Friday, February 26, 2010

Random Thoughts on the Whole Shebang: Finances, Stewardship and Structure

There's a current discussion going on over at the HoBD (House of Bishops/Deputies) list. It's ostensibly about finances, stewardship, structure, evangelism and growth. I have some random thoughts about the whole shebang.

     Any realization of a streamlined structure with fewer layers of hierarchy and fewer representatives (in all orders) at any council's table will require fundamental shifts in stewardship attitudes. The fact is that many people in the church give financial gifts for the work of the church with mental strings attached, which may often be unconscious. In the back of their heads they think they have a corresponding right to voice and vote about how those financial gifts are used. Gift giving of this variety is better known as dues paying in a membership-club setting. I see an inverse relationship between loss of control over common elements of our lives, such as choice over jobs and housing due to macroeconomic factors, and the amount of control we desire to exercise over optional parts of our lives, such as how we choose to do church.
     Trusting the leadership to do what they've been elected or hired to do is okay with most people until the leadership does something with which they disagree. Then the big guns of disparagement of the intentions and thinking ability of those leaders and sniping criticism in the blogosphere come out blazing -- loud, fast and furious. Further blame and ridicule are heaped onto the leaders when they exercise judicious silence rather than reacting with anxiety over such public attacks. The political culture in this country has taught us to expect in other arenas the public relations managed responses that come from our politicos when they are attacked to be the appropriate response. 
     Process takes time, but time has become foreshortened in today's cyber culture where people expect instantaneous responses to complex, multifaceted, multilayered, multipart issues. Part of the complexity is the sheer numbers of constituents involved in any single issue, while the actual number of stakeholders may be somewhat smaller. I use "stakeholder" to refer to those who have a direct stake in the outcomes and  "constituent" to mean anyone who has an interest in the outcomes, such as an overarching justice interest although not necessarily a direct, personally life-changing interest, or an observer's interest, such as that derived from being a regular reader of the posts. 
     When a large number of comments are floated in cyberspace on any subject, their sheer volume overwhelms our perception of how little time has actually elapsed from the raising of the issue to subsequent action on it. There seems to be a direct correlation between the rapidity of the cyberspace posts and impatience for responses from those leaders to whom the work on the issue(s) has been assigned by virtue of their positions. I liken this to the single most prevalent reason for failures in cooking: impatience causes the cook to lift the lid, open the oven door or turn off the heat too soon. Similarly, when one is lost looking for an address, chances are good that you haven't gone far enough, and staying the course for a while longer will get you to your destination.
     We have difficulty distinguishing between people and positions, and consequently, we have difficulty respecting the authority of positions when we are judgmental about the people who occupy those positions. In recent years civics education has been eroded and we have been bombarded by 15, 30, 45 and 60-second ads that encourage us to make snap judgments about everything from underarm deodorant to who should be elected to our highest offices. We no longer practice, much less have the training, to analyze and think logically, and our culture, the one in which we are immersed and live, promotes images as a handy substitute for the more prosaic and mundane tasks of engaging what we encounter and how we live. I have often asked in the last several years, where can people go to participate in forums to have conversations about difficult topics in a disciplined, reflective, loving manner? If we, the church, don't step up to provide these forums, because we fear controversy, then who will?
This list of random thoughts is just that: random. I hope to gather more random thoughts on these topics to post here in the days to come. Thank you for reading. I hope you'll join the conversation.

1 comment:

Lydia Kelsey said...

Thank you Lelanda. I think you make some really great points.