Whence the dialogue?

Whence the missional structures dialogue?

In setting aside the proposed recommendations of the Missional Structures Task Force, the delegates of GS 2007 gave specific instructions to the GSC for continuing a dialogue. These were embodied in R-16 as follows:

To instruct the executive committee of General Synod to continue the denomination-wide dialogue and data collection with written survey and other means on the missional purpose and work of the Reformed Church in America, its assemblies and congregations; and further, with all regional synods, all classis, consistories, and other bodies, to facilitate this conversation in order to gather wisdom, share ideas, and encourage experimentation, so that the RCA might discover new means by which to more effectively equip congregations for mission and ministry with measurable outcomes; and further,

to share the results of these actions with the General Synod and no later than 2010, in order to determine what future steps, if any, might be undertaken.

That was June and it is now March, nine months later, and a quarter of the way through the three years allotted to conduct the dialogue and assess its results. What do we know that has been accomplished in that time?

Given how the MSTF report was formulated during the 2005-2007 time frame, the question of progress to date is crucial. Most of the first year into 2006 was expended gathering the MSTF membership and that was a quite limited number of persons to be consulted. The current list of persons to be included in the dialogue process is far more extensive and the means specified for consulting them adds much more complexity to the process. If participants are going to have an adequate time to reflect on the fundamental questions being raised, an accelerated start would be expected.

The reports, such as they are, out of the GSC to date are worrisome. From the press release issued a month after the October 2007 GSC meeting, one may deduce that there is a plan for the dialogue that was discussed and that was outlined. The preliminary values statements were released but no details have been forthcoming as to who will be talking with whom, when or how. In other words, all the usual components of any action plan were either missing or under wraps.

There was a sentence in the release about how the dialogue was going to be a central focus of the 2008 General Synod. I may have missed it in my reading of R-16, but nowhere did the General Synod indicate that it wanted to dialogue with itself. The plain sense and intent of R-16 was that the discussion begun at GS 2007 be expanded to all the other assemblies and parties mentioned in the resolution. Somehow, the GSC does not want to hear that message, despite its plain English. What GS 2008 will be subjected to is probably an exercise in framing the issue, as if this was not already accomplished last year.

The process specified in R-16 was an open process of gathering data and visions present at every level of RCA assembly. The GSC response seems to be to find ways to impose limits on the process, including an ideological frame that strains out contrary data.

Why not just go out and start talking with the folk at local and classical levels? This does not have to be an over-engineered process. What is needed [and soon] are plane tickets for GSC members and some time for plain talk.

2 thoughts on “Whence the dialogue?

  1. Great point, Jim. As a delegate to the upcoming General Synod, I wonder: if the answers about the “whence” of the Dialogue (where it’s been) are unsatisfactory, then can delegates insist on either halting or speeding up the “whither” (where it’s going)? And do the delegates have the power to break out of ideological frames and insist on a different process?


  2. Two possible replies, Dan: theoretical and pragmatic.

    Theoretically, you and I both know that no GS can be bound by the actions of a previous GS. So GS2008 could toss the whole thing out, accelerate it, or vote that “missional” means more of us need to set up grazing lands in our church yards.
    So, yes, the delegates CAN change the rules of this particular game in any way the majority so desires. They would just need to be firm and insistent in the face of staff and GSC members telling them that they can’t do it. Which leads me to my other reply . . .

    Pragmatically, I don’t know if GS delegates on the whole have the mental power and/or will to “break out of the idealogical frames and insist on a different process.” The centralization of authority and decision-making in the RCA has not come over widespread resistance and complaint. On the whole, GS delegates of late tend to be sheep and tend to want to be sheep, having somebody with a title tell them what to do so that they can make the RCA be successful. That (a theological impossibility in Reformed thought), combined with the fact that we seem to regularly have synods where 2/3 or more of the delegates have never been to synod before and haven’t learned the rules, leads to synods that won’t do much to challenge GSC plans.

    On the other hand, there was GS 2007, to remind us that, with God, all things are possible.

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