When Bob Lemon gets up to speak, it's time for me to sit down, shut up, listen and learn all I can. This is no time for political slapstick. With Bob there is not a shred of self promotion, personal agenda or partisanship. His calm lumbering presence conceals a sharp mind, comprehensive horizon, deep experience and scintillating humour. All this, with self-effacing humility.
There are some for whom to motto "give them the job and they'll finish the tools" might apply. There are many people who will throw resources at their pet projects with ego and conviction while bearing little conscience for the outcome. Less still regret and apology.
For Bob, "finishing the work" is the mantra that comes through time and again and it probably drives his philosophy of resource allocation, which was the main approach to his presentation. The graphics were great at showing where the resources came from went. What they did not show was impact and outcome. We learned little about the Silver Spring machine itself, though it is much on show in the exhibition halls. We are still no wiser on the bang per buck for all these ministries, which is the kind of granularity many people want to understand.
He has been steadfast in controlling the spread of "central services" which is no mean feat. Believe me, in Treasury somebody shows up every day with a "one man bandit" mindset, to mean: "my ministry is the left arm of the message," more money here and ka-ching - God's purpose will be accomplished. For those critical of projects that have slipped through the goal-keepers gloves, spare a thought for the many he will have blocked, though he will have had to concede the occasional penalty shoot-out. Star strikers have a mean way of blindsiding and prima donnas take some facing down.
Bob believes in subsidiarity, devolving decisions closest to the point of action. This is a strength and for the most part, wisdom. The guy who directs the world purse cannot assess every local call. The downside is that in so doing you release control of resources to a guy who may not share this philosophy. In short, to what end do you locate resources at the Divisions or institutions if they themselves hold an empire view? Bob would say, "that is their conscience." The accounts as presented represent the resources over which the GC has primary control.
There is a strong argument in support of clarity through non-consolidation, the picture is difficult enough as it is. Yet, for those who really want transparency, divisions will have to become publicly accountable to a membership-based constituency. On the one hand, when it comes to policy, divisions are apparently integral to the GC but when it comes to resources and accountability, they are not. This tension will be severely tested in the next week over a variety of issues, not to speak of unity in years to come.
This principle was illustrated in making Hope Channel a free standing agency. Will it prosper better as an agency of elected leadership, or will it prosper while creating its own self-consuming agenda? Time will tell. Like the Review & Herald, institutions have a life cycle and sell-by date.
What does Bob mean when he speaks of finishing the work? He is clear that "none of us can go home, until all of us can go home." His redistributive passion is for parts of the world where the Gospel is yet to be preached. Born in the Congo in 1949, outpost mission is in his bones — he has little sympathy for self-indulgent spirits. Subtle in this driving statement is a clear marker to the elitist storm troopers, who suggest that the work will be finished when they and a sufficient few have perfected their outward behaviour. Over the years Bob will also have discovered that one of the main assets on the church balance sheet is "work in progress," none of us is the finished article and if you don't believe it - touch their back pocket!
The weakness of this mission strategy, is that if you send all the players into offensive positions you leave defence exposed. The new dominance of the "Global South" has left the "Global North" exposed, while the goal-keeper has run forward to the 10/40 no-mans land. The presumption that the work can be finished in the north using southern rules is just as suspect as when the north was imperialistic about its cultural assumptions.
In a world where the barbarity of extreme fundamentalism and suicidal mass migration capture our daily headlines, the need for a Saviour really is imperative. Whether we have the wisdom and insight to respond must be our big question. Fiddling with petty policies is luxury we can least afford. I think Mark Finley was making this point in his sermon last night. Still, some will make a mission-based argument, others will insist on selected chapters and verse. No doubt Bob will respond: "which will best accomplish mission?"
Yesterday afternoon, a new treasurer was elected to replace the retiring Bob Lemon. I first met Juan Prestol at a church auditing seminar about 20 years ago. He was charming and generous then and has remained so on the handful of occasions that we have met since. Since he has been in the top seat for most of that time, he will be a safe pair of hands, and hopefully another insightful mentor.
Victor Pilmoor is the Treasurer of the British Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and a delegate at the 60th General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas.