“Who’s On First?”
Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” comic routine is one of those timeless classics. (For you younger readers, look it up on youtube.) The back and forth conversation gets confusing because they are saying the same thing, but mean something different. One makes a statement, while the other uses the same words but it comes out as a question. While hilarious in their presentation, it kind of reminds me of some conversations among church leadership. But it’s not so funny then. It’s irritating and frustrating.
Recently, Bishop Whitfield announced changes in roles and responsibilities here in New Mexico. I can tell by the questions people have asked that there are some people who feel like they are caught in a “Who’s on first?” conversation. In this blog I will try to offer a bit of clarity. Bill Sylskar is no longer the Director of Mission and Administration – he is now the Superintendent for Congregational Vitality. I am still the Albuquerque District Superintendent, but also Provost of the Annual Conference. What does this mean? Wait … “What” is on second … right?!?
First, Bill takes on a role that has been discussed for many years. There have been many conversations stating that it would be extremely beneficial to have a cabinet level position that was primarily dedicated to resourcing congregations and pastors to help them better fulfill our common mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Bill will give greater time and energy to things like Healthy Church Initiative and provide guidance and leadership regarding issues of local church sustainability.
Second, I take on responsibilities as a Provost. While this is a term typically used in a university setting, it also has uses in church world. For the purposes of the New Mexico Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, it is a role that includes responsibilities of the former Director of Mission and Administration position but then expands to serve as a bridge between the programmatic/administrative work of the Annual Conference and the work of the Bishop and Superintendents.
For example, supervision of conference office staff is now my responsibility – a typical Director of Mission and Administration job. But I am also working to design instruments and coordinate efforts of the Superintendents for greater supervision of pastors and congregations. That is a Provost responsibility.
Ultimately, the role of Provost is to align all of the Annual Conference’s energy and resources so that local churches and pastors and lay people can more effectively make disciples of Jesus Christ. There is no other mission.