Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Is the "Shared Table" Decentralized Enough? Or is it Too Little, Too Late?

Dennis McFadden reported on the Shared Table proposal now floating around ABC circles. It appears that the powers that be have written off PSW and are looking ahead. Is this a watered down version of the Michigan proposal? Is it enough? Is it too little, too late? I admit to mixed feelings. Some of these are flashes of remarkable realism. Others reflect a denial of reality and a stubborn adherance to The Old Order. We still need to abolish the Office of General Secretary and to liberate the program boards.


In response to the November 2005 GEC vote by consensus to begin a discussion on changes to our current covenantal system, a group of REMC colleagues have been discussing on an informal basis ideas about structural changes which might be enacted to ensure a vital, vibrant future for ABCUSA. This vision is intended to encourage and focus our conversation in the days ahead.As loyal American Baptist Executive Ministers, we see our denomination imploding – and do not want to see it happen. The current covenantal system is broken and appears to be unable to resolve issues that come before us. Our current financial situation – one of declining support for United Mission – is an expression of how local churches feel about the state of the national body and the mission priorities they wish to fund. Giving trends indicate increasing designated giving toward regional work and special projects, and away from UM.

We continue to believe that we have a common mission as American Baptists. ABCUSA mission agencies and trans-regional expressions of ABC life have significant and special value to the extent they advance mission in partnership with local churches and ABC regions. In an age of radically changing structures, we feel the need to propose and create new organizational models for our common witness, where meaningful ministry-related decisions can be made. We sincerely hope that people of good will across theological spectrums will be able to embrace this vision; it is intended to include, and not exclude.

These new models should emerge in response to certain key principles:

a. We need to move toward organizational de-centralization. Both societal trends and denominational realities require that we move toward a more decentralized structure. The current representational system (OGS/GB/NEC/GEC/REMC) is not being supported by local church giving patterns.

b. We need to strengthen regional identity as a key ABC representational entity. The regions are parallel ministries, which come together at a national table of conversation and consultation, for common mission. We need to set free our ABCUSA mission agencies, AROs and Caucuses to advance their mission in the 21st Century, without the encumbrance of outdated bureaucratic complexities.

c. We need to maintain and strengthen a balanced commitment to and application of basic Baptist principles, which we all affirm and cherish. We wish to preserve the best of ABC polity and history as we face the future with faith. Nothing in this proposed vision is intended to weaken our historic Baptist distinctives, but rather to strengthen our ability to express them in our common life and witness.

d. The National Table needs to be transformed from a legislative/policy entity to a consultative venue in which regional partners coordinate and consult with one another on common mission endeavors. We wish to affirm the autonomy of the local church and regions to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We do not wish to continue a process of fighting over resolutions and statements of concern. We also wish to emphasize the historic Baptist commitment to the associational principle, in which we act responsibly in order to strengthen the life of all the partners within our fellowship. We seek a way to minimize future divisiveness.

e. We are all absolutely committed to our heritage of racial, ethnic and cultural inclusiveness. We recognize that we have not always live out this commitment as a denominational family, and we believe it is essential for the integrity of our common witness that we do so more faithfully in the future.

In accordance with these 5 principles, we propose the following vision of a new ABCUSA National Table. It is an outline, intended to be a pro-active and creative entreaty to all of our ABC constituency. Please consider it with an open heart and mind!

1. The Formation of a De-centralized and Leaner Shared Table: In place of the currently stressed multi-level representational system GS/GB/NEC/GEC/REMC), we propose the creation of a new “Shared Table” composed of Regional Executive Ministers, who will come together nationally for significant events and occasions, for purposes such as worship, celebration, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the strengthening of congregational life and mission. The focus of the Shared Table in consultative, not governance. Administratively, the “Center” is lessened to a few select and necessary activities (shared support services, ecumenical relationships, coordinating gatherings). The Shared Table will elect its officers. The Table sill call a Secretary with very limited responsibilities, and responsible to it. She/he may represent the family in ceremonial and ecumenical affairs. The purpose of the Shared Table is to promote cooperation in mission, and to share wisdom and regional needs/stories.

2. The Embracing of Increased Local Church and Regional Autonomy: Local churches hold regional membership, which can be geographical, or affinity based – the local church decides where it affiliates (it can still also be disciplined by an association and/or region). Regions determine standards for admitting and dismissing churches, ordination standards and reciprocity.

3. ABCUSA Belongs to its People: Biennial meetings (or variations, like virtual meetings) would serve as custodians of the ABCUSA constitution and by-laws. This is where ultimately lay people and local church pastors retain ownership of ABCUSA. The National Table’s Secretary could also have her/his call affirmed by the Biennial gathering.

4. Promoting a More Nimble and Flexible ABC Missional Network: National Boards, AROs, Caucuses form their own independent Boards, which for their own benefit would no doubt be composed of ABC stakeholders from across the regions. Members of the ABC Missional Network would be invited to share with the Table in order to foster communication and cooperative mission. They could partner with individual regions or churches for a variety of mission endeavors.

5. In order to promote unity and an ongoing sense of American Baptist identity, we propose the adoption of the following list of Shared Values:

1. Jesus Christ is the Head of Our Shared Table!
2. Reformational, Anabaptist and English Baptist Roots
3. American Baptist Heritage
4. Continuing Commitment to ABC ethnic and cultural diversity
5. The Current “We are American Baptists” (2005)

These Shared Values characterize, we believe, the deeply held convictions of the vast majority of lay people, pastors, churches and regions in our American Baptist family. When we gather at the national common table, partners will live out, abide by and respect the values, norms and rules of the Shared Table. For the sake of the whole, they would not send to the National Table people who do not subscribe to these values.

6. As American Baptists, we will engage the culture – both prophetically and pastorally – primarily through our host of local churches. Regions may issue joint statements, if they wish, but they shall not be construed as speaking for all American Baptists. If statements are made in the name of the entire Fellowship at the Shared Table level, the threshold for acceptance should be very high.

7. Funding Mission in a De-centralized ABCUSA: The Table Partners will raise the funds for the Table, if the Endowment gained through the sale of the Valley Forgeproperty cannot cover all expenses. United Mission would be replaced by a system in which each of the current partners to the Covenant (Regions/National Ministries/International Ministries/Other ABC partners) would be represented. Churches could give directly to ABC Network Partners or through their regional offices. The fundamental principle is this: churches choose how much to give to whom. Each partner is set free to do fund raising, in cooperation with others, as they feel is best.

No comments: