If I wasn’t there…

Thomas didn’t get to get to see Jesus when he first appeared to the disciples.  Famously he refused to accept their preposterous witness:  “Jesus is alive!”

I’m not much inclined to bash Thomas about this – had I not been in the room, I suspect I’d have shared his skepticism.  Such skepticism is, nonetheless, problematic for group function.

Every organization has rules.  Some are written and widely known, others not so much.

Here’s one that’s never been written, and mostly never thought about.  It doesn’t prevail in every organization, but often (too often!) it prevails in churches:  “If I wasn’t there, it didn’t happen.”  We might call it, “The Thomas rule.”

The more trusting is the system, the less likely this rule prevails.  But when an organization has trouble with trust, this rule raises its ugly head.

You’ve probably seen it just as much as have I.  A committee is assigned responsibility to research an idea and make a recommendation.  But when it brings its report, the people with authority to move the idea ahead seem inclined to return to square one and redo all the research and deliberation already done by the committee.  How likely do you think it is that the folk on this committee will soon volunteer for a similar assignment?

Sometimes “if I wasn’t there, it didn’t happen” gets worked out in a different way.  This time the same committee has been conscientiously doing its work and deliberation, though one of its members has absented himself from most of the meetings.  Toward the end of the process he (it could be a she, of course, but you get the point), shows up and essentially tries to return the process back to the beginning.  After all, “if I wasn’t there, it didn’t happen.”

Highly effective organizations trust their members to do good work, and that work is honored in ways intentional and public.  It isn’t that everyone in a highly effective organization will always agree.  Sometimes people honestly and respectfully disagree with a recommendation, but they DON’T treat the work already done as trivial or invisible.

On October 19 congregational representatives and authorized ministers of the Iowa Conference will gather in Ames to receive reports and transact the common business of our churches.  I’m delighted that registration for the meeting is already considerably higher than I had feared it might (oh, me of little faith!).  

As always, of course, some will not be in attendance.  Some have unavoidable conflicts.  Others have different priorities.  I’d prefer to see every congregation represented and every authorized minister present as a manifestation of our common covenant, but I realize that won’t happen. Nor will I lose sleep over it.

Rather than push guilt-based attendance, let us aspire to a level of trust that moves us to affirm the work of those who labor on the behalf of all.  Let us NOT succumb to the (egotistical!) temptation to presume that no valuable work is ever done in our absence, but instead let us honor those who have prepared the recommendations that will come before the meeting, and subsequent to the meeting let us all honor and respect the decisions that those present in Ames that Saturday discern to be in our best interests.

Still…..I do hope to see you in Ames!

With great hope!

Rich Pleva
Iowa Conference Minister

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