Observations on 36 years of leadership
Grace and Truthby James Schrag
In November I will retire from 36 years of congregational (23 years) and churchwide (13 years) leadership. Here are some observations:
Pastors and congregations:
• Congregational members don’t ask if they love the pastor. They want to know if the pastor loves them.
• Pastors don’t pick who is in the congregation.
• The pastor is not the coach of the team or the captain of the ship. Jesus claims those roles. The pastor is a member of the ship’s crew who is entrusted with the solitary role of occupying the crow’s nest, ready to shout “Land ho!”
• The congregation has two requests of their pastor: When times are good they say, “Pastor, lead us on, but don’t forget to keep us together.” When times are bad they say, “Pastor, keep us together, but don’t forget to lead us on.”
• Who you are is more important than what you do.
• Congregations are always a mix of theology and sociology. We should distinguish them.
• Congregations have longer memories than their pastor.
• The church is not an organization, it’s an organism—the body of Christ.
• “The church” is never someone else, “out there.” It is always “right here,” starting with me.
• Stereotypes never carry more than 25 percent of the truth.
• The cup God grants is always half full.
• No one has a corner on the truth. But we had better have a corner of it.
• Getting to know people always changes our opinion of them.
• Leaders who want change need to change first.
• Our default strategy is passive-aggressive.
• When we avoid conflict, it usually gets worse.
• Leaders lead by making mistakes.
• Leaders ask for forgiveness, not permission.
• The next generation needs to be multi-lingual.
• Every good idea can go to seed.
• Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” not, “Don’t have enemies.”
• When push comes to shove, everyone is “congregational,” no matter our theology or history.
• Mennonites spiritualize too many things. If we acknowledged our humanity more, our witness might be strengthened.
• We are great hosts but poor guests.
• We seldom change by choice; change is wedded to necessity.
• Merger of any kind runs stiff competition from our bent toward “righteous separation.”
• Our martyr heritage is the lens through which we view the world.
• God is blessing Mennonite Church USA with renewal from the global south and people of color.
• We can always learn more about “agreeing and disagreeing in love.”
• “Being missional” may be more easily “caught” than “taught.”
• Requiring a two-thirds vote is not always the same as “it is good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”
• Leaders need to view things from the balcony.
• Mennonite Church USA is neither liberal nor conservative; it is both.
• Prophecy can come from all points on the theological spectrum, including the center.
• Vision for the Christian is seeing things like God sees them.
• “God is working His purpose out, as year succeeds to year” (HWB #638).
• It’s not about us.
James Schrag is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.
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