The staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly Mission Council is asking the council’s elected members to approve a set of nine guidelines for planning decisions.

In the Feb. 24 opening plenary of the GAMC’s three-day meeting here the council discussed the proposed guidelines, which aim to focus and prioritize the council’s ministries to “serve the mission of the whole church.”

“There’s a loud cry for us to focus our work,” said Linda Valentine, executive director of the GAMC.
“We are at a point in the church’s history where change is inevitable — and not that easy,” added Mike Kruse, vice chair of the GAMC executive committee and part of a group of GAMC members who reviewed the guidelines, which were developed by senior GAMC staff.

The most immediate application of the proposed guidelines — which the GAMC will vote on Feb. 26 — will be on the 2011-2012 General Assembly Mission Budget that the council will have to adopt at its May 12-14 meeting.

Kruse and GAMC Chief Financial Officer Joey Bailey showed projections for 2011 and 2012 that anticipate reduced income of between 15 and 20 percent.

At the same time, Kruse said, “if we can maintain spending levels at the 2009 pace (about 20 percent below budget), then the decline to 2011 and 2012 is slight.”

The guidelines are the result of three and a half years of discussion, he said. In that time, the GAMC staff has gathered input from various constituencies, including members, elders, clergy, middle governing bodies and educators, who participated in paired weighting surveys, interviews, listening sessions and a Presbyterian Panel survey.

What that specific focus should be is not clear, Valentine said, referring to the inconclusive research. However, she added, there is some consensus that now is the time for “big ideas and transformative approaches.”

Some of these big ideas:

  • the GAMC’s role in connecting, equipping and inspiring Presbyterians;  
  • engagement in communities of mission practice;
  • focus on the health of congregations and other faith communities;
  • focus on leadership development;
  • embracing a global perspective.

“We’re not called so much to generate new programs,” Valentine said, adding that fostering a movement built on ministry passions of Presbyterians might be the way to go.

Mission practices should become “3D,” said Hunter Farrell, director of the GAMC’s World Mission ministry area. The “1D” mission model involves preaching the gospel, the “2D” model involves proclamation of the gospel as well as mission activity through global partnerships, and the “3D” model combines the first two models and more engagement within the diverse mission communities of the PC(USA). This model aims to relate with middle governing bodies and congregations so that there is a space for networking and coordination in a variety of ways, he said.

After discussing the “big ideas,” council members took a detailed look at the proposed guidelines.

The guidelines state that the GAMC will focus on ministries that can only be done or can best be done at the national level. Ministries that can best be done by other parts of the church will be stopped.

“We can’t do everything for everyone,” said Matthew Schramm, a GAMC member who worked to prepare the guidelines. “Duplication of efforts is not good stewardship.”

The GAMC will serve the mission of the whole church, focusing on ministries that optimize impact, according to the guidelines.

“We have a responsibility to the whole church and the mission of the whole church,” Valentine told the GAMC Executive Committee Feb. 23, adding that while this is true, the church also must give voice to the voiceless.

The guidelines state that the GAMC will avoid duplication, consolidating programs that are done in more than one area. They also state that “given our current priorities and capacities, there are good ministries that we can no longer support within the General Assembly Mission Council.”

“We may have to say goodbye to some long-treasured programs that no longer serve the needs of our church,” Schramm said. “Regular review will become a feature of our work.”

That review will come as part of the guidelines’ “sunset rule,” which will involve program evaluations at least every four years and honoring “the value and loss of programs that may change or be eliminated,” according to the guidelines.

GAMC member the Roger Gench said the guidelines lack concreteness but might be coming out of specific ideas. He said he would feel more comfortable voting on the guidelines if he knew the background of the thoughts behind the proposals.

“That’s what this is — it’s a framework for decision making. It’s not specific,” Valentine responded, adding that the guidelines would be applied to the nuts and bolts for specific decisions as they arise.

The GAMC’s ministry leaders are asking for guidance from the elected members, Valentine said. Staff is trying to meet the needs of a “hurting and unequal world,” she said.  “It’s a tough balancing act for us,” she said, adding that the guidelines are an effort to be accountable.

Council members will have another chance to talk more about the guidelines in their committee meetings Feb. 25, Schramm said.