As I write this, I have just left the office of the Synod Executive of the Synod of Mid-America, Rev. Nancy Kahaian. I was invited to meet with her so that she could give me a preview of the ways in which the Synod is moving forward with its plan to transition to a "virtual governance structure."
Nancy said that this plan is ruffling some feathers, and it's easy to see why: flattened leadership structure, fewer face-to-face meetings and a streamlining of the Synod's routine business of oversight. While Nancy had invited me to her office to see the tool, we spent most of our time talking about the purpose of synods and how a virtual structure would assist them in accomplishing their work.
I've never said it publicly as Vice Moderator, but I've elsewhere been pretty clear that I think that synods should be a thing of the past. I have found them to be a misuse of the good per capita monies given them, and I've thought that much of their responsibilities could be easily absorbed by the General Assembly.
I am now not so convinced.
As Nancy shared with me the different aspects of their virtualization plan it became clear that Synods could not only become viable again, but they could truly become integral to the life of our denomination, all with a simple shift in purpose. If Synods figured out how to do their "routine" administrative business through virtual channels, reducing the need to spend valuable dollars on travel reimbursement, they could then redirect that money into grant money to spawn innovation (this is what is called for in the Mid-America plan, if I understood correctly).
Think about it:
- The General Assembly spends its time and energy setting broad parameters that define us as a gathered body of believers and witnessing to our convictions in the national and international public square.
- Local congregations spends their time focused on the practical day-to-day work of seeking peace and justice through ministry and mission in the places where they find themselves.
- Our presbyteries can focus on making sure connections between congregations are made so that ministry and mission a given region can be coordinated.
- And the synods, through their use of virtual governance to take care of routine oversight matters, can spend their time focusing on incubating and incentivizing innovation.
To be sure, we need plans that are more nuanced that what I've laid out here, but I dare say that the work of the Synod of Mid-America just might be one of the ways forward that we've been looking for.