In reflecting on the Call to Action and its impending journey through the next General Conference of the United Methodist Church, I have wrestled with its use of the "adaptive challenge" language of Ronald Heifetz. I resonate with much of the CTA's documents, thus far, but I find the weakness to be here: not in the use of the language of adaptive challenge, but in the struggle to clarify the adaptive challenge itself. As I have written, the Interim Report is stronger in its offering of technical solutions (and largely ones that I also support) than adaptive ones.
So, a simple suggestion: what if the adaptive challenge, inspired by the Call to Action, is that nothing happens at the district, annual conference or general church level that is not in partnership with some local church or small network of local churches? There are evidences of strong partnerships already (note the Ginghamsburg Church's mission work in the Sudan with UMCOR), but the idea would be that this becomes normative, and a key measure in how funds are allocated (and perhaps matched).
This, it strikes me, is "giving the work back to the people." The General Conference speaks for the whole church. The Bishops guard the faith of the whole church and seek her unity. All other work would be planned and executed with local churches as full partners in the equations. This would potentially create the following benefits: local churches would become more connectional; in an age of scarce resources, crucial and life-giving work would be sustained; the distances between boards and agencies and local churches would be lessened; and smaller boards and agencies could draw upon the gifts and talents of the laity who remain in their local contexts.
I am aware that on one level this is not a novel idea; this is the way we function now, at our best. I am suggesting that the flow of resources should be to the mission of God that happens as local churches use their own resources and those within the connection. Indeed the mission of God, in its United Methodist expression, calls for a strong and vital partnership between local churches, where disciples are formed, and institutions whose history and expertise are essential.
This simple suggestion will call for congregations to be more connectional (and thus healthier), and for boards and agencies (in whatever form they exist) to be more local. This will require us to change our behaviors and it will lead us to collaborate in sharing our strengths. All work done beyond the local church will be for the sake of the local church, but on the way to a larger purpose: the mission of God and the transformation of the world.