I have been involved in some pretty strange things—a church planter of an all-homeless/mentally ill congregation; encouraging leaders of a mosque in Bangladesh to re-think Jesus; dumpster diving for Jesus, and so recently becoming the poster child for dumpster diving in Portland (Check out http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/issues/archives/articles/0409-holy-diver/ and read a recent article about me—heck, just look at the pics!). Stuff like that. But when I got a call from MCUSA a week ago, that took the cake.
Someone nominated me to be the Executive Director of MCUSA.
At first I figured it must be a joke. Who would, in their right mind, think that I—radical pastor who has to bite his tongue every time he speaks to a middle class person—would make a good Executive Director? Someone just did it for a lark, I thought. Or perhaps I was recommended by someone who just wanted to shake things up. Well, that would do it. Me as taking Jim Schrag’s place? Just unthinkable.
But some of my friends weren’t so sure. They thought it was not such a crazy idea after all, but fascinating. My wife looked over the qualifications in the packet I received and she said, “Actually, you pretty much qualify for the position.” Scary. And perhaps MCUSA needs a little shaking up. And it isn’t like I wouldn’t work with whomever God gave me.
In thinking about it, I thought about the things I could stir up, changes I might be able to initiate in the church:
1. While continuing the focus of antiracism, I could also encourage MCUSA to welcome another significant group that are without a voice in MCUSA: the lower class. For many different reasons, those who are poor or uneducated aren’t given an equal opportunity to speak out in the Church, conferences or in most congregations. I would want to champion their cause, to allow them to have a voice where they currently have no voice.
2. I would want to service agencies to be more missional and missional agencies to be more service-oriented.
3. As an aspect of following Jesus, I could encourage the following programs:
-A church-wide memorization program of Jesus’ words
-Discussion groups on Jesus’ words and life, investigating the meaning of Jesus’ words and pursuing the living of them out
4. I could invite leaders from the Mennonite church all around the world—for instance, Columbia, Vietnam, India, Congo, Ethiopia, and Germany— to talk in our churches and to our conferences. We can only become a world-wide church if we participate in and interact with the world.
5. I could try to help us balance our church and conference budgets by encouraging volunteerism, discouraging restructuring, and using technology to try to reduce costs.
6. I would directly challenge MCUSA and its congregations to be less nationalistic. This could mean a name change for the Church, as well as seeking out means to be politically involved that does not involve partisan dichotomies.
7. Encourage educational opportunities that teach how to create peace and love. I would encourage the Mennonite schools to have outreach courses not taught by professionals, but by those who have been involved in ongoing acts of love in challenging areas. For instance we can have an MCCer teach about cross cultural communication in an urban setting; a CPTer teaching about how to deal with an angry person; and perhaps someone who has been working with the homeless teaching about how a church can begin to be pastoral to the poor, etc.
8. I would want to encourage the development of new monastic-type communities, who could then become full members of every conference.
9. I would attempt to create contexts in which the church can openly talk about controversial issues, like LGTBQ
10. I would want to introduce the idea of stewardship as being giving to people’s needs in a way that creates relationship, instead of money being a replacement for relationship.
One thing is certain: I never lack for new ideas.
However, as tempting as it would be, I think it would be wrong for me to apply for the position.
First of all, my own church, Anawim, is not yet ready to stand without me, because of inadequate leadership (although in another year, it may be.) Also, I couldn’t in good conscience put my name forward as long as a woman has not yet been moderator of MCUSA.
But most of all, I do not actually represent MCUSA, nor, I think, could I ever (unless it changes considerably). The Executive Director position is as much as anything supposed to be the voice and face of MCUSA. Even if I got a haircut, I don’t think I fit the bill. Finally, I am more of a prophetic, even challenging voice, and the members of the church are much more used to leaders who are conciliatory. I don’t think MCUSA is ready for me. Maybe next time around, eh?
I still think it sounds funny.