A leader who inherits an institution will always have this elephant in the room: REFORM-ME-NOT. Pope Francis, as well as the bishops of the United Methodist Church, will always have this elephant in the room. And the elephant stands on three legs: outdated ideas, outdated methods and just plain ole human nature (pride).

When a leader possesses internal self-leadership, connects with the people he/she is to lead and functions from a world/future view shaped by the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the elephant in the room shrinks because creative strategies emerge…as if sent from heaven!

Currently, Pope Francis is taking on the elephant in the room: the Vatican bank.

The Vatican Bank: A BIG three legged elephant

In 2012 Vatican letters were leaked to the press by the Pope’s personal butler (then Pope Benedict). The public discovered corrupt purchasing practices. Archbishop Carol Maria Vigano confirmed the pubic charge by denouncing the signing of inflated contracts with chosen companies. The Archbishop shaved down one contract that purchased a Christmas Nativity scene for St. Peter’s Square. The discount totaled $ 340, 000.

But that amount was too little, too late. The present Pope was silent and the resulting vacuum left the Catholic Church’s credibility limping in the public/world’s eyes.

Heaven Sent Strategies

Publically, Pope Francis is not showing his cards…at least not verbally. Understanding that actions speak louder than words, he has chosen new leadership for the Vatican Bank. His man in charge is Australian Cardinal George Pell. Pell has long been a critic of accounting transparency.

Pope Francis speaks, again by action, in revealing how he will oversee Cardinal Pell. Pell will work with a 15-member leadership group, made up of 8 world geographical territories (I am assuming they are clergy) and 7 LAY EXPERTS from various economic backgrounds. The Vatican made a statement to the world charging this group with this task: “{to create} a more formal commitment to adopting accounting standards and generally accepted financial management and reporting practices, as well as enhanced internal controls, transparency and governance.” This reflects the largest overhaul since Pope John Paul.

These changes are to be expected. Why? This Pope refuses red shoes and a papal palace! It only makes sense that he would reform finances to serve the poor. My argument is this: Reform of the Vatican Bank does not come from a leadership book that Pope Francis read in seminary (or a much needed popularity uptick on the world stage). The much needed reform of the Vatican Bank comes from the inner conviction of Pope Francis. He believes that in order for the church to be Christ’s bride on earth, she much serve the poor, work with the poor and be among the poor. Pope Francis knows who is he, what he believes and why God gave him the Papacy. Reform is necessary to do this – serve the poor!

The Three Legged Elephant for the United Methodist Church

The elephant in the room for the UMC can best be summed up by the outstanding article written by Robert Schnase in this past issue of The Circuit Rider. Bishop Schanse names the outdated systematic way of doing ministry by drawing a triangle. This triangle chases the money flow in an example of a church wanting to build a parsonage for missionaries in Africa.  The money begins with the congregation, and then travels up the triangle through four more committees. Sitting at the top of the triangle is the General Board of Global Missions. From the top of the triangle, the money now must roll down through four additional committees, then reaching the congregation in Africa. Months later and money removed to pay for administrative costs along the journey, the parsonage is built.

This does not square in our postmodern culture. First and foremost, the upcoming generations of leaders want to be hands-on in missions and have a deep desire for immediate results. Secondly, we are blessed by technology. Our young leaders can be hand-on and immediate by just using the cell phone in their back pocket.

Bishop Schnase flattens the triangle showing how direct, personal and immediate communication (made possible by Skype, Facebook and Smartphones!) meets the needs, not only of the African congregation but also the American congregation without waiting months or paying for administrative costs.

Red Tape, or more directly, outdated methods are the toe to the foot that the elephant in the room dances on when UMC leadership meet. This is not news.

Currently, congregations are doing exactly what Bishop Schnase has outlined. They are abandoning the 1950 United Methodist method of red tape triangulation and using technology to get things done. Most churches quietly pay their apportionments to keep their pastor in good standing. (Apportionments keep the red tape triangle up and running.) However the tipping point is coming. Churches will begin to catch on and the red tape triangle will first be challenged, and then defunded by the churches.

What Pope Francis Teaches the United Methodist Church

In the stride of Pope Francis, what if UMC leadership decided to get ahead of the curve? The challenge is to lead the UMC into an era that is friendly (even accommodating and empowering) to churches doing ministry with immediate results that are fueled by technology. This type of change can only come from the top down.

Top down leadership must politely defund, shrink and collapse the unnecessary red tape triangles. (dramatic pause.) However, if balanced with ways to make direct ministry more doable for churches (as if linking arms and partnering with lay people), the change will be welcomed.

Just as Pope Francis has given power to a cardinal who is well educated about the Vatican Bank and up front about the changes to be made, surely we could empower one or more such visionaries. Also, Pope Francis is ever mindful of the problems with career clergymen of his institution. Often they cannot see beyond the confines of the clergy box. Pope Francis makes use of lay people with pertaining skill sets and differing world views and experiences.  This links clergy and lay together, lessening class-ism and values the unique lay perspective.

I would like to see a General Conference with a step by step plan to lessen the red tape, makes use of valuable lay people and creates a plan to empower churches to make use of the tools out there to do ministry at home and around the world directly and immediately. Just the boost of energy from this overhaul would give the UMC the shot in the arm needed for  further reform.  The plan comes with marks along the road for success.

For example:

  1. Dollars and cents – educate the lay people of how much money will be saved and how it will be funneled back to them (or just left in THEIR offering plates)
  2. Challenge churches on how to use this money. (Put new carpet in our rarely used “parlor” or fund a Habitat house?)
  3. Provide meaningful training on ministry in the technical age we find ourselves (Help especially smaller churches to not be overwhelmed.)
  4. (as red tape shrinks and committees, boards and agencies cease) Communicate what the committee/board/agency did and how that ministry can be done on the local level (Churches, it’s up to you to change the world!)
  5. Highlight churches that are using the funds for ministry, outreach, mission (Make PR about the people, not the institution)

The end game is to empower lay people and the churches they represent to be the hands and feet of Christ in this postmodern, technological world. The good press wouldn’t hurt either.

Leadership Lesson #3 Major decisions that affect the institution begin with the convictions of the leader.