Add your overall feedback/response to the Thesis

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    A Response to Keith Suter
    By Walter Abetz (Rev)

    Scenario planning is a useful exercise for many organizations, and I include the church in the many. On that account I am grateful to Dr Suter. We are to worship God with all our heart soul mind and strength – so let us use our minds by all means.

    Planning always implies a history, a purpose and a future. The four scenarios of the future painted by him raise some interesting issues. For the sake of those readers unacquainted with his article in the December 2014 ACCatalyst, he takes as a given the historical decline in UCA membership and then suggests four scenarios:

    1. “Word and Deed” – the church consisting of large parish missions, such as Wesley Mission in Sydney, Forest St UCA in Bendigo, or Pilgrim Church in Launceston.. Both spirituality and social welfare are promoted. Get big, or get out.
    2. “Secular Welfare” – Uniting Church agencies become the core business of the UCA, and congregations will disappear. The public’s ‘contact with the UCA’ is already largelythrough agencies rather than congregations.
    3. “Return to the Early Church” – Instead of working for the government in aged care and child care, the church returns to a missionary model, recognizing that it is competing in a market place of many faiths.
    4. “Recessional” – winding up the UCA in a coherent and systematic way, and giving the proceeds to the churches in the Global South.

    Scenario Planning has a good purpose – one does not want to be surprised. One wishes to remain in control. Eugene Peterson in his book, The Contemplative Pastor, writes about the futility and destructiveness of needing to be in control in the kingdom of God. A business ought to seek to control its destiny, but should God’s people determine for God what God’s people should be doing? Christians acknowledge Christ as monarch (literally, one ruler) and are called to participate in his kingdom, both now and in the new heaven and earth. Peterson relaters a personal anecdote of an enlightening moment in a Greek grammar class. Greek has three voices, the active and passive voice, as does English. It also has a middle voice, something between active and passive. From there he realized that Christians are not to be in control of their lives, nor are they to abdicate from their lives, but they are to participate in the Kingdom of God, under God’s authority. Worship with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength speaks of participation, but not of control or abdication. Participation in God’s business is different from setting up our own business.

    The UCA, in terms of its welfare arm funded by government, needs to be a business and responsible to government. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Now that governments and private enterprises provide education, hospitals, orphanages, aged care, etc it might be appropriate to exit those industries (and adopt the recessional scenario for them). They are no longer the core business of the church, and certainly not so in a secular framework that muzzles any overt expression of faith. Therefore I would say that the secular welfare scenario Suter names as a possibility would be a perversion of the mission of the church.

    The Word and Deed scenario is appropriate for city churches. The connection between Christian faith and love for fellow human beings go hand in hand. Big problems require large solutions.

    Scenario three, a return to the early church, is couched in business terms, “competing in a market place of many faiths”. I wonder if the third century Christians thought of their faith as another alternative in the multi-faith market place. The Christian Faith is not our product for our business. The age of martyrs was not generated by a mere “alternative” in the multi-faith market. The age of the martyrs came about by a very serious and exclusive and confronting understanding of the Christian faith. Christ is Lord, not Caesar. And all other gods are idols. Contrary to the “emerging church”, the early church believed exclusively in the Lordship of Christ. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” If we no longer believe this faith entrusted to us, we should embrace the recessional scenario as our future.

    Both the Word and Deed model of formal parish missions, and a modified Early Church model of informal faith communities are alive and well in the Kingdom of God. (Suter’s Early Church model appears to be anachronistically framed in a business paradigm.) The UCA is participating in these two futures to the glory of God and the succour of human beings.

    Reflecting on these scenarios, it becomes clear that a business model for the church will not do. The call to the church, to participate in the kingdom of God, countermands the “we need to be in control of our business” paradigm. It may be worth noting that the Basis of Union has come under indirect and subtle attacks from those who would like the UCA to be run like a business with a CEO and Board. In particular, the Assembly General Secretary in an official letter on 10th Sept 2014 wrote to Katherine Abetz, “The Basis of Union is not the law of the church and so it is not a source document that is considered when the [Assembly Legal Reference] Committee is interpreting the Constitution and Regulations of the church.” If the Basis of Union is not a source document, how then does the Committee interpret Clause 2 of the Constitution [1], does not refer to the Basis of Union? Herein resides a fundamental dysfunction!

    Suter recognizes the symptom of dysfunction, but misdiagnoses the cause. The UCA has great difficulties because it has a Basis of Union that requires the Church to be a series of inter-related councils. Unfortunately, the UCA leadership wants control of the church instead of encouraging and serving congregations in their mission. Thankfully, their control is still stymied at times by the conciliar nature of the Church.

    If the UCA is to participate in the kingdom of God, it cannot dictate the terms. Instead the councils are to be the servants of the kingdom of God. As servants they are to help congregations to fulfill their local missions – whether it is parish mission work, or whether it is faith communities that may grow into congregations. The “CEOs” of the church do not set the pace, but congregations do, within the framework of the constitution and beliefs of the Church. The “CEOs” are meant to be facilitators and servants, not commanders. That is why the business model for the church is so devastating to the kingdom of God.

    Again I thank Dr Suter for his article. He has provoked me to put into words what I have felt for a long time to be a major problem in the UCA. Yes, good governance is important, but good governance does not determine the content of the church’s work. Good governance ensures that things are done decently and in order, whatever the church’s tasks might be. The councils and their officers are to serve that purpose for the greater glory of God.

    Is the UCA the kingdom of God, or is it a participant in the kingdom of God? That is the question. Our Basis of Union gives a clear answer. It is worth reading the Basis of Union again in order to “line up the ducks” – see the strategic plan – in the light of Dr Suter’s article.

    [1] Clause 2: “The Church, affirming that it belongs to the people of God on the way to the promised end, lives and works within the faith and unity of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, guided by its Basis of Union.…


    Working in one of the care organisations which now comes under the umbrella of Uniting Care it is very clear that the Christian Ethic is being eroded away by the need to justify the dollars spent. Care for individuals is on a “money from the government” basis rather than on a needs basis.

    The rules and regulations also hinder the expression of basic human compassion.

    The church does not have a say in the running of these organisations. The people in positions of responsibility are not Christian and so their world view soon becomes dominant. There is lip service given to providing quality care for clients, residents and staff. They spout values and outcomes but the mighty dollar is the driving force in the care industry. Often the most vulnerable people are the ones who suffer. To speak out against injustice is difficult as any problems identified are rationalised against the lack of funds – everyone is doing their best!!! The UC is not running these care organisations.

    Perhaps it would be better for the UC to break the ties with big business and the need to justify spending to the government. The majority of UC congregations do not see that they have a link or responsibility to the care organisations, educational institutions or human services run in the name of the UC.

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Conference Speaker
Scenario Planner

Dr Keith Suter is a highly experienced speaker. He is a regular on the corporate speaking circuit, where all of his presentations are tailored to the clients.

Dr Keith Suter is also a scenario planner. He works with organizations on their "futures" and their potential opportunities for innovation.