Church’s precarious futureBy Stephen Kriss
At the San Jose 2007 Mennonite Church USA assembly, now outgoing executive director Jim Schrag nudged the church toward audacity.
It has been a year and a half since that initial call, and we now find ourselves moving into personnel transitions and trajectory assessments that will set the course and define the future (or possibly the end) of our young denomination.
In these 18 months we’ve also been engaging with the churchwide survey findings described in Conrad Kanagy’s Road Signs for the Journey. Still, we’ve largely behaved and looked like more of the same rather than an incarnation of audacity.
I appreciated Schrag’s call to audacity. Though he and I would probably define audacity differently, it was a nudge in the right direction.
We heard him, but we’ve likely been more hearers of the word than doers. There haven’t been many stories in the Mennonite publications that would suggest to me otherwise.
Now that the denomination is in the midst of searches for a new president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and a new executive director for Executive Leadership, I suggest we’re also going to need to move toward leaders with what Time writer Michael Kinsley called astringency.
He writes: “Astringency means telling people what they don’t want to hear and leading them where they don’t want to go. It’s not comforting them about their current situation and assuring them that it will get better. It’s telling them that the situation is likely to get worse and that only their efforts can determine how soon it will start getting better.”
While Kinsley ignores the possibility that grace and the Spirit can intrude and transform, I think he’s largely right.
Kinsley goes on to suggest that what isn’t needed from leadership right now is empathy.
Ouch. We want leaders who can feel our pain, assuage our esteem, and define faithfulness and a future in a way that makes us comfortable with graying congregations and straying young adults.
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