What's Needed in a General Secretary?

Our gifted and vigorous General Secretary, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, has announced his departure from that position. I sincerely wish him health and happiness in this next stage of his life. Now it becomes the task of the RCA to choose a successor. Humanly speaking, it will not be easy. There will be pressures from many sides: to satisfy demands or requirements that speak to vested interests, to continue or depart from the shape given the position by someone who, over the course of sixteen years, truly defined it.

There are certain characteristics that will obviously be required of our next General Secretary, things that no one within the RCA could find objectionable. That person must be a Christian, and that person must be competent. In addition, I think that most would agree (although perhaps not all) that the next General Secretary must be a member of the RCA.

Beyond these, there are at least two other characteristics that I would like to see in our next General Secretary. They are quite broad, so I find it necessary to express these under categories one probably would not find on a typical job posting for an executive. In short, I hope that the next General Secretary will be multilingual and musical.

The General Secretary should be multilingual. I don’t mean literally, of course (although it would be a good thing for her or him to be able to speak Spanish, Korean, and Mandarin). No, what I mean is that it is important for the leader of this denomination to understand and converse in the varied religious dialects that we find among our members, often concentrated in certain geographic regions. We do not all speak the same. We do not all look at the same issues in the same way. Sure, there are common convictions that keep us connected. But the things we hold in common are so often expressed in different ways. And those varied modes of expression have often led to misunderstanding, indeed, even to mistrust. The next General Secretary must be knowledgeable about these varied modes of expression and the worldviews that are their basis, and must not let one dialect dominate the conversation so that all others are silenced.

The General Secretary should be musical. Again, I don’t mean literally (although that might be fun). Rather, I have in mind something like the collection of skills and virtues that make a good performing musician: a good sense of intonation, fine rhythm, stamina, agility. All of these are needed for the chief executive of this denomination, for the sake of the church but also for that person’s own health: a good ear to discern the harmonious and the discordant, a sense of the cycles of groups and of the self that impact productive work, a capacity to work hard and long and under great (often public) pressure, an ability to adjust quickly to the opportunities of the moment.

Besides these, a good musician needs a knowledge of the history of the music she or he is attempting to play. Whether it be Bach or jazz or the blues, the best, most thrilling musicians know the history of their art and bring that history into what they newly create. This, too, is similarly needed for the General Secretary (and, I believe, for all leaders in the RCA): an understanding of the history of this denomination, an appreciation for the Reformed tradition, a deep knowledge of the theological emphases and commitments that mark us and (rightly) continue to shape us.

May God bless the search committee in their labors.

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4 thoughts on “What's Needed in a General Secretary?

  1. Yes, very well put, Daniel.

    I would add the suggestion that, whether or not he is from the RCA, the new GS should be a reformer. By this, I mean she or he should be able and anxious to come to understand who we are, the basis of the covenant that we profess holds us together, and then to help us all covenant together to change who we are.

    More change is coming to the RCA, there has been quite abit during Mr. Granberg-Michaelson’s tenure, and he has, for the most part, been artful in leading us through it. Too much of it, however, has been revolutionary, a simple break with what has been before, as if the covenant were something quaint, but secondary in importance to the survival of the institution. What we sometimes seem to forget is that, for us, the covenant is the heart of who we are.

    I believe the next GS will need to lead us all through significant change, and will do it best by reforming: helping us all to discuss where we have been, where we are going, and to covenant a new path. Not easy stuff.

  2. Dan,
    I very much like your multi-modal take on the position of General Secretary. The RCA is not a salvation army with a General heading things up, but a Communion in which a Secretary serves the General Synod’s realm of responsibilities. That this will always carry with it a personal flavor and performance style is aptly captured in your musical analogy.
    The Wes GM symphony has sounded out some very strong and persistent themes. Seen as Wes’ symphony, I would say that the third movement (in symphonies since Beethoven often a scherzo) has been the least developed section. And the theme of eco-logical awareness –so strong at the opening– has been more ‘logos’ than ‘oikos’, and surfaced more as ‘keeping house’ (oiku-mene) motifs. Here this ecumenical work has been fully in the Reformed vein, and become a song of hope, albeit more bureaucratic than Eugene Heideman’s theological one.
    Even so, the oiko-nomos derivatives Shari Brink and others introduced have been experienced as quite dissonant (much like the twelve-note system by Schonberg and others….). First because oikonomic laws as financial players are always too brassy and dominant. Secondly, because the John Carter universe of means and ends does not sing and is tone-deaf to the music of the spheres. (It would have made far more sense for the RCA to modify the ‘sphere sovereignty’ models of Reformed neo-scholasticism than adopt the vaunted ‘BHAG salad bowls’ of turf bookkeeping).
    And that brings me to a final reflection: a symphony is meant to be an aural manifestation, more than a visual one. The RCA is to be Reformed according to the Scriptures. The next General Secretary would do well to help the Church to not only be a very good listener in the theater of God’s Glorybut also good singers. helping us to trace and traverse fields of resonance within its walls, and sing lyrical melodies Christians from other orchestras and ensembles, even while the cacophony of the world surrounds us.

  3. Great fun, Okke! I like where you took the musical analogy.

    I wonder: what would a denominational oikonomy that had a significant scherzo “sound” like? (Note for those unfamiliar with symphonic form or Italian: “scherzo” means “joke,” so such a movement is supposed to be fun.)

    Another question: are you opposing the eco-logical and the oiku-menical?

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