The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) approved today—with applause—the 2017-2018 Mission Work Plan, a strategic plan that will guide the agency’s mission and ministry, set its priorities, and seek to identify and meet the areas of greatest need across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The plan will be forwarded to the 222nd General Assembly (2016) in Portland for its review and approval.

Prior to the board’s approval of the plan, several comments, concerns, and questions were raised on the plenary floor, including counsel given by Neal Presa, Moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012), that the Mission Work Plan be taken up “at the front end of the assembly, so that it might serve as an anchor” for business items with financial implications, thereby encouraging commissioners to be “cautious and prudent in what they are approving” in the light of the plan’s three directional goals: Evangelism & Discipleship, Servant Leader Formation, and Justice & Reconciliation.

Marilyn Gamm, PMAB chair, said that she would take Presa’s recommendation under advisement.

When the plan was first presented to the full board the previous day (Feb. 3), the lights in the meeting room were dimmed, the theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Also Sprach Zarathustra”) was played, and an Apple icon was projected on the screen, as Presbyterian Mission Agency interim executive director Tony De La Rosa made his grand entrance, wearing a black turtleneck and jeans.

“I am thrilled to present to you today (Feb. 3) something that is going to change the world as we know it,” De La Rosa intoned, channeling Steve Jobs. “The new PMA Mission Work Plan!”

PMAB members, Wendy Tajima and Joe Morrow—both members of the Strategy Advisory Group that helped to develop the plan—then took the stage. “After countless hours and changes, today is the day to go through the Mission Work Plan,” Tajima said. “Today we’re going to do it in the context of worship.”

Tajima, Morrow, De La Rosa, and members of the PMA staff leadership alternated in presenting and calling upon the board to recite the various components of the plan, all set to—and punctuated by—the verses of  “Called as Partners in Christ’s Service” (Glory to God, No. 761).

While the proposed new plan differs from the 2013-2016 Mission Work Plan in several key aspects, the vision and mission statements remain the same as enumerated in the 2013-2016 plan. Where it differs lies principally in the process by which it was developed, as well as in the theological underpinnings that constitute its foundation, “The Great Ends of the Church” (adapted from F-1.0304, The Book of Order, Part II of the Constitution of the PC(USA)).

Several forms of research went into the proposed plan’s development, including listening sessions and surveys conducted among mid councils, commissioners and advisory delegates from the 221st General Assembly (2014), and PMAB members, as well as the garnering of input from staff and other constituents.

De La Rosa called the board’s attention on Feb. 3 to the part that a group called, “New Voices,” played in the research process. “They played a key role in helping to shape the strategic plan, specifically the theological foundations,” he said, asking them to stand to be recognized.

Also during the presentation to the board on Feb. 3, Barry Creech, the PMA’s director of policy, administration and board support, presented the findings of the research.

“The plan does not tell us which ministry functions will continue,” Creech said, anticipating the imminent process of developing the new mission budget for 2017 and 2018, “nor was it intended to.”

In an earlier interview, De La Rosa said of the research that while it “helped to identify energy around certain ministry functions and is integrated in the Mission Work Plan, it informed but didn’t dictate the plan.”

Presenters also took care to emphasize that the 2017-2018 plan is intended to be a two-year “bridge plan” in the light of the larger, ongoing conversation around a possible reorganization of the six agencies of the PC(USA).

During a question and answer session following the plan’s presentation, PMAB member, Cecil Corbett of Lapwai, Idaho, rose to speak.

“There’s no place for Native American ministry in what is being presented,” Corbett said. “If one segment of the mosaic is left out, I wonder how we go to the Creator. We are not a program; we are a people that need to be heard.”

To Corbett’s concern, Tajima responded that the research “didn’t name specific groups, but rather a rich mosaic of peoples that we need to reach out to and honor in their diversity."

For De La Rosa, the heart of the plan lies in its three directional goals, which he called “the strategic beacons for the work of the agency”:

  • Evangelism & Discipleship
  • Servant Leader Formation
  • Justice & Reconciliation

“The Presbyterian Mission Agency cannot be all things to all people,” De La Rosa said. “We cannot do all that we feel individually called to do or that many constituents want us to do. We have unique and limited resources to accomplish our objectives. Our role is not to do it all, bur rather to be in touch with the needs of the church and to turn our attention to those priorities.”

While the new directional goals are not dramatically different from those in the 2013-2016  plan, the new goals, three, are fewer in number than the previous six, and their focus has been sharpened.

“I appreciate the ways in which these three goals together resonate deeply with the Reformed tradition in which we stand,” said PMAB member, Nancy Ramsay, during the question and answer session.

De La Rosa further observed that what is new in this iteration of the plan is that “the directional goals will apply to all that we do.”

“The new plan requires that all of our departments be in alignment with all three directional goals, which will call for some creativity,” De La Rosa said in an earlier interview. “This is one way in which we will sharpen the focus of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.”

De La Rosa praised the example of Dave Fleetwood, a beloved, front desk security guard at the Presbyterian Center, who recently died of cancer, and who—as a member of the PMA’s Building Services staff—greeted every visitor and knew every staff member’s story, thereby providing an evangelistic witness to the world.

“I want everyone in the building to think creatively,” said De La Rosa. “This building is a mission field.”

The plan also enumerates the core values of the PMA, the results of a survey that De La Rosa had conducted among the agency’s staff, asking them to select goals from an exhaustive list, reflecting “actual rather than aspirational values.”

The key core values that were identified by staff are compassion, accountability, teamwork, faith, dedication, service, and justice.

“The values are not listed in hierarchical order, in fact, faith was far and away the top value,” De La Rosa said. “For visual purposes, it is represented as the central value of the work of the mission agency.”

De La Rosa was careful to point out that the new plan was intended to provide high level directional goals for the agency and “should not be viewed as a roadmap for budget reduction.”

Earlier in the day on Feb. 3 at the PMAB Executive Committee meeting, Executive Committee member, Melinda Sanders, raised a concern about the next steps in the process—specifically about subsequent board involvement— of moving from approval of the plan to its implementation, including a recommended budget.

A motion, proposed and approved by the Executive Committee, was included in the information items presented to the board on Feb. 4. The motion reads, “The Chair will appoint members of the PMAB to work with the Executive Director and designees to develop implementation strategies for the Mission Work Plan for the Board’s review and action at a called meeting prior to the April meeting. This will inform budget decisions in April.”

PMAB member, Marianne Rhebergen, directed a question to Gamm before the vote was taken asking her to be more specific about how she would implement the Executive Committee’s motion.

“I asked that question when the motion came to the Executive Committee,” said Gamm. “The decision was made to leave it open-ended. I have begun thinking about it but have not begun recruiting. I’m playing with the number of three to five board members who would be invited to serve in this role.”

Leadership Committee chair Nancy Ramsay also directed a question to Gamm, asking what the plan would be for PMAB representation at the General Assembly “in order to defend our success in trying to rein in some things and do some things very well.”

Gamm noted that there would be Executive Committee members serving as corresponding members at the General Assembly, who “can serve as just this kind of resource to say to the church, ‘These are our circumstances; these are the mission strategies.’”

“But the General Assembly,” she added, “is a higher authority than us, and can choose to override us.”