A Platform for MCUSA

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.

Comments (16)

  1. ST

    your response to this nomination is really cool. thanks for taking the time to write it, and share it with this community. (if people want to know what either the job description or the current questions that mcusa search committee is asking constituents across the country, look here).

  2. Lin Garber

    If a 74-year-old can post here, I would just like to point out in response to “I couldn’t in good conscience put my name forward as long as a woman has not yet been moderator of MCUSA” that the current moderator of MC USA is a woman, Sharon Waltner. At least one other woman, Donella Clemens, has been a moderator in the past (although I think that was of the old MC before it became USA). So that’s no excuse, unless you really meant to say that you can’t apply until a woman has been CEO (“Executive Director” I think it’s called) of MC USA. They are different offices, moderator being limited to 2-year terms and the CEO being permanent, at least until death or resignation do them part.

  3. SteveK (Post author)

    I meant to say a woman as Executive Director– I got my conference mixed up with the church for a moment.

  4. Skylark

    There are lots of other minorities/disenfranchised groups who have not had a representative in key positions in the Mennonite Church. Out of curiosity, how did “Also, I couldn’t in good conscience put my name forward as long as a woman has not yet been […]” come to be?

  5. jc

    Whether you apply for the position or not, it sounds like you have a lot of good ideas that need to be brought to the table.

    You might be surprised at how receptive the denomination could be to some of them.

  6. Kevin Goertzen

    Thank you for your post. As a not-so-young, not-especially-radical Anabaptist, I enjoy reading this blog. I am firmly convinced that voices such as yours must be heard if we are to be a community of believers following Jesus in radical, Anabaptist ways (rather than just one more denomination seeking to preserve our structures and programs).

    Keep speaking the truth, even when it is difficult for some of us to hear … and who knows, maybe you (or someone else like you) will end up leading Mennonite Church USA.

    Blessings to you,

  7. Jean

    I think you underestimate the soul-draining nature of working within major Mennonite agencies: tons of politics, a ridiculous-to-the-point-of-being-absurd inability to deal with conflict, and a general lack of any level of professionalism that calls oneself and co-workers to account.

    Inject into this toxic mix a bunch of people who sincerely believe they are God’s gift to the world and are doing “good” every day, and it becomes untenable for a healthy person to stay in that kind of environment. I know. I’m on my way out . . . to preserve my health and sanity.

  8. SteveK (Post author)

    Jean, I appreciate your frustration and exhaustion. Perhaps I am too optimistic. But all I would hope to do is to inject some light in all that you are talking about. No one person can change the direction of a Titanic like MCUSA. However, if people think about the church differently, then some changes CAN be made. If the person at top DOES deal with conflict in a positive way, isn’t it possible that the church as a whole could learn as well? If the person at top requires accountablility for herself or himself, won’t the agengies demand the same? An Executive Director can’t change everything, even as the President of the U.S. can’t possibly change the mindset of his people. But such a one can inject hope and be a cheerleader for real change.

    I wonder if this position needs someone who is less pastoral, and is more ready to develop community out of a disjointed mess. More of an idealistic church planter…?

  9. lukelm

    Jean, your comment reminded me of a quote from “Hello Dolly” that goes something like this: “money is like manure – it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, helping other things to grow.” (and, implied, when it’s just all piled up on top of itself…)

    I something think the same can be said about Mennonites ;) Very amazing & wonderful & beautiful when spread out into the world, but when all piled up on top of each other…

  10. vera

    Ya can’t reform behemoth bureaucracies. What you CAN do is walk away. Re-start small, remain local. And hive off when you grow too big and the bureaucratic bug begins to bite. Hey, you know… the old order Amish model. :-)

    SteveK: in your 10 points… where exactly is Anabaptism? If that’s the vision… why not join the unitarian universalists? They already have what you want. Well, except the memorization. But they have lots of all-pleasing vagueness as icing on the cake. (Argh!)

  11. SteveK (Post author)

    Hey, Vera. I’m not saying that we can reform the bureaucracy. The position is a communication job. A cheerleading one. Suppose we got a real radical in the position? They might not be able to change the course of the Titanic, but they could encourage many Mennonites to make their congregations radical Jesus-followers. Not enough to change the bureaucracy, but enough to make a difference in a lot of communities.

    As for the U-U’s? Pa-ul-ee-ss! The Mennonites have enough trouble. At least the Confession of Faith is acceptable.

    And Anabaptism? It is wherever the ideals are held. Sometimes, even in the Mennonite church. (It’s been known to happen!) :-)

  12. vera

    Hey, Steve. So good to see some life on this board… :-)

    True enough about the UUs. Just tryin’ to stir up trouble.

    Well, here’s the deal. Why would you want to be a cheerleader on the Titanic? Wouldn’t even an outrigger canoe give you a better chance of getting where you’re going?

    If you want to turn congregations in radical Jesus followers, here’s how. Take one congregation on. Figure out how to do it. (If there is a way.) Then let it replicate like a virus.

    I do like you blog, btw. It won’t let me leave a message. Very useful stuff there. I keep going back.

  13. vera

    Mmmm… now that I am actually thinking about it… I like the 16th century model better. Grebel and his buddies did not worry about reforming reformed congregations. They got radical and then infected others, whoever was ready to catch on.

    What you feed, will grow. If you feed an institution, that’s what will grow. If you feed radical followership… well, you get my drift.

    We know one thing: the 16th century model worked.

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  16. Benedict

    If you need to bite your tongue every time you speak to a middle class person, then you aren’t able to see Christ in them. That’s my hunch. I hope it is not true, of course. Please don’t set yourself up as the accuser of the church and call that radically following Jesus. Love them. Welcome them. Suffering on account of us all. Then you will be radical in the true sense of the word: rooted. Rooted in Jesus.

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