Saturday, October 22, 2005
The Wild, Wild West on Valley Forge Dysfunctionality
Despite the date, I thought this letter from the Exec of ABC of the West (No. Calif., NW Nevada) nails the dysfunction in the leadership of the ABCUSA. This, my friends, is what leadership looks like. I know some Executive Ministers read this. Some of you no doubt have seen Borden's letter. Some of you despise what it says. But you'd be hard-pressed to deny its truth. If you want to lead, not just dither and manage, look at this.
Letter to ABCW Pastors from Dr. Borden
Dr. Paul Borden
Executive Minister, ABCW
Sep 1, 2005
Pastors, ABCW Region
The mission of the region since 1997 has been to "Grow Healthy Churches". It has not changed and is not changing. My strategy has been to keep us on target in working with congregations that are going through transformation, along with those congregations that are reproducing new congregations, while remaining silent on much that is happening in our denomination at the National level. This silence does not mean that your regional leaders have not been involved. For example, I had extensive participation in creating the new budget covenant, worked with other regions interested in pursuing some of the strategies we have developed to produce healthy, growing congregations, and signed the pastoral letter, along with more than twenty other executive ministers, asking the denomination to put a moratorium on open homosexual practices in the denomination. The region has supported our Minister's Council representatives in their struggle with the issue of homosexuality. We sent several representatives to the New Life 2010 update put on by National Ministries last year. We were actively involved in the recent “Seek It” process. Teresa and I participated in the mission's trip to Prague taken by the GEC. These are just some of the activities I and others have participated in along with the General Board meetings etc.
However, our office has received emails, phone calls, and letters about what is happening across the nation with ABC-USA. Many of the inquiries were prompted by our General Secretary's letter recently sent to all ABC congregations (I assume) stating that the denomination was on target with its mission and that the future for ABC-USA looked good. In light of rumors, questions, etc about financial problems with the denomination, the talk of numbers of congregations and even regions leaving the denomination, there are questions about how all these activities fit with the letter of the General Secretary. Therefore I thought I would like to share with you my perspective on what is happening. I wanted to wait until after this Biennial and recent board meetings to write, in order to see what would or would not happen at these events.
Before sharing my perspective I want to say several things about the denomination and our General Secretary. First, in a denomination our size we need to understand that many good things are happening. God is at work in some congregations, regions, national strategies, and overseas mission fields in some significant ways. There are many good pastors, missionaries, lay leaders, region executives, and national staff members who love God, are committed to Jesus Christ and are working their hardest to serve their God well. I believe our General Secretary to be a Godly man who lives, as well as anyone, his commitment to Jesus Christ. He was a friend to our region when the previous national leadership orchestrated the investigation taken by the General Board into our region’s life and ministry. He made sure the process was fair which allowed the region to be vindicated and the lies that had been spread were not allowed to stand.
Having said this, I do find myself in great disagreement with the General Secretary about the denomination and its future. I believe we are watching the implosion of the organization. From my perspective the question is not if it will occur but how long the process will take to unfold. I want to share with you three major reasons why I believe this is the path we are on as a denomination.
First, the General Secretary, the General Board, and many key National Leaders are unwilling to take a stand on the homosexual issue. As you know, our region settled this question back in 1996 and as a result we have been able to focus on our mission and doing what God wants us to do to help congregations become healthy, grow and reproduce. Many times I wonder if part of God's blessing on our region is because the pastors and congregations of ABCW in 1996 did take a stand. I realize that in the Scriptures God works through evil people, mediocre believers, and Godly people. However, God's pattern is to work primarily through those who honor Him and His Word. Therefore God may bless ABC-USA since He is sovereign. But, I believe the odds are against it since we as a denomination are not willing to honor His Word. It is interesting to me that most of the congregations in ABCW that opposed the stand the region took are still struggling and making little impact on their communities in the making of disciples.
It is important to understand that taking a position is not saying that any one person, congregation, or denomination is better than anyone else. All people, congregations, and denominations are filled with sinning people who constantly struggle with sin. However, when we call sin, sin and not try to redefine it as a “life-style choice” that has God’s blessing, we then offer people hope, forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Congregations are urged to disband Pastoral Relations Committees in our region since they have become institutionalized gossip groups. We have redefined sin (triangulation or gossip) as pastoral concern. We now call such actions sin and then have people seek forgiveness. The problem is deciding whether the Bible speaks to homosexuality or any other sin with authority or it does not. The failure of our national leaders to call this sin a sin and act accordingly risks God’s blessing on the denomination.
The decision could be made differently. This summer the oldest denomination in America, The Reformed Church in America, took a stand despite pressure from within their ranks. This denomination decided to deal with the scriptures forthrightly and honestly and act in accordance with their beliefs rather than playing word games and trying to appease those who struggle with the authority of God's Word in both their faith and practice.
The second reason I believe our denomination is in trouble is that I do not believe our national leaders know what to do to turn things around. The majority of people in leadership positions do not know what is required of them as leaders. If such were the case, things would have begun to change a long time ago. I also do not know whether they have the ability or experience to lead; if they do, it has not been demonstrated. All one has to do is to look at the new mission statement that was generated in the “Seek It” process. It is a page long and is not even close to being memorable. It reminds me of the old joke that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. This joke describes accurately the new mission statement and how it came into being. The “Seek It” process was flawed from the beginning and all it has produced is a long description of what our denomination should be doing, but never will. Anyone who understands leadership knows such to be true.
The third reason I think our denomination is in trouble is because of what many of our congregations have learned about the life cycles of organizations. Organizations on the down side of a life cycle, which is where ABC-USA is, have placed structure above mission and vision. All one has to do is attend one national board meeting or biennial to realize that ABC-USA is dominated by a structure that will get in the way of any vision or mission. We say we are a growing mainline denomination, yet my understanding is that for years we have not purged our roles of the many congregations that have left ABC-USA. If such is the case, then our denomination is like many of our ABCW congregations in 1997 that had gone from 300 to 150 in worship, with a membership that continued to increase since it was not purged. Our denominational leaders are obsessed with the representative process. Such obsession may be fine to maintain the status quo, but it will not produce any sustained commitment to radical discipleship or anything close to the page long mission statement that has been adopted.
For change to occur, radical discipleship and radical love need to be joined to a radical commitment to the Word of God and radical leadership. When this occurs we are centered in Jesus Christ.
These three key reasons, plus numerous others, are why I disagree with our General Secretary. I do believe he thinks he is right. I do not question his integrity in the statements he makes. I do, however, disagree with his assessment of the present and the future of ABC-USA. That is why I, along with over seventy other leaders in the denomination, have created the Great Commission Network. This is an interdenominational network of congregations that are committed to Biblical integrity (not afraid of signing a basic statement of Biblical orthodoxy) and ministry excellence. We have a vision for 1000 ABC-USA congregations, along with others from other denominations, to become part of this network. We are not trying to start another denomination or are even interested in such. We are trying to minister to congregations and pastors to help them become healthy and growing. We are committed to doing what our denomination should have been doing for years and has not. There are already five other regions, along with ABCW, committed to this network.
I have written this letter as the leader of the region to share with you my perspective.
I have not written to create dialogue. In 1996 our region under the leadership of Dr. Robert Rasmussen made the decision to act against the homosexual agenda that our National Leaders are now tolerating. Although I normally answer all letters that are signed, I do not intend to dialogue over a matter we settled almost a decade ago. We are committed to “Grow Healthy Churches” as we have been doing for the past eight years. ABCW will continue to focus on the transformation and reproduction of healthy congregations. My primary responsibility as Executive Minister is to keep us on target with our mission and vision.
In everything we do, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our salvation. And, let’s never lose sight of our call to fulfill the Great Commission.
Sincerely, Paul D. Borden
ABCW Executive Minister