils of the PCUSA would clearly be a plus. These factors contribute to a vision grounded in the life of the PCUSA and open to the Holy Spirit.
- A commitment to ecumenical understanding and greater cooperation, consistent with the Book of Confessions. This dimension seems essential to Protestant Christian witness and mission strategy in the 21st
- A capacity for articulation and engagement to open up discussion with the church as a whole that draws on the full gifts of Board members and staff, understands the proper roles of each, and deepens relations with other institutions of the church (agencies and mid-councils, but also seminaries and colleges, camps and conference centers, etc.).
- Managerial capacity to evaluate faithfulness to mission goals, effectiveness, and integrity, of both persons and programs. Assessing the adequacy of financial and legal resources is part of basic planning in light of a leadership vision.
- Beyond lifting up diversity and intercultural fluency, it may be helpful to identify specific moral concerns, such as poverty and economic inequality, or institutional racism, or militarism (just to use MLK’s three), to help explain insider language about “humility,” “cultural proficiency,” or specific program names. The profile of course links to the PMA website for background information, but insofar as our mission is to respond to such concerns, citing some would provide more concreteness. Sustainability could be included as well. Understanding these and other future challenges will help a new ED adapt the PMA to the differences within class, race, and gender that new worshipping communities bring.
For the Search Process leading to June 1.
- The current leadership profile should be revised to reduce the amount and repetition of corporate-style jargon and to include the theological and mission capacities and commitments listed above.
- Deep, gracious, and generous participation in the life of the PCUSA must be assumed (and confirmed in any candidate), so that promotional language and tone should be less necessary.
- A reference group of 3 wise, experienced, and respected Presbyterians should consult with the ED Search Committee. The professional head-hunters have already had a chance at guiding the search process and may continue to provide services. The reference group should include people with presbytery, seminary, and congregational leadership experience and extensive knowledge of who has actually been leading the church in its national and international expressions.
- Both titles, “executive director,” and “president,” need theological justification reflected in institutional logic and the purpose of the PMA and its Board. We are prepared to welcome new and un-traditional concepts, but scripture also tells us to “test the spirits.” Following the examples of corporate-style boards and even other denominations is not a sufficient rationale. The language of “president,” in particular, distances this person from other staff and emphasizes power over ministry, recalling morale and cohesion issues in the 2016 PMA Review.
- In order to be confirmed, the candidate or candidate(s) chosen by the Board should be required to present to the General Assembly, in person and print, their personal vision and an outline of their strategy or plan for leading the PMA, including the implementation of General Assembly policy. This would strengthen the Assembly’s role in the confirmation process and make the PMA’s work more transparent and accountable to the whole church. It would also enhance the coordination and cooperation between the GA and the PMA.
- The candidate or candidate(s) chosen by the Board should be required to present in writing a statement of faith, in line with the requirements for Ministers of Word and Sacrament and certain other ordained positions in the PCUSA. This would show each candidate’s ability to communicate theologically as well as providing a sense of each candidate’s commitment to the Reformed theological tradition.
- Having an actual election with two or more candidates would build a yet stronger bond with the church as a whole, if the search process could assure that all candidates had sufficient qualifications and presented serious plans for how the Mission Agency could best serve God’s calling. As with 5 and 6, the goal would be to encourage theological and strategic visioning in our church.
For the work of the Board:
- ACSWP is again grateful to be included in the revised Governance Task Force proposal for the future shape and size of the Board, and pray we fulfill our mandate to provide timely and worthwhile counsel on the capacity for social witness in our mission bodies and programs.
- We continue to urge the comparative costing-out of the several restructuring options for “A Corp,” which we believe would favor the alternative of a Fiduciary Coordinating Committee jointing reporting to the COGA and PMAB, with its staff leaders appointed by the Stated Clerk and PMA Executive Director. We do not see a need for representatives of the other four agencies to control or oversee the finances of COGA and PMAB; missional vision, in fact, should guide the support provided by all agencies for the decisions of the General Assembly.
- We continue to support the general direction of “less corporate” and “less hierarchy, more mission.” But much of any change is a matter of leadership, not structure; hence the importance of the search process. We appreciate the mention of “risk-taking” in the leadership profile, but know that layers of caution are part of what has given the agency its “back office/front office” imbalance.
- The PMAB is not a simple non-profit board. It works directly to implement the decisions of the Assembly and thereby serves the whole church with the widest feasible witness and service. Its members all understand that God alone is Lord of the conscience and of the Church. As Presbyterians, they know and are personally engaged in the mission, often working alongside professional staff, all guided by General Assembly policy. Distancing board members from experience with mission work only hurts the Board’s capacity to develop realistic strategies.
In conclusion, we very much support the Board’s moving forward with its search, while listening carefully to the Way Forward and All Agency Review and to the Stated Clerk and Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. Thus we believe the search profile needs considerable revision toward mission experience and theological competence and away from generic managerial marketing language, and that the Search Committee would be well served by periodic consultation with a reference group as we have proposed.
With appreciation for your stewardship of the Mission Agency,
Dr. Steven B. Webb, Co-Chair
Dr. Ray Roberts, Co-Chair
Ms. Rachael Eggebeen, Communications Coordinator
Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy
Cc: Rev. Beverly Brewster, Ms. Sara Lisherness