Monday, March 26, 2012

Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce and Short-Term Solutions to Long-Term Problems

Reading the proposed budget for The Episcopal Church for the next triennium, I am reminded of the classic Dickens novel, Bleak House.  The plot centers around a loosely connected family named the Jarndyces.  Long ago, some ancestor died and left a valuable estate, and since then, various branches of the family have been caught up in the legal case Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, questioning which of them is the rightful heir.  The plot meanders through labyrinthine Dickensian twists, until at last, the lawsuit ends.  Not by determining an answer, though – by using up the entire estate in legal fees.  Once the last hour has been billed, there is no more property to bicker over, and the lawsuit dies. 

Well, you could say The Episcopal Church is caught up in a never-ending labyrinth of plot twists, and meanwhile, our resources are being eaten up by administrative costs.  In a world that is rapidly changing, in which hierarchical institutions are being flattened, and new forms of church are bubbling up, our churchwide structure is caught up in a top-heavy model of ministry that simply eats up money.  I don’t believe God will let this church die – but let’s don’t let it get that close.  Let’s think about mission.

It may seem mundane to talk about mission in terms of a budget.  But the way we allocate our treasure shows where our hearts will be.  So let’s talk about allocation of financial resources at the churchwide level. First, we need to accept as the unvarnished truth the fact that our church is declining precipitously in attendance and finances, while aging significantly in comparison to the population.  We have neglected evangelism and forming new disciples, especially among the younger generations.  As a result, if we do not take some significant and strategic actions now, our church will continue its graceful decline, right into oblivion.  Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce!  

At the same time, as I noted here, Administration and Governance Costs together comprise 65% of the money that dioceses and others send to the national church structure, at least in Executive Council’s proposed budget.  Not exactly an inspiring statement of mission!    Just take one look at the category of costs called “Finance.”  Out of a total triennial budget of $104 million, Finance Costs are $15 million, over 14%.  Of that amount, $8.7 million is payment of principal and interest on the debt, most of which finances the Manhattan office building known as “815,” which houses a portion of our administrative offices.  It costs another $7.3 million just to run the Treasurer’s and Controller’s Offices.   At the same time, program offices like Christian Formation (that is, all youth and campus ministries, and all formation offices), which currently cost much less than the finance offices, have been eliminated. 

It’s like the dioceses are sending money to 815 so they can spend the money counting the money. 

This is an unsustainable situation.  It’s Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce.  Let’s talk about solutions.

Short-Term Solutions

According to Ron Haifetz' theory of leadership (for a brief explanation, see the Ron Haifetz videos posted on the HoD website), problems can be divided into technical problems (those we know how to fix within our current structures) and adaptive challenges (those that require a complete reorientation at all levels of an organization).  In the short time left between now and General Convention 2012, I do not believe we have time to meet most of the adaptive challenges in front of The Episcopal Church, though we can begin shifting our priorities.  We DO have time for some technical solutions to the problems in this proposed budget.  

But what is reasonable to achieve with technical budget fixes?  In the short term, it would be a mistake to try to solve adaptive challenges with technical fixes.  This is what will happen if we try to make major reorganizational decisions by budget-cutting. 

How do we know this would be a huge mistake?  That’s exactly what we did in 2009!  Without foresight, vision, or strategic planning, huge budget cuts were made that caused numerous churchwide employees to lose their jobs, and numerous programs (many of which had just been legislated into existence at the very same convention) to be shut down. 

Why are we thinking about doing the same thing again?

All right, I won’t scratch my head and ask what’s been going on the last three years.  I won’t ask why we haven’t done some proactive planning.  I won’t ask why we’re falling into exactly the same trap now.

Here’s what I want to ask:  isn’t there a better way to do this?

Yes, there is.  And I think the process falls into two stages.

Short Term: avoid making major shifts.  The Christian Formation office was cut under the rationale that such things are better done at the local level.  I don’t agree, because I think it is tremendously short-sighted for a church that is suffering from failure to form new disciples (especially among the young), and from aging demographics, to cut youth and college programming.  Strategic vision for the future would require increased, not decreased, resources for youth/young adult ministries, at all levels.  True, this is a ministry that is essentially done at the local level - but we can't simply remove all its churchwide supports and expect it to thrive on its own without strategic work to make sure other structures are in place to support it.    

But that’s my argument; you can disagree.  Here’s the point: if we cut Christian Formation in this budget, we are making a huge long-term decision based on narrow short-term thinking.    

Short-term, it is perfectly possible to balance this budget without cutting Christian Formation.  We can do this through our existing legislative structures, by advocating through PB&F public hearings, or even proposing an alternative budget.  To understand how a technical fix to this budget might work, you need to understand some basic accounting issues with the way this budget was put together.  Sorry about the accounting stuff, but here goes:

> This budget looks balanced, but it is actually a deficit budget of $1,250,000.  This is because Executive Council used money from the Endowment ($3,766,000) to fund a new Development Office – but the cost of the Development Office was incorrectly listed.  See line 366 of the budget: only $2,516,300 of costs are listed.  As a result, in effect, this budget uses Endowment Income designated for the Development Office to fund operating expenses – bad move.  $1,250,000 needs to be cut.

> On the other hand, there is one large and rather strange adding error.  The total for line 689 is overstated by $1,412,770.  I asked Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls and Treasurer Kurt Barnes for an explanation of this discrepancy (and I thank them for their careful attention to my question).  It seems that in the rush of approving the budget, Executive Council first deleted 10% from this area and then may have decided to add it back in - but the details are not clear and no one really seems to know.  Absent an explanation, we have an opportunity for painless budget-cutting: whatever this unexplained figure represents, no one has complained about its absence.  Let's cut it from the budget.    

> Once the above items are corrected, the remainder of the budget can be balanced by freezing most administrative costs (not increasing them as this budget proposes to do, for God’s sake: this budget actually proposes a 3% per year raise for Church Center employees, in a time of falling revenues when many or most local church employee salaries are frozen).  By freezing most administrative costs, we can restore most of the costs of Christian Formation, the Board of Examining Chaplains, and Jubilee Ministries.  This is all possible because Executive Council has already done some significant budget-cutting, including cuts to funding for CCABs, which seems reasonable.  Here are sample figures for one way this might work (though I do not have access to  all the details underlying the proposed budget figures; PB&F does, I hope, and would be able to refine these figures):

Proposed Increases / (Decreases) to Expense:
PB Office Staff Costs ($364,000)
Bishop Europe ($50,000)
General Board of Examining Chaplains $150,000
House of Deputies Staff Costs ($212,000)
Office of Gen Conv Staff Costs ($335,000)
Archives Staff Costs ($300,000)
Chief Operating Officer Staff Costs ($180,000)
Controller Staff Costs ($420,000)
Treasurer Staff Costs ($119,000)
Facilities Management ($200,000)
Human Resources Staff Costs ($270,000)
Mission Technology Staff Costs ($150,000)
Correct Error Development Office $1,250,000
Restore Jubilee Ministries $650,000
Restore Christian Formation $2,500,000
Anglican Communion Staff Costs ($200,000)
Correct Error Grants Covenants Approp ($1,412,770)
Office of Government Relations ($650,000)
Net Increases / (Decreases) ($312,770)

All we have done here is kept major churchwide programs in place.  Significant cost-cutting between the last triennium and this triennium in some areas has been accomplished, because that cost-cutting was already in the proposed budget.  Comparing my changes (above) to the proposed budget,  we have not cut any further administrative expenses – we have just refused to increase them.  That’s reasonable, in a time of budget-cutting!  There’s even a little money left over.

By making these changes, we avoid making long-term decisions based on short-term budget shortfalls.  We don't try to apply a technical Band-aid to an adaptive challenge.  We give ourselves time to make long-term plans in the next triennium.  And, if it is really true that some of these ministries would be better done on the diocesan or local level, well, we give those networks time to formulate plans for how to get that done. 

Right now, if we cut youth and campus ministries, there is no local, diocesan, or provincial structure in place to take over those functions.  That is a recipe for disaster.  Especially while we increase administrative costs.  The proposed budget would simply suck more money away from mission into administration: the Episcopal version of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce

Once we have made these short-term technical fixes, we have time to think about the adaptive challenges ahead of us.  That will be the subject of my next post: Long-Term Thinking.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Perfect Candidate

Taking a break from writing about the budget ... let's talk about interviewing for a job.  I wrote a status update on Facebook yesterday about my difficult experiences interviewing people for positions at my church.  No need to repeat that here, but I confess I am surprised at how many young people don't know basic strategies for interviewing.  I guess they're not teaching it any more in schools, the way they used to.

Anyway, if you are looking for a job ... and many young people are, in this economy ... it might help you to know what I am (and others like me are) looking for and experiencing.  So, here goes.

First, let's talk about the basics.

  • Spell check your resume.  It's free!  And I am going to be looking to see whether you are going to embarrass me when you send out emails full of spelling and grammatical errors.  (Honestly - I actually had someone misspell his own name on his resume.  I know because he spelled it two different ways in two different places.)
  • Write me a cover letter - not a 2-line email saying, "Here's my resume."  Tell me why you are excited about this position and why I should be excited about you.  Highlight specific experiences you've had that are similar to the job I'm trying to fill.  Tell me you hope to talk to me soon.  Include that cover letter as a Word or pdf attachment and not just as part of your email, because I am going to want to save the cover letter and resume, and if I like you, forward them on to other members of my search committee.  Use spell check!
  • Show up early.  Ten minutes early is good.  If you're late, you'll inconvenience me, because I have arranged my schedule around you.  But more importantly, you'll make me think that you're one of those flaky people who don't keep their commitments.  I don't want flaky people on my team.  
  • Dress a little better than the position requires.  I know, you're interviewing for, say, a youth position, and youth dress casually.  But remember, you are dressing not just for the the youth, but also for their parents.  And I am going to be looking at you to see whether both the youth and their parents will respond well to you.  And I sure don't want to be sitting there thinking, OK, my first come-to-Jesus meeting with this person is going to have to be about her habit of wearing low-cut, revealing clothing to church.  Or his habit of wearing grunge clothing.  Or whatever.  
  • Do not ask me in the first paragraph, or even in the first interview, what the salary is.  I will think that you're interested in renting a nice apartment or buying a nice car, instead of in doing the ministry that I am looking for someone to do.  I actually do understand that you need a salary to live on.  If I like you, I will invite you to come for a second interview.  At that point, if it is an imposition on your time to come to a second interview - say, if you have to travel to get here - then you can ask me, delicately, about the salary range.  I am not going to tell you the specific salary, even then, but I will give you a general idea.  I won't know the specific salary I am willing to offer you until I have decided how well you will fit on our team.  
  • Try, at least try, to be interested in the job I am actually interviewing you for, and not some other job it may lead to at some other organization at some time in the future.  Being interested in advancement is a fine thing, but being interested in personal advancement at the expense of my church is not.  The sooner you are planning to move on to something else, the bigger the liability, and the mistake, hiring you will turn out to be.  I want to know that you are interested in this job, at this church.  
  • Know something about me, my church, and the position I am interviewing you for, before we talk.  It's all there on our website.  I will want to know that you have thoroughly read the position description and all the links it points to, and I will give you bonus points if you ask specific questions about them.  I will give you extra gold stars if you have noticed other things on our website, not directly related to this position, but things you find exciting, inspiring, or interesting.  Ask questions about these things!  Show me you've noticed!  
OK, now that the basics are out of the way, I want to give you a little insight into what's going through my mind as I interview you.
  • This interview thing?  This is the biggest pain in my neck right now.  I really, really want to fill the job vacancy I have so I can create a solid team, which can go back to doing the work we love to do.  I have been praying (hoping, wishing, worrying) that the right person would show up, pronto.  That means, when you walk in the door, I want you to succeed.  I want you to be the one.  
  • But listen - that doesn't mean that I want just anyone to fill this position.  I'm not hiring someone to flip hamburgers.  I am hiring someone who will be a part of a team.  I want someone who will build relationships, with the staff and with our customers, that is, our church members and our surrounding community.  So - I am not hiring someone who is in this for the short term.  If you build great relationships, and then leave after a year, I am worse off than before I hired you.  Don't give me the impression that that's what you are planning to do.
  • That means that I am going to be listening hard for two things: are you called to do this kind of ministry, is this something you love and have a passion for?  And, are you in this for the long haul?  If you tell me that you're just looking for something for a year or two, while you find yourself, then I'm going to be pretty sure that you are not called to do this ministry.  I'm not going to hire someone on a trial basis, while we both figure out if it's going to work.  
  • Let's talk about calling.  In my business, the faith business, we believe that God gives us spiritual gifts and calls us to use them in specific ways.  Therefore, I am looking for the person who is called.  In business, you would say this is a person who has a passion for exactly this kind of work, and the skills required to do it.  I am ideally looking for someone who has found herself/himself doing exactly this kind of thing in various ways for a long time.  That doesn't mean you've held exactly this job before.  It does mean that you've shown these gifts and enjoyed this kind of work, as a volunteer, a camp counselor, an extracurricular leader, etc.  Show me and tell me what you've done that demonstrates your calling for this kind of work.
  • If you get past the initial set of questions with me, I am going to ask you to give me examples of two things: (1) leadership and (2) initiative.  Examples - that means stories.  I want to hear you tell the stories of things you've done really well.  Come prepared to tell them.
  • If I really, really like you, I will also ask you to tell me the story of something you've failed at, and what you have learned from it.  Failure is the best learning.  Don't make up some BS about how you failed to be humble enough about how great you are.  I know the B-school routine.  Please do tell me something that you have failed and learned from.  We all fail, from time to time. I want to understand that you are open to growth and learning.    
  • You know what else I want to know about?  Your work ethic.  I want to know that you will show up when you say you will, and work the hours I am paying you to work.  I will look favorably on those two years in high school you spent working at McDonald's, because I will know that they didn't put up with you showing up late or deciding to sleep in on a whim.  Tell me how you are willing to put in hours to get the job done right.  There is occasional overtime in this position, and there are irregular hours.  I will tell you the hours are flexible, and it is true.  But I want to know going in that you will be there when you say you will, and you will put in the hours that you are paid for, and you will consider yourself a part of a professional team, and act professionally.  
  • This is a church.  I am going to want to know about your faith life.  What draws you to this church, why do you follow Jesus, what do you think is important about being part of a church?  What do you see as the church's mission?  Why should people be part of it?  I will want to hear you say that you have been praying about this job opportunity.  
  • Tell me your vision for this position.  What would you do to make it a terrific ministry?  What ideas do you have to contribute to this organization?  How will you help transform people's lives?  How will you help people come to know Christ?  I really want to know this.  Because I want you to be the minister, not the robot who does what I tell you to do.  I want to turn you loose and watch you blossom as you do what you're called to do.  Show me that you're a leader, with ideas, creativity, and faith.  
Maybe you're not looking for a church position, and some of the things I've said don't apply to you.  But think about what I've said, and go into your next interview ready to shine.  And God bless you in your next ministry.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Would a Mission-Oriented Budget Process Look Like?

A budget is a missionary document.  Like it or not, the budget states what our true priorities are.  As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Wherever we put our treasure, is where our hearts are guaranteed to end up.  So – it follows that we need to put our treasure where we want our hearts to be. 

So, a budget states our missionary priorities.  Unfortunately, too often, a budget is simply a rehash of whatever happened last year, plus some sort of adjustment for inflation (cost increases, salary raises, or whatever).  Thus, our missionary priorities are built on the backs of the past, and we end up doing whatever we did last year, plus some (or, recently, in DFMS, minus some).  In a paradigm like this, it becomes very hard to turn a very large ship.

So what happens when times change?  When it is time for adaptive change, not just technical change (in Ron Heifetz’ terms)?  When we need to rethink our mission, our actions, and our paradigms?

In a situation like that – which, in The Episcopal Church, is the situation we are in – a same-as-last-year-plus-a-little (or minus-a-little) approach is exactly the wrong approach.  Remember that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.  If we don’t change our way of allocating treasure, we will continue inexorably on the course we are on: decline. 

Unfortunately, our budget process in TEC is almost guaranteed to keep us in decline.  If I understand it correctly, it goes something like this:

  • The treasurer's office laboriously estimates next triennium's income, adds up all the expenses it can anticipate, and enters it all in a massive spreadsheet that it presents to Executive Council.

  • Executive Council, composed of a group of people with varying degrees of financial expertise, very little time to work, and lots of other tasks to accomplish, works through the numbers it is given as best it can, asks questions, makes a few changes, and creates a budget proposal.  Of necessity, the budget is based on last year’s expenses, because there has been no overarching consideration of mission - only ad hoc discussions as Executive Council members looked at the numbers they were given.  Council does the best they can with the limited information they have.

  •          The Program, Budget, & Finance Committee takes the proposed budget and begins to massage it.  At General Convention, they hold a series of hearings, at which the best-organized and most unanimous groups, those with the most articulate supporters, get the most air time and attention. 

  •           In the waning hours of Convention, PB&F proposes a revised budget to General Convention.  That budget is similar to Executive Council’s proposal, with pluses or minuses for what PB&F heard in the hearings. 

  •            General Convention may make minor tweaks to PB&F’s proposal, but because the Convention is nearly concluded and cannot adjourn without a budget, the budget passes with little enthusiasm.  This budget may have little relationship to initiatives that were passed earlier in the Convention.  As it turns out, much of the previous legislative work is for naught.  The only thing that counts at an operational level is whether projects were funded.  (Example: at GC ’09, all of the resolutions of the Evangelism Committee, on which I served, were passed with high levels of support.  Almost none of them were funded; the Evangelism Officer, who would have taken on these projects, lost his job; the only project funded was the Latino/Hispanic initiative, which had numerous well-organized supporters speaking in support in hearings and on the floor, and got 10% of its budget request.  Note: I worked hard on the Latino/Hispanic resolution, and supported it enthusiastically.  But I supported the other Evangelism resolutions also, and they all died for lack of funding.) 

  •          The church continues to trundle on, with enthusiastic dreams not funded.  In fact, some of those dreams may never have been articulated because some of the folks most deeply involved in the ministries were never consulted.  The ship goes meandering slowly on, in the same direction it was already going. 

So what would a mission-oriented budget process look like?  First of all, we need to do away with the assumption that what we did last year should have any relation at all to what we do this year.  No more last-year-plus-a-little.  And for that matter, no more last-year-minus-a-little.  No references to last year at all. 

Now I realize that I am not an 815 insider, or an Executive Council insider, or any kind of expert on the inner workings of DFMS.  But, to me, this is not rocket science.  In the financial straits we are in, it is vitally important that we ensure that our limited financial resources go to fund mission priorities that can transform the church.  After all, where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.  A mission-oriented budget approach might look like this:

  • At the beginning of each triennium, Executive Council undergoes a visioning process.  In the light of decisions made at the last General Convention, what should be the priorities of the church?  Where is God leading us at this moment in our history?  Where does God want our hearts to be?  That's where we need to put our treasure.  Executive Council names its top mission and budget priorities for the coming triennium.  

  •            Next, Executive Council asks each department or mission group also to undergo a visioning process, in conjunction with the group’s networks of influence in the wider church.  The Formation Officers, for instance, would work within their own group and would also consult with groups like NAECED (now Forma).  The Stewardship Officer would consult with The Episcopal Network for Stewardship and the Episcopal Church Foundation.  What is their mission, and what activities are vital to achieving this mission? 

  •           Once each mission group has defined its mission, ask them to explain how their mission helps to further the church’s mission.  For convenience, General Convention has already defined TEC’s mission as the Five Anglican Marks of Mission.  Executive Council might choose to add other vital components of the DFMS mission, such as relationships with other churches of the Anglican Communion, ecumenical relationships, governance by all orders of ministry,  fiscal responsibility, etc.  Each mission group needs to explain how their mission helps to advance Executive Council’s defined components of mission.

  •            Now that each mission group has defined and justified its mission, it needs to explain what its mission will cost.  It will do this in two interrelated ways:

o   Its basic budget request.  What is the bare minimum amount the mission group needs to fulfill its mission?  What would allow it to do maintenance and no more?  The group needs to justify the full amount it is requesting, line by line, position by position.  It must be an absolute rule that its request does not refer to last year’s budget.  This is the basis of zero-based budgeting.  Your request starts from zero, and you justify it from there. 

o   Its “dream” request.  If there were no limits in resources, personnel or time, what would the group like to achieve?  How could they creatively work with other church networks?  What would they love to do, if only they could?  Let them dream about the possibilities.  Then let them put a dollar figure on the possibilities, with a full explanation of what the dream projects would accomplish.  If the group has no dreams – well, that speaks for itself. 

  •            Please note that every mission group that needs funding must go through the same process – every administrative department, every CCAB.  What are they hoping to accomplish to further the church’s mission?

  •            Executive Council may have some dreams of its own – a development office, say, or ensuring greater fiscal responsibility by paying down some debt.  Executive Council will also have to articulate these dreams and how they help to advance the church’s mission. 

  •            Executive Council’s budget group receives the mission statements, the definition of how those missions achieve the church’s priorities, the basic and the dream requests.  The budget group weighs these requests against projected revenue.  And then the budget group begins to set priorities.  How central is the mission of each group to the mission of TEC?  How well has the group worked with other networks in the church to empower diocesan and local mission?  How captivating are the dreams?  How do all the amounts balance out, dreams against dollars?  Are there some big dreams that can be achieved for moderate dollars, or very few dollars?  Fund them!  Are there some big dollar amounts that don’t seem to map well to the church’s mission priorities?  Eliminate them!  Executive Council creates a budget that uses the funds available to meet the mission priorities that are most vital.  Administrative support is funded as necessary to support other mission groups. 

  •             Executive Council creates a budget and forwards it, along with all the budget information, including dreams and mission statements, to PB&F.  This communication process will be very important, perhaps requiring in-depth meetings so that PB&F members can hear what exciting and vital things are contained within this budget proposal.  Mission groups who want to have their dreams funded will work with networks within the church to have appropriate resolutions formulated and passed, and supporters mobilized to speak in favor.  This will require them to do consciousness-raising work in the wider church. 

  •            PB&F will make a budget proposal four days before the end of convention.  This will be possible because significant advance work will have gone into the dreams and requirements that make up this budget.  This advance proposal will mean that there will be time to make changes on the floor; however, proposed changes must be bottom-line-neutral.  That is, if they propose to increase an expense item, they must cut another expense item or increase a revenue item to counterbalance it. 

  •            With plenty of time to consider, General Convention will decide on the budget.  It will be Executive Council’s job to communicate the dreams and priorities and hold the mission groups accountable to achieve what they said they would achieve.  Employee evaluations, raises, and continuance of employment will be based on these benchmarks. 

Under this revised budgeting method, you have not assumed that last year’s assumptions will still hold true.  You have a group of people that has worked hard to understand its own mission and how it relates to the mission of the larger church.  You have employees and networks that have dreamed about the possibilities and about ways they can achieve them. You have begun to point a very large ship in a whole new direction.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Budget is Out, and It's Not Pretty

Executive Council’s proposed budget for the triennium 2013-2015 has come out, and it is not pretty.  Christian Formation has been slashed by 90% at the churchwide level – no youth programs, no young adult programs, no campus ministries.  At the same time, administrative costs for the Presiding Bishop’s Office, the Chief Operating Officer’s Office, the treasurer, the finance office, and the Washington DC lobbying office have increased substantially.  What gives?

Let us stipulate that a budget is a missionary document.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” said Jesus.  It’s not that we are supposed to put our treasure where our hearts already are.  It’s that we are supposed to put our treasure where we want our hearts to be.  We’re supposed to put money into what we know our mission should be, and Jesus says our hearts will follow. 

So where should our mission be?  What is God calling us to do?

Happily, this not a difficult question.  The Episcopal Church has already taken a stand about where our treasure and our hearts should be.  In 2009, General Convention passed Resolution D027, which stated that our budget priorities should be based on the five Anglican Marks of Mission, which we share with other Anglican churches throughout the Communion.  Those Marks of Mission are:

1.     To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2.     To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
3.     To respond to human need by loving service
4.     To seek to transform unjust structures of society
5.     To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

The budget proposal just released includes expenses in these five categories, plus two others not listed as Marks of Mission:

6.     Administration
7.     Governance

We should be clear on what these Marks of Mission mean for us.  The first two Marks describe how we fulfill the Great Commission to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).  In contrast, the last three Marks describe the fruit of that mission: when we have built committed disciples, they engage in ministries of loving service, changing unjust structures, and caring for the earth.  Therefore the first two Marks of Mission are the essential foundation of all mission in our church.  Without committed disciples, we accomplish nothing.  

So – let’s see how we are doing with our budget priorities.  

Looked at from the standpoint of the Marks of Mission, our churchwide budget seems seriously skewed.  I did a detailed analysis of the line-item budget, and here is what I came up with:

1.     To proclaim Good News of the Kingdom:     $3.1 million, 3%
2.     To teach, baptize and nurture new believers:  $286,438, 0.27% 
3.     To respond to human need by loving service: $27.6 million, 26%
4.     To transform unjust structures of society:         $4.6 million, 4.3%
5.     To care for creation:                                           $106,470, 0.1%
6.     Administration:                                              $55.2 million, 52.1%
7.     Governance:                                                   $13.7 million, 13%

I note that the percentages above are not the same as Bishop Sauls' calculations of "mission" and "overhead" in his famous presentation to the House of Bishops.  I am not sure how he determined his percentages, but my calculations are available to anyone who would like to request them, at

Now, administration and governance are important functions for our churchwide office to perform.  Someone needs to count the beans (administration) and someone needs to make the decisions (governance).  It is certainly important for the churchwide office to be our primary liaison to other churches of the Anglican Communion and to exercise leadership in ecumenical affairs.  Accounting and finance functions are necessary.  Other administrative costs are vital to support our mission.  Our Church Center includes, for instance, an office of Research (administration) that has been churning out useful information for quite a long time, helping congregations understand how they need to grow and where their next mission steps should be.  And one can make the argument that governance is an extremely important reason a churchwide structure exists at all, since most “mission” is performed at the local level. 

But for administration and governance together to comprise 65% of our total churchwide budget?  Ridiculous.  For the two highest, most foundational priorities (Marks 1 and 2) to comprise barely more than three percent of our churchwide budget?  Outrageous.  For the Christian Formation office to have been cut by 90%, from its minuscule less-than-3% level to nearly nonexistent, while administrative costs are beefed up correspondingly?  Unconscionable. 

We don't need this kind of administrative structure.  We need governance, we need accountability, we need lay and clerical involvement in decision-making structures of the church.  We don't need armies of administrators.  They are not accomplishing the Marks of Mission.

Look, let us agree on some foundational principles for creating a budget:

  1. 1.     The budget needs to be balanced.  This is a test that the current proposal fails – despite the fact that it looks balanced, this is actually a deficit budget of $1,250,000.  See line 366 of the budget: development office expenses were understated by this amount.  This budget was balanced on the strength of $1,250,000 taken out of the endowment and unintentionally applied to operating costs.  On Day 1 of Convention, if nothing else changes, PB&F is going to have to find another $1,250,000 of budget cuts to correct this error. 
  2. 2.     The budget needs to include responsible payments on debts, because Christians honor their obligations.  As far as I can tell, this budget passes that test. 
  3. 3.     The budget needs to provide for reasonable overhead, administration, and governance costs.  As noted above, these functions are necessary.  However, this budget fails this test.  No one on earth could claim that $69 million of administration and governance costs are reasonable and necessary.
  4. 4.     The budget needs to further the mission of the organization.  Epic fail.  The resources devoted to the Five Marks of Mission, already determined as the church’s mission priorities, are tiny compared to the self-perpetuating administrative structure.
  5. The budget should provide that expenditures are made at the level at which they will be most effective - congregation, diocese, or churchwide.  I myself have advocated for moving away from churchwide programming in some areas toward more of a networking structure.  But targeting Christian Formation for these cuts is a seriously bad idea.  By cutting Christian Formation almost entirely, and by devoting laughable amounts to the first two Marks of Mission, this budget ignores opportunities to empower mission at the churchwide level.  Youth ministries, for instance, are in such decline across the church that teenagers need to be gathered at levels other than the congregational level in order to achieve critical mass.  Teenagers like to be with other teenagers, and they hear the gospel best in company with other teenagers, in age-appropriate worship, speaking, and cultural styles.  Most of our congregations, average attendance 65, do not have the capability to do these things.  Dioceses, provinces, and yes, the churchwide structure should take on more responsibility for gathering young people in groups like EYE, not less.  
  6. The budget should abandon expenditures that are not effective.  Does anyone in Washington really care what the tiny Episcopal Church thinks about the great issues of the day?  Does the average Episcopalian think that lobbying is a good use of her or his hard-earned, faithful contributions?  Do we really want to spend $2.6 million on this function and practically nothing on the 2nd Mark of Mission, Christian Formation - one of the two mission areas that empower all the others?  

The budget narrative states that funding was cut for items best done at the local level, while retained for governance tasks for which the churchwide structure exists.  I get it.  I think governance is important too.  Our unique polity in The Episcopal Church is based on widespread participation by laity, deacons, priests and bishops: governance.  But that is not what is increased here.  Funding for CCABs (i.e., governance), for instance, is cut substantially.  Well and good.  But staffing is increased for numerous administrative (not governance) staff positions.  And Christian Formation is nearly eliminated. 

Has anyone at the Church Center (other than that very useful Research office) looked recently at Episcopal Church trends?  At our declining attendance, at our age distribution, at the way our members are skewed alarmingly toward the older end of the scale?  How can anyone think – apparently based on a haphazard, non-random Survey Monkey survey, no doubt filled out by a lovely, non-random, self-selected sample of the most dedicated insiders of our aging Episcopal population – that youth ministries should not be funded at every possible level – local, diocesan, and churchwide?  How can we not be in emergency mode here, doing everything possible at every level to reach new and younger populations for Christ and for the Episcopal Church? 

Let us be frank here.  The need to reach out to young people is not an emergency that will hit us 20 years in the future, just because 20 years is when those folks will be old enough to pledge.  This is an emergency that hits now.  If we are not foresighted enough to understand this on its merits, then maybe we can understand it this way: if we can’t appeal to the youngsters, then we’ve lost their parents too.  And Generation X, their parents, is the generation that is about to take over leadership and stewardship in our church, as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age.  This emergency is here NOW.  More on this here:

We need to make some huge changes now.  We need to immediately reallocate resources away from administration into evangelism and Christian Formation. 

The current budget was promulgated by Executive Council, with the staff backing of a delightful group of administrators. These administrators remember the days when a Washington lobbying office of The Episcopal Church could actually make a difference in US politics.  They stay busy all day long with their administrative tasks.  They naturally see their own functions as crucial. 

They are not.  Here is what is crucial.  The kids are crucial.  The college students are crucial.  The un-churched, de-churched, and semi-churched people who are longing for a spiritual connection to God are crucial. 

God has a calling for this very special branch of the Christian family called the Episcopal Church.  We are unique, distinctive, wonderful.  We are catholic, evangelical, liberal, sacramental.  We have a vital role to play in the coming generations.  Let’s don’t let this beautiful church die in an meaningless, short-sighted, administrative ditch.  

Just a Couple More Things

Development Office.  Perhaps this is a good idea.  But is it right to fund it out of our endowment funds?  Is this even legal under the terms of our endowment, when funds generated by the Development Office won't necessarily go back into the endowment?  I would like to see a legal opinion on this.  Even if it is legal, is it an ethical use of endowment funds?  I am not decided on these questions, but I think we need to ask them.

Special Convention.  The special convention recommended by Bishop Sauls has been deep-sixed in this budget.  Instead, Executive Council has allocated $500,000 for a special consultation on restructuring.  Hurray, I say!  A special convention would have been outrageously expensive.  A special consultation will be a good first step in figuring out mission for the future.  

815 2nd Avenue.  My understanding is that the value of the building is not much in excess of the debt, so that after closing costs, commission, and moving expenses, we might walk away from it at breakeven.  It still might be a good idea to sell it.  But that won't affect the budget for this triennium.  This is an albatross we have to budget for.  

Debt Funding.  My understanding is that our two items of real property, 815 and the parking lot in Austin, are backed not by mortgages, but by our endowment fund.  This is not a wise way of funding real property.  A mortgage is a responsible way of doing debt funding because the risk is limited to the value of the property itself, and creditors can't come after other assets.  Not so with endowment backing.  If we end up underwater on our building-related debt, our creditors can come after our endowment.  This is very risky financing.  We need to make wise and responsible rules for how to fund our properties.  We're stuck with it at this point, but we should not be doing these things in the future.