Climbing the learning curve . . .

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

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I’ve now passed the 7 month mark in this position, and I continue to learn. Some random reflections:

  • Nebraska is a BIG state. I’ll drive about 40,000 miles this year. I don’t mind the travel, but distance is a reality to deal with. I suspect at least one and probably two of the Assistants will drive even more. Videoconferencing and similar technology will help shrink the distances somewhat, but there’s no substitute for physical presence.
  • Blogging takes time. I had sincere hopes (and renewed goals) of weekly posting. But while there’s plenty of “windshield time” for thinking about posts, “screen time” gets taken up with myriad tasks.
  • Facebook has its uses. Posting–especially with photos (even lousy ones) is a way of reminding people how diverse yet connected we are. All of us on staff are trying to make more and better use of social media, which is a quick and efficient way of communicating.
  • “Hospitality” trumps “friendliness” every day of the week; and twice on Sunday. Every congregation is friendly–which usually means we talk to our friends. Scripture is filled with expectations of hospitality, which means ALL are welcome and treated as God’s guests–or as Jesus himself. This is a subtle but enormous shift for a congregation to undertake, but it’s not optional.
  • I’m not an optimist. Or a pessimist. A colleague of mine said it took him a full year to realize that it wasn’t his job just to be a “cheerleader” for the church. I understand that pull. But I’m more interested in telling the story of the Nebraska Synod than in simply cheering its ministries and members. I’m not optimistic, nor am I pessimistic. The former says the glass is half full, the latter that it’s half empty. I’m hopeful. I think it’s simply time to go to the tap again for more Living Water.
  • The road between Antioch and Jerusalem isn’t very crowded. Most of us in the Church (in Jerusalem) are comfortable where we are, and have (often unacknowledged, but clear) expectations of others becoming like us. Many in the surrounding culture (in Antioch) view the Church as exclusive, judgmental, or simply irrelevant, and have expectations (often unacknowledged, but clear) of the Church becoming like them. I don’t know how we do it better, but all of us–Jerusalemites and Antiochians–need to realize we’re most likely to meet Jesus on the road, where we’ll also meet each other, and those who are wandering, hoping to find the Way.
  • Christ is the head of the Church. Synod staff get to be the connective tissue. We have hierarchical titles, like “bishop,” but we have a flat, flexible, relational structure; the only hierarch is Christ. Bishops and staffers get to travel from one part of this Body to another, connecting the feet with the hands with the mouth with the ears–congregations to ministries to congregations and more.
  • This is just about the best gig in the world. Dave deFreese said quite accurately “the highs are higher and the lows are lower” for a bishop than for a parish pastor. But even the lows are interesting! It’s a privilege to be invited into congregations for celebration (and for crisis); to speak and vote for the church on boards of agencies and institutions; to hold (and be held) accountable to the expectations, rules and roles we’ve set for one another; to serve among gifted colleagues and leaders; to say both “please” and “thank you” for the gifts and support that touch thousands of lives daily through the church’s ministries; and to witness and give witness to the deep faith that permeates this synod. Thank you for that privilege.
  • The challenges ahead are formidable–and I’m not speaking of this office (though that would be true as well). We are all in the midst of change that can only be described as tumultuous. No one knows what adaptations and transformations we need to make to engage that change. Only repeated attempts (and frequent failures) will help us bear witness faithfully and effectively. And only continual communication among us will help us learn, grow and be transformed into the Church Christ calls us to be.

I look forward to seeing you on the road, learning from your mistakes and your successes, and communicating with you frequently.

8 Responses to Climbing the learning curve . . .

  1. Christie says:

    We are blessed by your candor and your leadership!!

  2. Susie says:

    Thank you so much, Bishop Maas for your thoughtful comments about your “job” and NE, but more so for our responsibility in the Synod to be the Church Christ calls us to be. It is easy to think we are doing that if we do not have someone to point out our needs.

  3. Bob Bryan says:

    I believe the road between Antioch and Jerusalem looks a lot more like a “minimum maintenance” road than it does “I-80!”

  4. Jonathan Jensen says:

    Jumping in on your observations on hospitality: while chaplain at Bethphage Mission at Axtell I had resolved to develop a staff Bible study to explore hospitality and habilitation. I reasoned that these were the central tasks for staff at a residential training facility (ICFMR by federal categorization). My initial assumption was that healing texts would need to be interpreted to adapt to the process of habilitation. However, when I discovered a working definition of healing as “movement toward shalom,” no adaptation was necessary. When I undertook a Bible concordance exploration of hospitality it seemed to me that there was really no single term of preference for hospitality in the Old Testament and the same was nearly true for the New Testament. Yet the ambience or matrix of hospitality, with its rich narratives, was everywhere. Coincidentally, I discovered that Henri Nouwen’s book about “Wounded Healers” (with its title image that was seized upon by many) was actually centered in hospitality and the ways we create space for the other. During this period (very early ELCA) I presented a resolution that was adopted by Synod Assembly that this body would always offer an occasion for a healing service (It had very profound “whereas’s”). Subsequently I was appointed to be chaplain for the next Synod Assembly to figure out the implementation for that one, and it was very satisfying to see through).

    • Brian Maas says:

      I hadn’t thought of in those terms, but you’re exactly right–there’s a great deal of crossover between “healing” and “hospitality,” broadly defined, in the scriptures. I think that’s insightful and instructive in a world so filled with virtual relationships and seeking true connections to community–think how healing it could be to experience true hospitality in a community of faith and meaning!

  5. Betty Dasenbrock says:

    It is a whole new learning curve for us over 70′s, keep prodding us on to do our part, We do want to be part of the action.

  6. Pr. Edgar Schambach says:

    The challenge of the American mission field is great and offers opportunity for creative responses. I was a part of the creation of Christ Lutheran Seminary–Seminex in St. Louis, which presented its own set of challenges for graduates awaiting call. We spent much time in Pastoral Theology brainstorming bi-vocational calls and worker priest settings. It certainly is one of the options in the 21st century. With regard to rural settings with small or declining population, one solution is to have small-membership churches merge together, and that this happen across denominational line. The alternative is certain decline and closure. Moreover, during the decline there is little energy for mission. I wonder if there is any research out there that shows how many small churches it takes collectively throughout a region to achieve one adult baptism/conversion, and how that might compare to churches of other sizes. So often the conversation in these matters turns quickly to providing pastoral presence when the deeper issue is the mission of God’s Kingdom.

    • brianmaas says:

      I think you’re right on target, Edgar. We are beginning to do more ecumenically, largely because demographic realities don’t leave any options. Whatever the cause, at least we’re beginning to see those connections develop. I’m not aware of research on forming parishes out of multiple congregations, relative to mission efficacy–but it would be worth finding. I’ll look and post here if I find any.
      One of the challenges is that congregations too often perceive loss rather than opportunity when they consider partnering with one or more congregations. My perception is that in most instances, “yoking” of congregations happens when every other alternative is less appealing. By then, it may be too late. If we can help weave a vision of the mission potential for congregations when they proactively consider the possibilities of cooperative ministry, it would significantly change how those ministries begin, and the energy they would carry into their life and work.

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