Plan B is Enforcing Plan A #CallToAction

Why the #UMC Alternative Plan is still about Executive Power

In the 2009 Movie “Pelham 123,” good guy Denzel Washington asks bad guy John Travolta how he is going to get away with hijacking a subway train. Here’s their edited-for-language exchange:

Denzel: You gotta understand that the circumstances they’re different now for you. You gotta rethink this, you… you gotta adapt.
John: No, I gave you instructions and you know the consequences.
Denzel: I mean don’t you have a plan B?
John: No, plan B is enforcing plan A… and the minute you stop believing me ****, that’s it!

While “Plan B” is usually referred to as the humorous or less-than-stellar backup to plan A, Travolta says that Plan B is merely to reinforce Plan A. And that’s just the way it is going to be.

This is relevant because a Plan B has entered the conversation with the United Methodist Church: a group of discontent Methodists, most of whom are on the highest executive committee in the UMC (the Connectional Table), have published an alternative to the Call To Action that we love so fondly here at And in many ways, like the movie, Plan B is only a more palatable version of Plan A’s goal: greater executive authority in the UMC.

Comparing Plan B with the MFSA Plan

Let’s compare the two plans before us that are alternatives to the Call To Action (most specifically the IOT legislation).

The Plan B and the MFSA plan (of which I’m a co-signatory of) have two different proposals of what should constitute the highest executive committee in the UMC. Please click on the chart below to make it more readable and then we have some analysis. Update: the thumbnail below didn’t update when I updated the chart. So you have to click it to get the accurate numbers. Silly thumbnails…

When you compare the two plans, there are many similarities but many points of contention.

  1. Plan B has fewer members than the MFSA plan and, indeed, the current executive committee. It looks the same, but with 11 non-voting members, there’s much fewer votes at the table.
  2. Plan B seeks to limit the “non-voting” membership to voice on only topics where they have direct affiliation. MFSA’s plan allows for non-voting representatives from each General Agency and from 10 of the ethnic and advocacy caucus groups (UMRF, Good News, Confessing, MFSA, and RMN) to have voice but no vote.
  3. Plan B seems to obfuscate that there would actually be six bishops on the executive committee, as the Agency Heads would all be Bishops.
  4. The MFSA plan calls for a rather-high number of 40% of the Jurisdictional reps to the Executive Committee to be racial ethnic. While this is higher than the actual percentages of the UMC, a commitment to this percentage is an avenue of growth within the USA as racial/ethnic communities are growing while Caucasian communities are shrinking–and the church needs to reflect this reality to remain relevant.

It is without irony that the Plan B people state that one of their guiding principles is to create a coordinating body “without a concentration of general church power.” Ha! When compared to the MFSA plan, those six bishops and smaller number of people certainly concentrates power in fewer people with greater power. In addition, with the lower mandates (of racial ethnic members, young adults, and gender), there would be fewer representatives of those classifications than the general population.

Numbers are great, but what are their purposes?

More than the numbers and the statistics, MFSA has a completely different understanding of what this executive body’s responsibilities and purposes should look like.

  • MFSA envisions the CT as a coordinating body and thus renames it the Coordinating Council.
    • MFSA seeks to give this body a clearer purpose than the current CT, “to serve as a forum for coordination of the mission, ministries and resources of The United Methodist Church.”
    • The responsibilities of the CC flow from this purpose and include providing a forum for understanding and implementing the vision, ministries and mission of the global church; providing a forum for inter-agency conversation; enabling flow of information; reviewing and evaluating missional effectiveness of agencies, in collaboration with their governance boards; making proposals to General Conference; leading general church planning and research; and collaborating in the preparation and review of the general church budget.
    • In short, the Coordinating Council is a forum for conversation and visioning, rather than a micro-managerial group of the entire church and the church budget.
  • Plan B envisions the CT as a strong executive body (like the Call To Action proposal)
    • Plan B gives the CT oversight responsibility for all program agencies.  MFSA reserves this kind of responsibility for the respective governance boards.
    • Plan B gives the CT responsibility for evaluating program and operational audits of the agencies, with the power to withhold approval of programs or activities and the power to direct GCFA to withhold funding in relation to unnecessary duplication or failure to achieve established outcomes. MFSA reserves this kind of responsibility for the respective governance boards. 
    • Plan B gives the CT authority for the annual evaluation of the strategic planning, goals, objectives and quantitative commitments made by general church agencies.  With this, the CT would be given the power to withhold funding if the CT determines that an agency has not achieved established outcomes. MFSA seems to assign the CC to have a role in creating the proposed quadrennial budget, and they would receive and approve agency budget reviews. But that does not translate to authority to withhold funding, reserving this for the respective governance boards.
    • Plan B gives the CT a pot of funds, called the “Connectional Table Adaptive Challenge Fund,” to be distributed to the agencies in accord with the evaluation and review of their measurable outcomes and facilitation of initiatives to increase vital congregations. MFSA calls for utilization of both quantitative and qualitative standards of measurement rather than just ‘measurable outcomes’ which are, for the most part, quantitative: butts in the pews, dollars in the plates.

In short, Plan B gives the Executive Committee (the CT) the power to evaluate and withhold funds from everything in the Church. MFSA indicates that this kind of evaluative role is most appropriately placed with a given agency’s governing board.  Such a board may at times request outside assistance in evaluating its agency, but it is bad management to formally task this to an outside group like the CT.

Downsizing or Right-Sizing of the General Agencies?

Finally, we need to comment on the rest of the reorganization plan: the “Right-Sizing” of the General Agencies

  1. Both the MFSA plan and Plan B call for a “right-sizing” of the denomination. Currently, there are 641 members of the General Agency boards.
    • The Call To Action reduces that number down to roughly 153 (60 members of the two executive boards, plus the anticipated board memberships of UMM and UMW, and the Publishing House)
    • Plan B reduces that number to 280 (40 member Connectional Table plus proposed 25-30 member boards at all other agencies)
    • The MFSA plan lowers it only to 397 (includes the 67 members of the Coordinating Council, plus 33-member boards at each of ten different agency/centers)
    • In every case, there is a significant reduction of the number of board members, but both MFSA and Plan B have larger boards than the CTA. I think it is appropriate to shoot for the middle ground somewhere between MFSA and Plan B rather than turning over the power of 641 people to barely 25% of that number. Again, it seems like too much executive power to me. I’m reasonably confident that between the backers of the MFSA and the Plan B plans, it will shake out to be somewhere close to these two.
  2. One of the biggest differences between the MFSA plan and Plan B (and the IOT legislation) is what to do with the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) and the Commission on the Status and the Role of Women (COSROW).
    • Both Plan B and IOT place these monitoring agencies under a General Agency, whereas MFSA keeps them separate. Their rationale is that in order to maintain the independence of their monitoring functions, they must report to an independent board rather than reporting to an agency of which they are also monitoring.We often choose impartial people to monitor the government and  the monitoring and accountability-encouraging functions in the UMC are no different.

When you wade through all the particulars, Plan B’s proposed setup:

  • concentrates power
  • subjects the process to politicization
  • overwhelms a staff that does not have the capacity or internal insight for this level of evaluation
  • exclusively prejudices quantitative measurements over qualitative, with no account for ministries that produce great value yet are challenging to quantify with numbers or require a long-term commitment in order to yield results.

In short, everything that HackingChristianity criticizes about the Call To Action (executive authority and quantitative evaluations, to name two) is also found pretty easily in Plan B. Boom!

Where do we go from here?

I think the only way to end this post is to repost the end of my most recent piece for Ministry Matters:

Given all this, the question remains: which executive body both looks most like the United Methodist Church that we recognize, and which body is closest to what we need right now?

The key thing for me is to decide if the “Methodist” way of doing things has value. Every faith organization has this identity and structure. For example, when our Catholic friends have crisis in their communities, they turn to the monks. When Cardinal Law presided over the Boston Child Abuse scandal and stepped aside, the RCC went to the Capuchin (a monastic order) Cardinal O’Malley. O’Malley sold the opulent mansion and cleaned house, as far as I can tell.  My worship professor at the time said that has been their process through the ages: when the priestly order falls short (I forget the proper term for Law’s vocational lineage), they turn to the monks whose order is more bottom-up than top-down.

That’s the Catholic way of handling crises. Criticize the results how you may want, but it’s the Catholic way. The Methodist way to handle crises is through representative democracy: elected executives, diversity of opinion, big-tent Methodism, social action in varied stratum of society, committees, boards, and mutual accountability. This has been the Methodist way ever since we lost our chief executive in John Wesley and we haven’t replaced him until, perhaps, now. It is through this unwieldy Methodist connectional system that we find both our bane of slow to respond and our strength of holding together diverse groups.

I’m a young clergyperson and my generation has not seen any segment of society become more centralized. For example, music distribution went from the Big Records to Napster to Gnutella to Limewire (becoming more decentralized at each step). I honestly cannot think of any other organization in the world that is movingtoward a “top-down” system rather than away from it . . . other than corporations and 20th century power bases. And yet this move towards centralization and negation of connectionalism is exactly the direction the UMC seems to be heading with the Call to Action movement.

To me, the Spirit is found in the back-and-forth, the struggle for consensus in groups, the diversity of belief and passion that larger more-representative groups bring. They are unwieldy, they are not uniform, they are slow, they are full of sinful humans…but they are Methodist. And it is exactly that quality which I fear is being lost if we choose a proposal that excises difference and consolidates power in the hands of the few. There’s trimming that needs to happen to our family Methodist tree, but I don’t think cutting off the taproot is the best way to go about it.

Thoughts? What kind of church do we need for the 21st century? One with a group of executives at our top (like the Plan B and IOT plans), or one with a forum for conversation and visioning (the MFSA plan). Which is best to guide the church faithfully in our increasingly post-Christian context? And more importantly…will you tell your delegate which you see as best? The power is yours, use it in the next week before it is too late.

Thoughts? Thanks for your comments.

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  1. says

    I’ll offer my observations, and then maybe we can haggle for a while.

    I support the CTA proposal. I have my issues with it, but they aren’t exclusive to the CTA but to how we address support for small/rural churches and communities.

    But in terms of what’s on the table now, I see this concentration of power as a good thing. I don’t see it as a centralization, rather I think it solidifies the decentralization that has been going on through all of our lives. The current hierarchy is very top heavy and was useful in a time when those resources were needed in order to address either big issues or provide access to places that individual churches couldn’t get access to.

    Both of those are no longer good reasons. Now, things work more along the lines of a network model and not the traditional hub and spoke model. What’s being proposed in through the CTA is a reduction of the spoke to a size that is more appropriate for the way things work now.

    By providing a much smaller hub, and giving it a clear leadership role, it adds flexibility to the entire system. For me, I see this as being important in a time when things are much less certain and speedier responses are needed as well as a focus on the mission and direction of the church.

    This also releases many of the people who were working at this top level to give their talents to other parts of the network and strengthen those places. I think an argument can be made that the proposed model recognizes the grass roots nature of the church and gives more power back to individual churches and conferences.

  2. Brian says

    In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the Emperor, nee Senator Palpatine, consolidates power “for the safety and security” of the star systems. How’d that work out?

  3. Karl C Evans says

    The real issue with all three of these plans is simple. It is clearly not “executive” power. Rather, it is the “haggling by a very few away from the table.” 25 years ago I went as a consultant to assist a new Annual Conference organize. One of the cabinet said to me “I really don’t care what you and the planning committee come up with. It does not matter. You will come up with some fancy plan which may or may not be approved by the annual conference (it wasn’t) Then three or four of us old heads will get together and organize the conference the way we think it ought to be.” And that is precisely what happened.

  4. Jim Davis says

    The Biblical image of the Church as the body of Christ suggests an organic understanding of the church, rather than a corporate model. We should be looking at network theory, rather than organization theory. The original “Connexion” was a group of lay ministers who signed the book that they wanted to be in “connexion” with Mr. Wesley, that is, accept his leadership. Today’s connection is a network of those who accept the leadership of the Bishops, the General Conference, and the various annual conferences. The Call to Action research should have focused on how the general agencies connect with local churches.

    Coordination is over-rated. Each of the general agencies is a specialist in some aspect of the work of the church. Because the parts of the body have different functions, they have different perspectives, and tension (and balance) among them is to be expected and welcomed. The point is not that we are all doing the same thing, but that we are all working toward the same goal (to make disciples…).

    Change in the church is more like government reform than reorganizing a corportion. For example, the Dept. of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have different perspectives and represent competing interests–both of which have validity. In the federal government the diverging persepectives are managed by the executive branch and prioritized by the legislative branch. Neither agency gets abolished because both are valid. The point is priority and balance and not hurting each other’s work.

    Historically the general agencies grew out of grassroots movements of clergy and laity who were concerned about some aspect of the mission/ministry of the church. In The Discipline each of the general boards has an incorporation paragraph listing earlier organizations. For example, the General Board of Church and Society lists 15 predessor corporations. The General Board of Global Ministries lists 23. Every time we restructure (and rename) a general agency we damage the connection with those historic roots and the missional concerns of local people. Who remembers that we once had a Board of World Peace (representing our opposition to war) or a Wesleyan Service Guild (for employed women)? Those emphases have been submerged bureaucratically just at a time when we desperately need them.

    Revitalizing local congregations is a cultural issue rather than an organizational issue. We can restructure the general agencies until the cows come home and not impact local churches. We can fire all of the ineffective pastors and still not produce effective congregations. Research shows that the most effective way of reaching new people is invitation by a lay person. Admittedly, lay people’s enthusiasm for their local church is in large part dependent on their response to their current pastor, there is more to it than that. We need to develop a culture of outreach. Bickering about homosexuality and politicking about church structure don’t help to develop a joyful (spirit-filled) climate in our local churches that will be nurturing to the present members and attractive to new people.

    We have identified the right problem–lack of membership growth–but we are looking for a solution in the wrong place–restructuring the general agencies–and in a way that is not helpful to solving the problem.

  5. says

    Jeremy, I’ve been thinking about the whole accountability issue and the power of the executive increasing. I think the problem is when we keep adding another layer of oversight to oversee the leaders. At what point to we have to go and get the pope or the Dali Lama to oversee our highest leaders? It seems to me that our biggest problem is that the people in the local congregations don’t know what all of these boards do and do not know why they are paying for them. Shouldn’t accountability come from the local churches that support the denomination? It seems to me that you could decrease the amount of people on the boards and increase the amount of effort and money they have in sharing with local congregations what they do, and encouraging local churches in what they have been apart of. It’s the similar to the way that politicians have to be accountable to their constituents, you have to talk to them and tell them what you are doing for them and tickle the ears, make them feel good that they support you, and you know get their house worked on when there is a tornado, etc. Now its not a “you work for me son”,but more like Paul’s relationship with the Church at Philipi. I think that the local churches and the boards are worlds apart, when a closer relationship, a mutual accountability, and more Christian conferencing would benefit both greatly. And really isn’t this more of a down up approach then the top down?

    We as a denomination may need to revise our understandings of accountability from being a government checks and balances to a Christan mutual accountability, for one favors a negative view of human goals (that power and individual is the end that every person seeks) and the other supposes God can work in human community for a better more loving outcome.

    Granted our conference (OK) did endure the wrath of a Bishop Smith who (as i am told) had no accountability and ruled as a tyrant, and we all stand in fear of that behavior happening again in any way. We must understand the tendency for people who seek and wield power and the possibility of God to work in human community for loving outcomes.

    Following the method of more accountability from a lower place (the roots) I would like to see Superintendents reviewable by the DCOM and local SPRC’s who would report to the Bishop, and Bishops reviewable by the Dcoms, cabinet, and BOOM, reporting to the the Council of Bishops.

    Really the General boards have to hook into the local churches instead of just getting stuck talking to the bishops and the top; otherwise we go the way of the Vatican and our elite clergy and laity become a colony unto themselves while their constituents remain of little importance, under authority without true mutual accountability.

  6. says

    Thank you very much for this comparison. i wish my delegation had had access to it at our last meeting. My own thoughts re: CTA vs MFSA vs Plan B are still in flux.

    I’m sold on the need for a decentralized, more authority lower-down-the-chain approach that lets the church be more adaptable and flexible. The early church was crowdsourced to a large degree, and they gave us people willing to give their lives to Christ.

    But what I want to see in the MFSA plan is something you’re railing against–quantitative evaluation. If nobody is collecting data upon which to make decisions, then it doesn’t matter where the decisions get made.

    One other strength of the CTA and Plan B MFSA, that you don’t mention (and, I think, implicitly reinforce in your chart) is the emphasis on skills-based criteria for selecting who sits on the coordinating council. As a young adult lay person in the UMC I have been asked to participate in all manner of boards and committees on the conference and national level by virtue of nothing other than the fact that I am a young adult engaged in the church. Eliminating competency criteria which we have reasonable belief will be required of board members and replacing it with demographic identities absent demonstrated competencies is not a step towards a better-functioning democratic system.

    I’d love to hear how I’m wrong, though. Praying for greater discernment for us all…


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