Tuesday, February 9, 2010

whose decisions?

For the most part, things went very well with our conference this weekend. The teaching was well received, attendance good in spite of recent conflict, the singing as beautiful as ever, and the people as warm. And yet, there was one incident that has made me question our entire ministry.

While our purpose here is to build up church leaders through biblical and leadership education, one desired outcome from this building up is Christian leaders who take over the running of the school and no longer "need" the missionaries. One of the ways that we have worked at this is to work very closely with a committee of ten elected students in making all decisions related to the school. Our hope is that these students will take responsibility for the running of the school and will grow in capacity to run it themselves.

Our final conference of the year is in November and this is the time when major decisions are supposed to be discussed at the committee level and taken to the annual general meeting for discussion and approval or rejection. In November, we proposed a new teaching schedule that would make better use of our resources and would allow students to finish their certificates in 4 years instead of 6. It would prove a slight inconvenience for those few students with jobs who would probably need to finish in the original 6 years. The committee assured us that this would not be a problem and later told us that the general student body had approved it.

Our first conference on this new schedule was this past weekend and the new additional Friday teaching went well. We had good turn out and were able to spend more time on the topic than normal. Everyone seemed very happy.

But the next day, when the students were in discussion groups, the committee said that they wanted to talk to us. They had had complaints about this new schedule and wanted to change it. We asked them to understand the implications of their new proposed changes and also the implications of running an organisation that makes decisions in this haphazard way.

The incident has been haunting me ever since. I think that what bothers me is the committee's failure to take responsibility for their decisions. We had naively believed that they were fully empowered and knew that the decisions they made were the ones that were implemented. And yet, as soon as someone complained, they were more than happy to bring it back to us and ask us to make changes. They had passed a proposal that they wanted to change by the next time we met. We told them it wasn't our (Joe's and my) decision but OUR (the whole committee's) decision. But it ultimately comes down to them believing that we are the big bosses. Which we are to an extent.

And that's the other part of it. We are the ones paid full-time to run the school--so we are the big bosses. We are trying to empower a committee of volunteers who have their own lives and work. Why should they take responsibility for the running of the school? It seems to suit everyone fine to have the missionaries make the decisions and run the school. We are the ones who are trying to be democratic and empower the students. That is not their goal but ours.

These are perpetual questions. I can't let myself be dejected by the lows as I can't let myself become overly optimistic by the highs. We carry on in faith all people are "crowned with glory and honour" and have been given "dominion over the works of [God's] hands" (Psalm 8:5,6) and we are all living ourselves into this glory.


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