YMM Root Cause Analysis

The times they are a-changin’.

This post seems to be older than 13 years—a long time on the internet. It might be outdated.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a Planning Meeting for YMM:

UPC Senior Staff have asked a team from the Human Resources Committee to look at the current situation in the YMM Department from an HR perspective and make recommendations for a framework to move toward near-term resolution of key issues so that YMM can focus on effectively moving forward in its ministry.

The process will include a Planning Meeting facilitated by Jeff Trautman to identify compatible action steps that could be taken to meet the goals of faith development and outreach for YMM.

My desire to participate in this meeting was not to have a say about what we should be doing (e.g. planning day-to-day, month-to-month, etc), but to be present as a reflection of what is going on (i.e. the process) as I see it.

This reflection includes my experience as a former student and as a current sponsor and member of UPC. I also believe I bring a unique view to the situation, in part because of how I experience and analyze things with an engineering mindset.

The mission of this Planning Meeting was to “explore and seek our shared voice regarding the framework of YMM.”

Our process was to “consider 5 questions1 as catalysts for achieving this mission this evening”:

  1. What relationship or experience was formative in your pursing a relationship with Christ?
  2. Who do you believe YMM is called to serve, primarily?
  3. Where along the faith discovery/discipleship journey do you think YMM should be most intention in its efforts?
  4. What is a fundamental strategy YMM should embrace to fulfill its calling and reflect the overall ministry of UPC?
  5. How will the vitality of this ministry be sensed by those who are not directly involved with it on a week-to-week basis?

A “summary of our findings will be submitted to the YMM elders and staff for consideration in their discernment and development of the ministry going forward.”

We answered the questions in diverse (parents, sponsors, staff, students) groups of about five people. Each group then presented a summary of their discussion, to which the group responded and debated as a whole.

I would like to take a sentence or two to note that of the roughly 40 people present, there were ~5 elders (not all attached to YMM), ~4 students, ~4 sponsors, ~2 staff, and zero interns. It’s also worth noting that all sponsors and students present were male, and all students were either Juniors or Seniors in high school2.

On the whole, I felt the discussion was good when compared to many of the other “events” I have been to before. In comparison, I felt like people were finally norming, instead of storming. To me, that’s positive progress. For the first time that I have been able to directly observe, people weren’t visibly agitated and while emotions were definitely present, they were also appropriately in check.

However, I still feel like something is missing. We, as a church, seem adamant on addressing a perceived fault or failure of man who was called by the Holy Spirit, presented by the Pastor Nominating Committee, and unanimously3 selected by the Congregation.

Why do we find ourselves in this position? Why do we find ourselves in such a polarizing and divisive place? I think it’s easy to point to the top of the local food chain and say things to the effect of, “Why haven’t you lead us? Why are we still in disarray? Why does the philosophy of YMM seemingly keep changing? Do you even have a philosophy?”

These are all good questions to be asking, however I do not believe that they are the appropriate questions to ask at this time from this local person.

In engineering, we generally look at failures from at least two points: what is the immediate failure noticed (e.g., the display has funky characters) and what is the root cause of the failure (e.g., poor workmanship, incorrect documentation, etc). Often times, we can fix the immediate failure without having to understand the root cause, knowing that the root cause will be addressed by the established process.

That is to say, how you fix something doesn’t affect why it happened and why it happened usually doesn’t affect how you fix it. Because at the end of the day, the problem will be fixed and we will know why it happened.

This is a great method for solving issues that involve inanimate objects without feelings or memories. So when it comes to dealing with people, I think we need to take a different tack; we need to be asking ourselves is this a locally isolated issues, or is this a systems issue?

My biggest concern — and one that I’ve heard a few other people share as well, but not a lot — is that what we are observing with YMM is indicative of a much larger and systemic problem with UPC, one that I believe ultimately leads us to a lack (or an abundance) of je ne sais quoi in the upper echelons of the pastorships. This is not something that all of a sudden happened when the change in YMM leadership occurred, this is something that has been brewing and building for years. In fact, the issue may even predate the presence of some of the current pastors. This is a culture problem and it points to a gross procedural failure that is preventing us from accurately and effectively evaluating anything substantive.

And the thing is, I’m scared. I’m scared because we seem to only be focusing on what is right in front of us and not what is ahead of us. I’m scared because we have a seemingly lack of trust and faith in a system that demands4 we have both trust and faith. I’m scared because while we might “solve” this problem, that doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have this problem again in YMM or elsewhere.

I’m hurt because there has been a lack of genuine conversation and there has been little or no explanation of what is going on (at both the local and the system level), and that leaves me feeling alone and left out of a group I care deeply about.

Whatever this je ne sais quoi is — it could be lack of leadership, it could be lack of communication, it could be lack of council…these are all guesses — we need to understand the root cause and we need to do it in a way that is loving and gratifying to the Lord.

  1. The questions were formulated by Jeff Trautman, a who I felt did an excellent job of moderating the discussion and keeping things on track, if even I didn’t always agree with wording or the outcome 

  2. despite the fact that YMM serves grades 6th through 12th 

  3. save a single abstain 

  4. Hebrews 11:6, Luke 17:6, James 1:6, etc