In their excellent book, Episcopacy in the Methodist Tradition, my friends Russ Richey and Tom Frank quote from a book that I wrote some years ago with Andy Langford. “In a church that is overmanaged and underled, we desperately need our bishops to become leaders in the decentralization and creation of a new connection.”
I believe that more than ever after four years as a bishop. Tom Bandy has a wonderful phrase, “strategic dis-harmonization.” That is what a declining institution needs from its leaders, in my opinion. Unfortunately, too many of our leaders continue to administer the church as their greatest challenge as leaders was to insure constant, undisturbed harmony in the church. They still act as if the church were growing by leaps and bounds, as if our greatest challenge were to keep things in order, slow down movement, and stifle change.
We have expended too much time tweaking structures and machinery when what we need is to abandon unproductive, laborious, slow moving structures. Sometimes I think that many of our traditional ways of working were designed to make sure that they take the maximum amount of time to produce the minimal amount of fruit! Simplify, simplify!
I therefore applaud the work of the leaders of the North Alabama Conference who, in just a few years - completely reorganized the work of Connectional Ministries, getting the staff out into the Districts; moved from twelve to eight districts thus greatly simplifying administration and saving nearly a million dollars a year on administrative costs, money than can now be put directly into ministry; and changed the format of Annual Conference to make our annual gathering less expensive, more accommodating of the laity, and more efficient.
A number of our elected members of this year’s General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference said that they did not know how much had been accomplished in North Alabama until they witnessed the laborious, poorly planned, time-consuming and ultimately unproductive work of these gatherings. (Hooray for the North Alabama Delegation that introduced a resolution at Jurisdictional Conference entreating the planners to be more respectful of delegates’ time and patience by planning a better Conference.) All the more reason for us in North Alabama to forge ahead and show the rest of our Connection the good that can come by holding the church more accountable for the use of our time, the actually results of our work, and the stewardship of our resources.
William H. Willimon