Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Perspective(s) and an Uncomfortable Either/Or Situation

Somebody mentioned still having problems accessing posts at the TalkBCC Forum. I am still having trouble accessing them too. I am receiving the posts via e-mail, though, so I will continue posting some forum messages on the blog.

Here is another follow-up from Rod Frank.
Most of us who know BCC know it primarly from what we see on Sundays
which is personified by Dave Foster. David has truely touched many
of us in deep ways by his astonishing and unique ability to make
Christ's teachings relevant. But this is not the complete BCC.

There are two perspectives that frame the issue that were summarized
by someone at the session last night. One perspective is we have a
church led by a gifted teacher supported by an advisory board. The
other is we have a church board that bears the full responsibility
and liability for all aspects of the church who employ a lead
pastor. Our conflicted emotions and the root of the differences
between both "sides" fall from these two perspectives.

The By-Laws that govern BCC were written by Dave Foster when BCC was
set up as a non-profit entity. (These By-Laws are promised to
appear on the BCC website eminately so you can read them for
yourself.) What we've been told that Dave wrote in these By-Laws,
and I believe this, is that BCC is to be governed by a group of
people initially appointed by Dave that will have dual roles as a
board of directors and as a board of elders. This board bears full
responsibilty for BCC and that responsibilty includes liability for
the church's legal and financial obligations.

The By-Laws answer the first of my four questions:
1) Is the board legitimate?
2) Why did they take this action?
3) Why now?
4) Why in this way?

An answer to the second question is truely complex and you need to
attend a session to fully vette the reasons. An important point is
that Dave Foster first approached the board to advise them that he
intended to leave BCC to become the lead pastor at a church in
Austin TX 18 months ago. Dave decided not to go to Austin, but a
former board member stated later in the discussion that this was not
the first time Dave presented the board with a letter of
resignation. Ironically, at the beginning of this, Dave wanted to
leave BCC and the board took every possible action to keep him here.

Why now? The short answer is that now is the time that all
negotiations failed over the terms of Dave's transition from BCC.
According to the evidence presented by the board members, which
includes letters of understanding, offers of a separation contract,
counter offers from Foster and back and forth, the board sought a
way to make the transition honorable and dignified. A longer answer
involves a judgement of how long of a time BCC could survive in the
status quo.

And to, Why this way? Sadly, I am at a loss to fully explain this
and it is too easy to criticize it in hindsight. I can only say
that I wish it hadn't happened this way, especially at a worship
service. The board says that given the failure of prior
negotiations they were hoping that Dave would take the path of
resignation rather than termination and gave him every opportunity
to do so. They didn't come to the church earlier with this because
that would effectively choose a less dignified route for Dave. In
the end, though, this is exactly what happened and this resulted in
quite a lot of very hurt and confused BCCers. I object most that
this was done during a scheduled time of worship when seekers and
guests were present expecting inspired teaching and uplifting
musical praise.

Notwithstanding my objection to the venue of the announcment, it's
important to emphasise that Dave Foster chose termination. He was
given the choice to resign or be terminated after a long series of
truely win-win propositions that he rejected. He chose the
termination. Being able to claim (correctly) that he was fired
combined with the apparently suddenness of the action by the board,
certainly creates in most minds a great deal of sympathy for Dave's
situation.

We see now that this was not a sudden action. When the details of
the entire timeline are laid out, we see the difficult situation the
church was in and the board needed to take action. I conclude that
as disruptive and unsettling as this has been, that it was the right
thing to do.

The standout theme of Rod's post here is that this was no rash decision on the part of the elders. I know it feels that way to a congregation that had no idea this was going on and just learned of it, but this is a result and culmination of many months of attempted reconciliation and negotiation. It seems clear to me that getting Dr. Foster to leave was not the initial aim of the elder board.

I do want to highlight something else. This quote:
An important point is that Dave Foster first approached the board to advise them that he intended to leave BCC to become the lead pastor at a church in
Austin TX 18 months ago. Dave decided not to go to Austin, but a
former board member stated later in the discussion that this was not
the first time Dave presented the board with a letter of resignation. Ironically, at the beginning of this, Dave wanted to leave BCC and the board took every possible action to keep him here.

This is a very important point. At the service I attended Sunday (8:30), the statement Richard McKinney read made two claims of fact: 1) that a representative of the board approach the Fosters privately to express concerns, and 2) the Fosters abruptly quit BCC during that initial meeting. At the Red Caboose Park rally I attended (immediately after the 8:30 service), Dr. Foster made two claims of fact: 1) none of the elders ever approached him privately to talk about this "operational issue", and 2) he never quit BCC or wanted to quit BCC.

I am very uncomfortable even stating the obvious here, but I cannot sugarcoat it. Somebody is lying.
I suppose it is theoretically possible to massage the meanings of "quit" and "wanted to" and perhaps the "operational issue" each is speaking of is something different. But do we want to get into "depends on what the meaning of 'is' is" territory? I hope not.

Either Dr. Foster (wanted to) quit BCC or he didn't. If the former is true, he is not being truthful. If the latter is true, the elders are not.

I am told the elders/staff have an extensive paper trail documenting these developments over the last year+. Not wanting to be accusatory, and not having seen this documentation myself (that comes tonight, I guess), I will leave the conclusion open for the time being.

Peace.

4 Comments:

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous mike@goodsondesign.com said...

Jared,
Thank you for your effort here! I really appreciate your thoughtful and even-handed comments. I too will be at BCC tonight and hope to hear answers that will bring clarity to this controversy.

Several years ago I was in a similar situation as the elders. I was the president of the board of directors of a local non-profit. We had a situation in which most of the staff had conflicts with the executive director. The board moved to remedy the situation by essentially firing the director. The same happened with the next executive director and we fired him also. I feel now, in hindsight, that we set up a situation of the "tail wagging the dog" with the pretense of doing what was best for the organization, but in fact doing what was best for the staff.

When the first information started coming out, I thought that the same had occurred at BCC, now I'm not so sure. The Austin revelation, if true, really concerns me.

Thanks again. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what we learn tonight.

Mike Goodson
mike@goodsondesign.com

 
At 12:45 PM, Blogger Gaddabout said...

Jared,

I've worked professionally in both journalism and real estate. The jobs are awkardly similar: two self-interested parties who hear what they want to hear, then speaking on assumptions.

It's not hard to conceive a conversation where both parties in this scenario heard the same words, but meant different things. For example, the pastor could have said something to the effect of, "If that's how the board feels, I don't know if I can work here anymore." It really depends how affirmative the response was.

Having also spent free time as a marriage counselor for our church, I find there's rarely a time when someone is telling the whole truth or a whole lie. People misconstrue things, deceive themselves, imagine conversations that never take place, and on and on. This is more the nature of human communication, and it shows the weakness of language.

So, I guess I say all this as a measure to downplay confronting anyone as a liar. Yet. I've been through several church splits. All of them have come out of left field, and immediately pitted Christians against Christians. Once facts are laid out by both parties, there is rarely a consensus on who's just and who's having who's out of line.

Frankly, this is why I believe all church governments should always have a non-voting third party -- a congregational ombudsman -- who records what's been said to protect the interests of the church. It's not only good legal protection, it's good government and helps protect the integrity of leadership.

 
At 12:54 PM, Blogger Jared said...

Matt, thanks for your insights.

The specific issue here appears to be, at the least, whether or not Dr. Foster applied for a pastoral position at a church in Austin. If he did so, it demonstrates, I think, that he at one time desired to leave BCC so strongly, he approached another church for a job. He is denying he ever wanted to leave BCC.

By my understanding, there is documentation of the Austin church situation.
As per my post, I am allowing for some "partly true" stuff going on here. But I'm not a big fan of dealing with percentages when it comes to truth and accountability.

I acknowledge it's possible for both sides to be telling the truth in this situation, depending on some narrative finessing on somebody's side or both, but I think now more than ever we need everyone honest.

Again, I appreciate your wisdom.

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger Jared said...

Mike, you're welcome, and thank you for your kindness and graciousness.

My prayer in this apparently necessary church conflict is for peace among the brethren.

 

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