16 February 2012

The Five Things I Hope For In Our Next Bishop

Posted in ELCA, Leadership, Church, Tagged with bishop church elca leadership social media synod vocation

crozierThis spring our synod is discerning what qualities we seek in a new bishop. From my vantage point, this has been a good and engaging process. The ideas, opinions, and insights from people in the synod have been great.

However, many of the responses (including my own) have been very general in nature. We say the bishop must be a good administrator, handle conflict well, be Biblically grounded, patient, pastoral, and visionary. You know, just slightly better than Jesus.

All these things are true. I concede all these general ideas of what a bishop should be. But this only gets us halfway to where we need to go.

The key question for me is: what particular qualities do we need in a bishop now, in this time, and over the next six years?

I think we need a person that can do the following five things:

1. Comfort Us in Death

In the coming six years a lot of churches are going to die. With declining membership and the economy, its just a given. The new bishop needs to be pastoral to those churches as wells as to the synod as a whole. There will be a lot of grief and we need a shepherd to help guide us through it. And it's not just the death of particular congregations. It is the death of a way we have been the church for the last several decades. Healthy grieving is part of the way we move into the new thing God has in store for us. Otherwise we will get stuck in either nostalgia, resentment, or feelings of failure.

Be honest with us. Don't sugar coat it. Help us face the future head on with eyes and hearts wide open.

2. Lead Us In Resurrection

At the same time, new ministries will arise and they will not look like traditional congregations. Some of these will begin at the impetutus of the synod, and we need to be smart about how we plant and support them, listening hard to people on the ground. Some will grow up organically on their own in local settings. We need to be on the lookout for these emerging communities and find ways to support and not be so quick to institutionalize them.

3. Be With the (Lay) People

The institiutional church is not going to be the center of church life - even for congregations themselves. The locus of faith and ministry is going to be in lives of our members. This has always been the case. Luther knew that. However, the instituionalized church, in order to feed itself, has kept the emphasis on the ministries carried out in the church building. I mean, when did we ever recognize someone on Sunday morning for doing a great job at their workplace and name it as the ministry it is?

I hope our new bishop spends time with the people of our synod in the places where they live and work, not just in church buildings. Have workday lunches with people in Boston, Hartford, Worcester, and Manchester. Have local gatherings in neighborhoods where people live and work. This will send a powerful and affirming message.

4. Tell Our Stories

No one knows what the synod does. That is crazy. The problem is when we talk about the synod we collectively think of the bishop and the synod staff and we have no idea what is happening there. Here's the thing: the synod is us. It's you and me. It's my church and your church. My family and your family. The synod serves to facilitate those the connections.

The new bishop and staff must communicate the stories of our churches and ministries - what's happening on the ground in the synod. What's happening is actually really inspiring, but we don't get to see it from our own settings.

This will not get done at video presentations at Synod Assembly. The bishop and staff need to be communicating these stories in real time, in personal ways through social media tools available to them. A Facebook page, Foursquare check-ins, blog, and YouTube messages make for a powerful (and free) platform for telling our stories. If you want a great example of this model for ministry, check out Laura Everett, the Executive Director at the Massachusetts Council of Churches, who is going a fantastic job telling the stories of churches around the Commonwealth through social media.

5. be Conversent in Digital Culture

I hope our next bishop listens to pop music, goes to movies, has a Facebook account, spends some time in the city and generally has a good feel for today's culture.

The distance between the church and today's culture is growing exponentially. It's being fueled by technology and changing shifting demographics. We need a person who can help bridge this gap by embodying the what we value in church culture as well as the culture we all actually live in. More and more of this cultural space will be inhabited and defined by millenials. We need someone who appreciates millenial culture and can help us to engage with it.


Maybe this all sounds just as impossible as all the qualities and expectations we've been brainstorming in our synod discernment gatherings, but I think all these things are highly doable and will help move us into the future together. My prayers are with those discerning whether God might be calling them to this ministry and with the synod as we discern God's future together.

What qualities do you think we need in a bishop now, in this time?

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