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Q & A
Q&A: Lay leader backs ‘metrics’ across UMC Sam Hodges, Jan 6, 2012
Gary Shorb is a pivotal lay leader of the UMC. He served on the Interim Operations Team (IOT) that followed up on the Call to Action reform initiatives, crafting major proposals such as bringing most general church agencies under one board. The proposals will be considered by the 2012 General Conference, set for April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.
Since 2001, Mr. Shorb has been president and CEO of Methodist Healthcare in Memphis, with seven hospitals, as well as other agencies and clinics, and about 10,000 employees. He also has been a project engineer for Exxon and a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Mr. Shorb spoke at last fall’s Council of Bishops meeting, and during a break answered questions from managing editor Sam Hodges.
Could you lay out some of the things you’ve learned as a lay member of the Interim Operations Team, and your impressions after having been through this process? My involvement stems from being a lifelong United Methodist. There is no more compelling mission than the mission of the United Methodist Church: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When I was asked [to serve on the IOT], I was honored and I accepted because the church is so huge in terms of its impact in the world. If I can make some small contribution to that, then I’m excited about the opportunity.
Let me make a few observations about the church. There’s lots of great activity, a lot of wonderful work being done throughout United Methodism. There is, among the bishops, I think, a real passion to make some changes. There’s also, as we as lay people have looked at the church, a recognition that the Call to Action document was well done. There are changes that need to be made.
I think there’s the lack of alignment in the church. Bringing the agencies together under one board will focus efforts and better coordinate efforts. We’ll be sharing and collaborating more in our mission efforts throughout the globe.
Even we as health systems have to do this. I’m in a faith-based health system, owned by the United Methodist Church. We’re trying to do more with Methodist (Hospital System) in Houston. It’s that kind of thing that will build more capability, provide more resources and enable all of us to execute more in the way of missions.
Address briefly the similarities you see between what your hospital system has gone through and what the UMC may need to go through. We were in a position where we wanted to be sure we could sustain and expand our mission. To do that, you have to be great stewards of resources. You have to have not only the commitment to the mission and to what God is calling us to do, but also excellence in the way you manage your business affairs. It’s that excellence we’ve been focusing on. The more you operate in a highly efficient manner, the more resources you have available for mission. And I think that is a strong parallel with the church.
[Bishop] John Schol gave great statistics and examples of conferences that are really building more metrics into the way they function. They are seeing higher numbers of vital congregations as a result of that.
As he said, more analysis needs to be done. We need to understand that more thoroughly. But there seems to be a very strong correlation. There certainly is in my world. The better our metrics get on the operating side, the more resources we have on the mission side. We have clinics in the underserved areas, a congregational health network, our faith and health center. All the things we’re doing—it takes resources.
Are there some distinctions you would draw between building a health system and running a big church like this? We have a fairly hierarchical structure [in the hospital system]. The United Methodist Church has a governance structure that is 990 people with the General Conference, and we have a Council of Bishops that is 70 or 80 strong. There is no pope for the United Methodist Church. That makes a more difficult operating challenge because you don’t have singular accountability for ensuring that things are happening consistently throughout the United Methodist world. That doesn’t mean things aren’t positive. This meeting is demonstrated proof of that. These bishops are coming together and saying, we’re going to do certain things, and here’s how we’re going to march forward together. . . . I’m very encouraged by what I see and hear about the future of the church.
There’s a consensus that whatever is put forward in the way of reform legislation will at least be tweaked, maybe changed considerably, at General Conference. Is there one reform you think is most needed? I’d highlight two. One is all of us getting behind this issue that [the Rev.] Adam Hamilton talked about—the recruitment of young, talented clergy. That is so critical for the long haul, for the extended future of the church.
I think in the short term, we need to continue to move the culture to greater degrees of accountability, so that when we have metrics in place—when we all agree that they are the right metrics in terms of how we measure performance—that we consistently use those. Then we’ll be able to say through bona fide evidence that here are some of the best pastors, and we begin to use that evidence through a systematic process to put our best talent on our biggest opportunities.
That is so crucial. We’ve got to move away from this seniority system and move into a system that truly is performance-based and performance-driven. Now that’s a lot of corporate speak, and that’ll turn a lot of people off, but that really is how I feel. I think we’ve got to have better systems of accountability.
In any organization you have people who have performance issues. We need to be fair with those people, give them every opportunity to really build their skills and be successful. But sometimes they’re just not going to fit, and we’ve got to recognize that and act on it.
Some question whether we can measure a church or choose the right measures, given the nature of church relations and what churches do. There’s never going to be a perfect system, even in our hospital world. But what you’ve got to acknowledge is we need a system, and you’ve got to have it consistently applied throughout the church. Right now there are really conferences that are embracing [metrics], and I think they’re seeing progress.