A long-brewing disagreement over accountability and control at the U.S. Center for World Mission (USCWM) has led to the resignation of the center’s board of directors. An interim board that includes two previous members was subsequently named by USCWM general director Ralph Winter. But former board members and others close to the Pasadena, California, “missions Pentagon” remain concerned that it has veered from its purpose and potential under Winter’s direction.

According to former board members, months of growing frustration culminated last December in an 8-to-2 vote by the board (with two members absent) for the resignation of all its members, save for Winter. “The sole responsibility of a board is to hold an organization accountable and to guarantee to the public the integrity of the institution,” says former board chairman Robin Wainwright. “We could not achieve that.

“This does not involve any financial impropriety or immorality,” he emphasizes. The heart of the controversy, say Wainwright and others, was the clash of two vastly different management approaches, which had held the board in gridlock since last fall.

Missionary Order

Winter, the former missionary and Fuller Theological Seminary professor who founded the center in 1976, says his vision for USCWM from the beginning was that of a new missionary fellowship, or order, devoted to the evangelization of “unreached peoples,” those beyond the reach of established churches (see CT, Sept. 7, 1984, p. 14). In joining the USCWM, individuals become members of a “task-oriented Christian community,” according to the staff handbook. Their membership requires commitment to “lifestyle principles” that include participation in daily fellowship meetings, study, and service. Some 110 workers currently serve at the 35-acre campus, which is also home to about 40 independent missions research and sending organizations.

The best way to govern such a fellowship, Winter says, is to allow its members to select the board through appointments made by a general director, thus giving those who “share the vision” the ultimate authority to run the organization. He cites OMF (the former China Inland Mission, founded by Hudson Taylor) and other well-known agencies as examples of this type of organization.

But such a structure, say former board members, allows for virtually no outside accountability. Wainwright says it has created a “sole proprietorship” at USCWM, leaving control of the campus and its facilities, worth $15 million to $20 million, in the hands of Winter and his closest associates. Wainwright, who helped with the final fund-raising campaign to purchase the former campus of Pasadena (Nazarene) College, says Winter’s intent to establish a “missionary order” to run the center was never made clear during the campaign.

Independent Board

Last spring, to sort out the tangle of legal and organizational lines that had grown as the center expanded, the board commissioned an independent management study of the center. But the questions the study raised and the recommendations it offered soon brought the board to an impasse with Winter.

In particular, recommendations for a self-perpetuating, independent board to which the general director would answer were resisted by Winter, who calls the study “seriously flawed.”

Missionary Don Richardson, best known as the author of Peace Child, faults Winter’s use of OMF as an example, noting that significant checks and balances limit the power of its general director, provisions not allowed for in Winter’s structure. “It was not made clear [to board members and the public] that this was the kind of entity being brought into existence,” says Richardson, who served on the board for about 12 years.

Though he continues to teach in USCWM’s popular “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” course, Richardson says that without major changes in the structure and management of the center, its future contribution to world missions is in jeopardy.

Neglect Of Details

Winter’s naming of a new board has done little to assauge the criticism. Of the 16 people appointed, half are on staff at USCWM. A crucial seventeenth member, a missionary who served as one of the founding board members, is overseas and has not yet responded to Winter’s invitation. His addition would give the board a nonstaff majority, a requirement of the Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association (IFMA), of which USCWM is a member.

However, the board includes as voting members the wives of all married men on the board. That practice is in keeping with Winter’s vision of couples serving together and is acceptable to IFMA. However, requirements of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, of which USCWM was formerly a member, exclude husbands and wives as individual members. When counting couples as one vote, USCWM staff members hold the majority (by virtue of two singles on the board).

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Winter says much of the turmoil has been caused by “misunderstanding” and “neglect of details” while the center struggled to pay for the campus. Only in the past year has the number of members (those at the center two years or more) risen to sufficient number (currently about 80) to enable the fellowship to function as intended. “We have made mistakes, and things need to be corrected,” Winter says.

Jim Montgomery, director of DAWN Ministries and a member of the previous board, has been named chairman of the interim board. He describes the resignations as “a resolution.”

“A point of contention is gone,” he says, adding, “We are moving as fast as possible to correct all these things.” Montgomery says he remains confident the board can ensure the proper operation of the center.

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