By Andy Adams
If you’re a leader of any group of people, it doesn’t take you long to find out that sometimes you can have the best plan, but if you don’t communicate it well, you will unintentionally create fear, anxiety, frustration and maybe even distrust in the hearts of your followers. Everything may work perfectly in your head – you may even have it clearly outlined on paper – but when the details are not shared with those whom it affects, you will not create the kind of ownership needed for it to succeed.
This was a hard lesson learned by the Rules Committee and all those who had invested time and energy to develop an alternative way of creating helpful legislation for difficult topics, particularly disagreements around human sexuality. This alternative process was called “Rule 44” and was offered to all delegates in writing about 3 1/2 months ago. Rule 44 was explained in approximately 8 paragraphs and basically suggested the creation of 50-60 small groups of 15 delegates each who would discuss their thoughts and feelings about the United Methodist Church’s stance on same-sex marriage, homosexual practice and ordination of openly LGBTQ clergy. We were told those thoughts from each group would be collected and then looked over by 6 people (selected from a group of 24 nominees) and synthesized into legislation that would be brought back to the full conference to be debated, discussed and voted upon.
Proponents of Rule 44 felt that something needed to change in the way we discussed such sensitive topics which have created misunderstanding and hurt for many people. Among other things, critics of the rule felt uncomfortable giving so much power to six people. And it seemed that everyone had questions. Proponents assured the conference of Rule 44’s viability – critics were skeptical. What ensued on social media and on the conference floor was nothing short of a spectacle. In the end, Rule 44 was defeated 57% – 43% (in a controversial ruling, it was determined Rule 44 actually needed 67% approval to pass, so it fell far short).
After Rule 44 was voted down, I spoke with one of the Rule 44 small group facilitators who had just been trained the evening before. She showed me the materials that were going to be used in the small groups had the vote to approve Rule 44 had passed (and another vote to ensure that we would use that process on issues of human sexuality). She explained the process clearly, showing me the materials to be used and exactly what information would be passed from the groups to the committee of six. Then she showed me what the committee of six would do and how that would create the legislation that would be brought to the conference. We talked back and forth – I offered a suggestion for what might work better, and after about 20 minutes of dialog I said to her, “I believe Rule 44 would have passed if every delegation had this information ahead of time to allow them time to digest it and practice it in their preparation meetings.” She agreed and together we grieved a bit for our denomination.
There are so many leadership lessons to be learned from this fiasco, but this was the most profound for me. Yes, you can have the best plan, but if you don’t adequately communicate it and create ownership of the process, it will be bound to fail, and unfortunately create more skepticism the next time around. I’m disappointed because I think we can do better than this. Poor communication kills relationships, dreams and visions, and possibly even denominations. A couple of pleas:
First, for those who voted FOR Rule 44 – understand that the skepticism of the 57% was not uniformly a desire to avoid difficult conversation. There were very important issues that were unresolved or at least poorly communicated.
For those who voted against Rule 44 (like me) – please be open to a perfected process if and when it is presented to us. Use it in your churches and delegations. Try it out. From what I saw in detail, I felt it could become something very helpful.
And finally, for those who have the charge of preparing and planning future versions of Rule 44. PLEASE understand the magnitude of your task. You’re not just charged with creating the plan. You MUST also create ownership of the plan amongst the delegations by over communicating the details and getting all the information out 12-18 months in advance of GC 2020. I encourage you to not give up, but please learn from this year’s failure.