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March 2, 2004 | Jim Lowder
For the past ten months the Board of Directors of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America has been engaged in developing a process whereby we can celebrate our past and imagine our future.
This time of change and transition presents us with both challenge and opportunity. For 18 years under the leadership of founding executive director Ken Sehested and our founding board and other key leaders, BPFNA forged new territory for Baptists on this continent. Never before had we worked so closely together across denominational and national lines in educating and mobilizing Baptists to work for peace and justice.
Today the Baptist Peace Fellowship has nearly 2,000 members, 80 partner congregations, several key denominational and associational partnerships, and a newsletter readership of approximately 8,000. However, planning for the future is not so much about numbers as it is about possibilities.
Our Planning Approach: Appreciative Inquiry
Last summer the board contracted with Signal Hill, a mission-driven consulting firm based in Cary, North Carolina. Signal Hill takes a unique approach to organizational planning. Instead of using the traditional problem-solving methodology of strategic planning, Signal Hill engages in a process known as Appreciative Inquiry.
Introduced in the 1970s by David Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University, the term "appreciative inquiry"-or simply AI-refers to processes of examining organizational life from a radically different perspective than those used in traditional planning.
AI begins with the idea that there are strengths and positive, good work in every organization. Traditional planning has begun, on the other hand, by identifying problems and determining ways to solve those problems.
Using AI, we seek to see what others may not see, to heighten our awareness of our values and potential, and to overcome our self-imposed limits. Some examples of these self-imposed limits are, "There's not enough money to accomplish that" and, "We don't have enough members to carry out that project" and "We tried that once, and it didn't work."
AI is about imagination more than it is about problems. Of course, problems get addressed and, hopefully, solved. But the perspective we use to approach organizational life is looking at the best of the past and the present in order to create a common energy for imagining our future.
Imagining Our Future Together
One writer has proclaimed that AI encourages organizational change "at the speed of imagination." During the coming months BPFNA will be engaged in imagining our future. Our imagining will be grounded in our collective experience. Our future will be created from the good work that has already been accomplished and the good work that our members are currently doing.
Your work and your success in working for peace will become the cornerstone for BPFNA's future work. By focusing on what is effective and working well within our fellowship, rather than on what is problematic or not working well, we can access the kind of energy that is transformative.
There is already much good work and effective peacemaking going on within the Baptist Peace Fellowship. Some of this work is happening in our central office; some of it is happening within our Board of Directors.
However, we must never limit our vision to just one or two pieces of the organization. Most of our good work is being done around the continent by BPFNA members, by our partner congregations, and by informal groupings and local associations of members.
Using AI, we are looking for what is already working in the BPFNA. We are attempting to build on what is working by exploring where we want to go and what we want to be as an organization. To be effective, we must engage in this task together. An organization like BPFNA cannot be taken apart and examined in pieces, because such groups are organic entities and must be defined as a whole. We want to involve all of our membership in envisioning our future, defining our mission, setting our priorities, and determining our programs.
We believe that our planning process will set before us new possibilities and will develop our capacities to be peacemakers. Our hope is that we will not only create a renewed vision for the future of BPFNA, we will also enhance the involvement of our membership in both defining who we are and in carrying out our mission.
Our Signal Hill Partners
Our Signal Hill Consulting partners have extensive experience in AI and in what the firm's principal, Daniel Pryfogle, calls a "soulful approach to organizational development and planning." A graduate of the American Baptist Seminary of the West, Daniel is a gifted preacher, teacher, and writer. He and his family live in Cary, NC, and are members of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh.
Additional members of Signal Hill assisting with our planning process are Debra Sutton and Desmond Hoffmeister. Debra, who received her M.Div. from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a doctoral student at Widener University and a certified labyrinth facilitator. Debra and her family live in Philadelphia, PA.
Desmond, who currently lives in Berkeley, CA, is the former general secretary of the Baptist Convention of South Africa. The founder and director of the Global Prophetic Network, Desmond currently serves on the Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.
The Timeline for Our Planning Process
We began our planning process at our summer conference last July with two small focus groups. In August, Signal Hill consultants led BPFNA's board and staff in a planning retreat. During this retreat we identified a number of areas of our organizational life we want to explore and re-imagine. These areas included our mission, membership, programs (including our international work), our four-nation identity, staffing, governance, fundraising and finances, partnerships, communications, racial and ethnic diversity, educational resources, generational issues, and leadership development.
During the coming months the board will be conducting AI-focused groups and conversations with our members and partners around the identified issues. We hope that many of you will choose to participate in this dynamic planning process.
The outcome-a renewed vision and action plan for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America-will be the result of our collective imagining of new possibilities for building a culture of peace.
Please keep apprised of our planning process. We will be posting regular updates on the BPFNA web site and list-serve. Our goal is to present a final report at our summer gathering next July.