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Clear lines of authority, strong ministry training the aims of restructuring proposal

By Paul Titus

Imaginative and empowered leaders working within clear lines of oversight is the goal of a proposed restructuring of the Methodist Church put forward by Board of Ministry commissioner John Hinchcliff.

John says Conference 2007 gave him the task of reviewing how the Church trains its ministers and carries out its mission outreach, both of which are the responsibility of the Board of Ministry. He found that some problems in those areas relate to the overall structure of the church.

Therefore, his proposal addresses the way the whole Church operates, though he only offers detailed advice on mission and ministry training.

"I want to emphasise this paper is very much a discussion piece. I am looking forward to getting a lot of feedback on it. Once I have received comments, I will prepare another draft that will go out to August synods. After they comment I will prepare a final draft to present to Conference."

A major concern in John’s restructuring proposal is to clarify who has responsibility for governance and who has responsibility for management. This, he says, was his focus when he served as vice chancellor of Auckland University of Technology.

"Those with responsibility for governance must do the strategic thinking and set policy. They must also hold those in management responsible for implementing their policies.

"Managers in turn must have the autonomy and power to make management decisions. In my experience, when managers are empowered and empower others, they are more committed to mechanisms of accountability," John says.

"Structure isn’t everything; you need to have the right people in the structure. But if you get the structure right you obviate frustration. Without it you have a free-for-all with people going behind each others’ back to achieve their aims. The key is to create a structure that is easy to understand and liberating."

Currently Conference is the Church’s sole agency of governance. When Conference is not in session it is represented by the President.

John proposes that a new council of 12 to 20 people be created to support and work with the President. It would have authority for governance, and be accountable to Conference.

The council should have a charter of values that makes clear the difference between governance and management. It would employ and review the performance of the General Secretary and provide strategic direction.

The proposed restructuring would also create four administrative divisions in the management structure of the Church: 1) Division of Mission, 2) Division of Ministry Education and Formation, 3) Division of Social Responsibility, and 4) Division of Resource Management. In his report John provides detailed suggestions about 1) and 2).

The Mission Division would be responsible to guide the mission and ministry of the Church. It would incorporate two units that are now separate: Mission Resourcing, and Mission and Ecumenical Development. Mission and Ecumenical is currently autonomous, therefore the new structure would integrate global and local, plus ecumenical and denominational activities.

The Ministry Education Division is to oversee the Church’s educational programmes. These include an Auckland-based school of ministry (Trinity Theological College), and other regional, national and ecumenical institutions. The senior managerial positions in the education division are Trinity College principal, a director of distance and Internet-based learning, plus a business manager and administrator.

The Methodist teaching programmes would provide training toward the Bachelor of Theology, the Diploma of Ministry, and the Certificate of Ministry. The diploma is required for ordination for all presbyters and deacons.

John says he hopes funds will be available to hire three lecturers for Trinity College to drive ministry formation. He believes one lecturer should be a specialist in Methodist theology, one in pastoral care, and one in Biblical theology with one of these positions representing the Pacific Island community.

"Students will continue to get a part of their training through the Auckland University’s Department of Theology but we must have more than a skeleton staff at Trinity College to offer a robust programme. We must have lecturers who can nurture our students and provide theological education. The future of the Church depends on good quality ministers," John says.

In the new framework the Diploma of Theology replaces the MTU’s Diploma of Practical Theology, though aspects of the Practical Theology course will be included in the new diploma programme.

Education for lay people would be strongly supported in the new structure.

John stresses he wants as much feedback as possible about the proposed restructuring. In particular he wants to know if it would enhance mission and outreach, distinguish between governance and management, and create an effective means to train and educate lay and ordained ministers.