Our Common Life…

Change is coming!

With the possible exception of “The biopsy was positive,” I don’t know if there’s a more frightening sentence in the English language. But, make no mistake, change is indeed coming to the way that conference ministry is done in the Iowa Conference.

This point was driven home to me, ironically enough, while I was driving home one night not too long ago. I left home that morning before sunrise and now, some thirteen hours, three hundred miles, two meetings and three fast-food meals eaten in the car, I was still a hundred miles from home. While I dragged myself that last hundred miles, I began to think about the resources that had been consumed that day. As I did so, I began to really understand the truth of something that Dr. Pleva had been saying for months. Doing conference ministry the way it has always been done is no longer a sustainable practice.

There are multiple reasons why our present model of conference ministry is unsustainable.

  1. It’s expensive. For decades the real value of the dollars available to support conference ministry in Iowa has declined. In the last couple of years, however, the actual number of dollars available has begun to decline as well. Even as the dollars available to support such activities become less valuable and scarcer, the cost of conducting the activities continues to increase. One example: I was called to conference ministry in 2007. At that time, the IRS estimated that it cost $0.48½ per mile to operate a car. In 2012, that cost is $0.55½. We drive our vehicles between 3,500 and 5,000 miles per month. Using the 3,500 miles/month figure, what cost us just over $20,000 per year per vehicle in 2007 will cost us over $23,000 per year in 2012. As mileage increases, so does cost. And that is just for the cars. Because of the time we spend driving through cities and towns, stopping for gas, eating meals and similar activities, I seriously doubt that we average as much as 50 mph when we travel. Even at 50 mph, however, 3,500 miles per month is 70 hours of driving. Ignoring the opportunity cost of activities unperformed while we drive, the personnel cost to the Conference of operating one vehicle for 70 hours per month is well over $2,000. That’s an annual cost in excess of $24,000. I recognize that these figures are not precise and are only as accurate as the assumptions I have made to calculate them, but that works out to $47,000 per year per vehicle. That’s what it costs the Conference for each of us to travel from meeting to meeting throughout the state.
  2. It’s inefficient. Even though we try to multi-task (I recently caught myself driving down Highway 3 eating lunch with one hand, checking my e-mail with another hand and driving with my knees), there is really nothing productive you can safely do while you drive except drive.
  3. It’s soul deadening. After you’ve made the drive from Sioux City to Shenandoah or Des Moines to Kahoka or Baldwin to Fort Madison (or any other place in Iowa where we have a church—the destination doesn’t much matter) once, there isn’t much to see or do the next ten or twenty or fifty times you make that same drive except fight to stay awake and alert. After awhile, that struggle really starts to wear.

For all these reasons and more that I don’t have the time or space to list, your Conference staff has been working hard over the last 8-12 months to rethink the way we do Conference ministry. We are starting to implement some of the fruits of this work already and will be doing more in the coming months. We are not alone in this work, however, and we greatly value your input in how we can do this work better, more efficiently, more cost effectively. We invite you to share your thoughts and ideas with us.

The reality is that change in the way we relate and work together is inevitable whether we want it or not. Do we work together to ensure that this change comes in an orderly, well thought out and intentional way? Or do we turn our backs on that inevitability and let events direct us rather than vice versa?

Change is coming. Do we embrace it or do we get run over?

Tony Stoik, Associate Conference Minister/Western Iowa

8 Responses to Our Common Life…

  1. Jeff Wartgow says:

    I have been hearing a lot about the nature of the problem, but haven’t really heard nor seen much about what are being proposed as solutions, at least not with any specificity. I don’t think most people know where to begin the conversation until some of what is being implemented is more widely shared. Does the staff have a vision for our conference and if so how do you recommend we work toward realizing it?

  2. Dan Lozer says:

    I think the fear of “change is coming” is that people my age have had our fill of “bold initiatives” that died a natural death-by-planning. imho the best approach is “options and adoptions” (here’s some things you can do, let the best ones survive). Try anything once and let it grow or go. For instance, one of my classes this time around is fully online. I was asked to do it for lack of others, glitchy as all get out, and I feared “not knowing” the kids in it, but their online personae are utterly charming.

  3. Linda Cron says:

    I am currently enrolled in the online webinar experimental class for Called to Lead. The times can be conveniently arranged; none of us drive for each class; Nicole H., the instructor, sets up the class from her DesMoines conference office, and other than getting the glitches out for sign-on process, we are having a successful experience. We have an opportunity to meet in person at the end of the class. Conference phone calls eliminate the face to face opportunity of webinars, but are also cost and time effective. I am finding that rather than resisting technology, I am beginning to embrace the possibilities. As long as one person at a site is tech-savvy, these online meetings can work.

  4. John Noer says:

    My feelings and thoughts of late have beween in the opposite direction. We are having telephone meetings for the Advisory Council of the NW Association. That saves a lot of travel time and expense. But it means we don’t face one another, have opportunities to chat and get better acquainted, etc.
    Previously in the NW Assn we had an annual retreat, involving Friday night and a good part of Saturday. This was for the Leadership Team which included not only committee chairs but all committee members. Committee sessions were held Friday night and possibly Saturday morning, then sharing was done with the entire group. There was time for worship, time for fun, time for rest, time to explore our campground setting, etc.
    Now we have only one operating committee — the COM and not retreats. Now we meet at the Annual Meeting andperhaps only then. We speak to voices on the phone and if we’ve never met some of them that’s all they are — voices on a phone.
    It may not be true for the Conference, but for the NW Assn, it is not a matter of finances. we have more than enough money to hold retreats and day-long meetings and pay the toll.
    Regrettably, the leadership is not there, the recruitment of committee members does not happen, and we end up doing what’s most practical under the circumstances.

  5. Steve Jewett says:

    The oxen are slow, however the earth is patient.

  6. Jeff says:

    Seems to me the “change is indeed coming” comment involves more than just whether or not teleconferences are held instead of residential meetings! I’d really like to hear more about what the conference staff means by “coming change?”

  7. Jeff says:

    Obviously the blog page has been invaded!

  8. Jeff Filkins says:

    “Where two or three are gathered, I am there.” says Jesus. I agree with John’s idea of a retreat. I wonder if we took more time at annual meetings to break into working groups for our associations, say in dormitory common rooms, in order to get to know one another “spiritually” in a “retreat-like atmosphere.” In this way we might know each other better to make the monthly meetings work by teleconference. I don’t believe you can create the sense of community that touches our souls without actual, face-to-face interactions and experiences to draw from. Though our youth seem to know the virtual world best, I also know of the hurtful nature of cyber comments not fully thought out or offered without knowing the audience. I’d be interested in gathering our youth in a similar fashion, physically present in group building fashion, before the annual meetings to build relationships that touch our spirits; then the “virtual meetings” will have a chance to work based on the history we all share with one another. This would also be the best approach prior to events like National Youth Event or General Synods. In this retreat model we would all need to “buy in” and allow the process to work. We can hope it would make the annual meetings an event that folks would think twice before missing.

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