Declarations, dialogs and diatribes

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Great conversation among the bishops of the ELCA–how will we use social media and related mass communications tools to advance the gospel? When it comes to issues confronting the church (and we’ve never lacked for those), how do we–clergy and lay leaders alike–walk the delicate line of fostering true dialog?

On one side of that line is simple declaration: “This is how it is. End of story.”

On the other side of that line is diatribe: “Until the church [insert desired change], it’s going to [insert calamitous assertion]. It needs to [insert opinion stated as fact and final word on the subject]. It’s that clear.”

Somewhere in the middle is dialog: “This is what the church is doing and why,” followed by “Perhaps it’s time for the church to consider [idea] so that [positive outcome] can happen.”

This is Lutheran territory–where we’re called to live in the gray and to hold one another accountable. It’s to perpetually traverse the road between Jerusalem and Antioch. So let’s let the dialog begin with some simple questions. What do you understand the role of bishop to be? What do you expect of a bishop? What do you need from a bishop?

I’ll show my cards first–I think the bishop continues to fill the primary roles of any parish pastor, except in a different (sometimes much different) context. She or he is Pastor, Preacher, Priest, Prophet, Professor and Paper Pusher (the last being the best alliterative expression I could give to all the administrative functions a pastor fulfills). But there are other roles, less easily defined. The bishop’s office is responsible for ensuring that leaders are well and responsibly prepared (through the candidacy process); that misconduct among rostered leaders is prevented or appropriately responded to; that congregations are supported and resourced for their ministries; that congregational transitions are handled timely and well; that congregations’ and synods’ voices and concerns are heard at a churchwide level, and vice-versa; and apparently, there are also a lot of meetings that require the bishop’s presence, though I’m often unclear about why that is.That’s what it looks like from the inside, six weeks into the office.

In the midst of all that, it’s easy to get isolated or simply too busy to be in conversation. Whatever shortcomings blogs and social media have, they at least hold the possibility of sustained conversation. So I’m giving it my best shot, waiting to hear from you. And again I’ll ask: What do you expect of a bishop? What do you need from a bishop?

6 Responses to Declarations, dialogs and diatribes

  1. Michael Ostrom says:

    To lead us in the discernment of mission and ministry for our time, evangelical in thrust and catholic in scope. To do this, you need ample time to read, think and pray (and dare I say rest and play too?). Is this possible with all your other duties? If not, how can we help you rethink your duties?

  2. Vera Hummel says:

    Brian, I support your understanding of the “tasks and roles” associated with the office of Bishop. It sounds like a very big job, and seems to me it will best be accomplished in cooperation and conversation with the people of Nebraska Synod. My prayer is that you will continue to be God’s love in the midst of the dialogues, and that you continue to invite us into the fruitful exchanges about all manner of important things as the family of God. For the people, I pray that we accept your invitations.

    In gratitude and with continuing prayer support! Vera

  3. Those administrative things you mention are good and necessary things for the office of the Bishop to deal with. Assign them to the staff. And, let’s chase the richer opportunity. Help us paint the vision of how our Synod can live the Gospel — honoring the rich foundation of our past, but stretching us to understand that the past isn’t all there is, and doesn’t really meet the challenges of the present and future. Those of us from the boomer (and older) generations have benefited greatly from our lives in the church. Our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren face a more evolved and complex reality. If our Church is to remain relevant to them, we must stake a broader claim. How do they live as Jesus lived in a world where things like the Beatitudes are not even respected? Is the boundary of our mission defined by some lines on a map? Or is it boundless – even though that sounds really hard. Challenge us to grow.

    • brianmaas says:

      Martin: well put, especially the call to “Challenge us to grow.” Eugene Peterson said, “Birth is easy. Growth is hard.” He never gave birth, so that might be a little glib. But when it comes to Church, he’s right–we live in a culture fixated on the “born again” moment, with a lot less emphasis on growing once we know we’ve been born anew. Trouble is, growth only happens through the cross–dying to whatever it is that’s stunting our growth: personal desires, addictions, doubts, prejudices, greed or just plain apathy.
      Even our orientation to Church and what it means can get in our way. It is certainly true that those of us who have had rich experiences of life in the community of faith have benefited greatly; but we’ve also been part of a consumer movement that approaches faith and life in the Church with the question, “What do I get out of it?”
      Lillian Daniels made the comment, “I don’t go to church to get my needs met; I go to church to get my needs changed.” That’s Theology of the Cross, and it’s one of the rich gifts that Lutheran Christians have to share with the world. But it’s tough. Jesus clearly didn’t have a PR person among his followers: “Deny yourself, take up the cross and follow” is a lousy marketing slogan. It’s also the truth and the only means to live life fully. And its appeal lies in each of us living it out in witness to the world.
      And your thoughts about the boundary of mission are spot on–we can’t be limited by geography, or history, or any other boundary–in making Christ known. When we limit the risks we’re willing to take or the places we’re willing to go for mission, we’re also limiting the fullness of life Christ intended–and died to give us.

      Thanks for the conversation!

  4. Pastor at the Cross roads says:

    According to my best google search calculations, it’s about 331mi from Jerusalem to Antioch. So, if the average Jo traveling by foot travels 10-12 miles/day, it was a 28-33 day journey between the two cities. I am daring to say that the road grime, the nights gathered around tables, and the four Sunday worship gatherings, were more important to the faith development in Jerusalem and Antioch than anything that was given directly from one to the other.

    I can’t help but imagine that those places were full of new ideas, in depth theological conversations, amazing ideas that crashed and burned with gusto, impossible plans that found their glory when the next group through tweaked them just a bit, and where new and old worked side by side with barely a thought. They were places of incubation, cross-germination, healing, and real life testing of how the Holy Spirit was moving.

    Even though Omaha is big, it seems that Nebraska is neither Antioch nor Jerusalem. We are neither the new nor the old. We are neither traditional nor at the center of the emergent/missional movement. But instead, we are the little towns along the road, where faith is found and lived and shared in this time between times.

    In the big spaces of our little congregations, the Holy Spirit tests and refines, grows and rearranges, heals and screws people’s heads back on straight, steadies and sends forth, and most of all, gives the world a space to know the enacted hospitality of God as they walk the sometimes arduous road from Antioch to Jerusalem and back again.

    There will never be a final answer about who needed who more in the Antioch-Jerusalem duo, but without all the places where people gathered in God’s love in-between, the exchange would have never happened.

    Bishop Maas, be our guide as we host and maintain this busy road that the church is traveling anew. Understand the amazing gifts of the people whom God has called to serve in-between, and how they bless the whole church. Celebrate with us when something works. Encourage and console us when the conversations get heated. Come to the impromptu bonfires when things crash and burn. Speak for us with a steady voice when the world asks where we are at – and tell them that we welcome hope, resurrection, and Christ himself into our congregations every day, and that from what we’ve seen, the Holy Spirit is leading Jerusalem and Antioch, and us, into some pretty amazing places.

    I hope that I have not been too bold in re-arranging your analogy, but that’s what happens along the road. If nothing else it’s a bit of nosh for thought. May God bless you in ways deeper than you have ever known as you learn God’s grace anew in this call.

  5. brianmaas says:

    Dear Pastor at the Cross roads:
    “Re-arranging” is what traveling this road is all about! You’ve captured exactly what I’m hoping to suggest in this ongoing conversation. It’s not the destination (or the origin, for that matter), but the journey. Law/Gospel, Sinner/Saint, Already/Not Yet, Jerusalem/Antioch–this is Lutheran territory! Any time we get too comfortable or too certain, we’ve probably mistaken a resting point for a destination. Our call (at least as I understand the Word and our Confessions) is to be truly perpetual in our re-forming; to keep the conversation going, to give the Spirit room and opportunity to work.
    I’m hoping this forum (and any others that may arise) will be a place not only for this kind of essential “What are we really about?” conversation, but also a place for sharing the stories you mention–stories of the “crashing and burning,” the little victories or big successes, the experiences of death and resurrection that happen all over this holy ground. We have much to share and much to learn, together.
    Thanks for your thoughtful and imaginative engagement in the conversation.
    Blessings for the journey,

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