What We Should Expect from "Conversations"

In two weeks, ministers and members of RCA congregations from all over will meet in Orlando for an event the organizers have called “Conversations.” The purpose of this gathering is to engage in the deep sharing and interaction that could lead to a new vision and mission statement for the denomination, one that would succeed “Our Call,” whose ten year run is soon coming to an end.

I wish I could be there. Because of my February schedule and some obligations I have a few months from now, I decided that I should not attend. “The spirit is willing” and all that.

Moreover, I do hope that the event goes very well. I hope it is well attended. I am grateful to my friends who, as General Synod officers and RCA staff, have been busily and prayerfully setting this event in order. They have poured tremendous amounts of time and energy into it. We should not treat such effort disdainfully. These friends deserve our thanks.

Yet even if I could go, and even as I wish for this creative effort of my friends to be a smashing success, I would have some questions and concerns that I would be inclined to share with others likewise in “conversation.”

You see, I am a little suspicious about ten year goals for large organizations. I don’t think they are (necessarily) a sign of faithlessness or hubris, as some other friends of mine might say. But they do strike me as trying to see too far. Ten years? Do we really want to set goals and vision for the next ten years? How can we make definitive statements of goals, program, and principles that would usefully cover such a long period? Isn’t it possible, or even likely, that adjustments will need to be made? Doesn’t the specificity of the goal necessarily decrease with the length of the period addressed by that goal? My 1 year goals are a lot more specific than my five year goals (which tend to be general or even aspirational). Please don’t ask me to come up with ten year goals.

Of course, it may not be the intention of the planners that “Conversations” would lead to a statement that would guide the next ten years. Maybe that is one of the things to be discussed. (I would encourage that.) And there surely would be no expectation that a new vision and mission statement would be decided at “Conversations,” so that it was then and there binding on the whole denomination. At the very least, I am sure the process sees the results of this event as informing the 2012 General Synod, who would be responsible for deciding on the next actions.

And yet, I still have some nagging concerns. For we’ve seen how these things can go. Statements developed by some group get presented to the General Synod with hard sell tactics, with the trappings of inevitability, with subtle forms of coercion that suggest a lack of faith on the part of those who would ask questions. That is what happened in 2003 with “Our Call.”

I pray that “Conversations” is not used in this way. Again, I pray that it is a success, by which I mean that it is a blessing to the RCA.

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