Strategic plans should connect with a vision that inspires, directs, and invites shared commitments that are grounded and supported by what God calls us to do and become. As Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People advise, plans should begin with a vision of the end in mind. The overarching vision of this Synod seems clearly articulated in its statement on Lutheran identity: Lutherans are a diverse group of people, convinced that the Holy Spirit is leading us toward unity in the household of God – (and our members) are connected to the faith of the church through the ages and around the world. Our unity, it seems, is the value that undergirds our desire to make this strategic plan effective.
The plan emphasizes communication and participation, connecting locations with leaders and ministries, and supporting partnerships for mission and advocacy. To accomplish these things, three Strategy Committees (Claimed, Gathered, and Sent) will make recommendations with the support of the identified Strategic Enablers promoting diversity and providing financial support.
The statement on Lutheran identity properly identifies our relationship as a household. This provides a framework that is open to our many and various gifts of ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, language, and generational affinity. These realities represent particular challenges alongside magnificent opportunities. The Synod house reflects the eschatological hope of scripture’s house not made with hands while also evoking the magnificent vision of a world house celebrated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others.
All of this reminds me of what I experienced years ago while serving as the Lutheran Campus Pastor at Howard University in Washington, DC. Our chaplaincy team consisted of a diverse group of leaders from across the ecumenical and interfaith spectrum. Baptists worked alongside Muslims, and teachers of Bahá’í became friends with Roman Catholics. The Dean of the Chapel was a very wise African Methodist Episcopal Zion pastor. As we worked together on a strategic plan, he asked us to submit written descriptions of what we intended to do in the coming school year. Within a few days, he called us together again to respond to our planning documents. I will never forget what he said that day: "I can see that what you propose to do are things that you like to do, things you are obviously very good at doing; I want you to now reconsider these plans and prayerfully ask: what does God need for me to do?"
Ultimately the Bishop should work collaboratively to offer this kind of leadership. Beyond our preferences, our proven aptitudes and talents in ministry, a strategic plan employed by the church of Jesus Christ should be filled with a faithful longing to do what God needs us to do – and if these are not the things we would prefer, then let them become the work we accept as our own because the Spirit has asked: whom shall I send, and we have found the faith and courage to reply: here I am Lord, send me.
What do you see as the principal challenge of our synod in the next six years, and how will you approach and address it?
How can we honor our traditions while embracing change that comes because of innovation? I want to encourage conversation about this in the Synod. Established practices in ministry can be refreshed by considering the impact of innovation. We seem to understand how information technology supports our common work, even though there are congregations who may need help developing this capacity. However, innovation in the Synod involves much more than this.
We can learn more about the principal challenge of innovation through conversations and focus groups that explore ideas that have not yet been seriously considered. When we invite cross-generational and cross-cultural conversations about this, the Spirit works to heighten our awareness of how people want to celebrate life, engage questions that are important to them, and creatively respond to the shifting contours of our global village.
Innovations represent the new ways we identify and structure various forms of community – virtual and otherwise. One intriguing innovation I would explore as Bishop involves short-term ministry. Often people decline to participate in ministry opportunities because they do not want to make an open-ended commitment. Imagine the excitement we can generate by developing modules for new ministry, new conversations, and new community interactions that will intentionally end within a few months. If people have good experiences with short-term ministry, they may surprise us by being the first to ask: when is the next one?
Finally, I want to invite the Synod to revisit the ELCA’s expression: God’s work, our hands. It is more than a whimsical notion to consider an amplified version of this public precept. I’ve often thought about the missional impact of expanding this slogan: GOD’S WORK, OUR HANDS; GOD’S WORD, OUR VOICES; GOD’S WILL, OUR CHOICES; GOD’S SONG, OUR BANDS. Can you imagine the impact an innovation like this might have on our public witness in metropolitan New York?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a series of lectures for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation during the year before his assassination. In the third lecture in that series, Youth and Social Action, he said that it is difficult to overstate the creative contributions of Black youth to the struggle for civil rights. These creative young people had reshaped and developed new forms of demonstrations such as sit-ins and freedom rides. He concluded: to accomplish these things, they first transformed themselves. I want to serve as a Bishop who authorizes and encourages this Synod to trust and explore its capacity to bring many innovations into our shared ministries. I cannot predetermine what they will be, but I want to join you in the spirit of celebrating the rich words we find in Isaiah’s prophecy: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Let the Synod say: yes, we perceive, embrace, and celebrate the gifts and the transformations that can happen because of innovation.
As Bishop, what steps will you take for self-care? How can congregations be a support for the office of Bishop? How will you, as Bishop, also encourage self-care for pastors, deacons, and synod lay leaders?