Destinations and detours

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Boschman looks at miles covered and the road ahead

Myra Holmes interviews  Ed Boschman 

Ed Boschman, U.S. Conference executive director, likes nothing more than heading for the open road on his Harley—except, maybe, leading the national Mennonite Brethren family through unexplored territory. So it’s appropriate that he was preparing for a week-long trip with his motorcycle buddies when he and CL assistant editor Myra Holmes took time to evaluate the USC “road trip.” For Boschman, seeing people come to Jesus is “high-octane fuel,” and he dreams about what new vistas would open if all U.S. Mennonite Brethren were revved up about that. When he looks back at the miles covered in roughly a year and a half of leading the national MB family, he notes important landmarks, defining crossroads and a few frustrating detours. Still, he eyes the road ahead with hope.

CL: We’ve covered a lot of miles since you took leadership. What have been the high points?

EB: One of the challenges that we faced immediately was strengthening our connectedness to and our communication with the constituency. We worked pretty deliberately at that. Another piece was the official launch of our national Board of Faith and Life. These are important pieces that we’ve been able to put in place that will help us down the road.

We have completed my second Leadership Summit, which gathers our Leadership Board and all of the principal players in our districts and educational institutions and agencies. We made some pretty significant strides there in clarifying that leadership development ought to be a priority for us.

At our July convention, we were able to clarify both our logo and our mission statement, and the convention gave us a mandate to move strongly in the direction of putting flesh and bones on our commitment to partner as “one family with one Lord on one mission for the transformation of individuals, families and communities.” I think that was a good thing to celebrate.

CL: You talk a lot about being “one.” How are we doing with that?

EB: The 2009 Leadership Summit is an illustration of how I see us working together. As the various agencies and districts reported, two things emerged as signals that we are on the same page. One was stories of transformed lives, clearly evident in a good, solid way throughout the various reports.

The second thing that we are agreed on is leadership development. At the local church level, district level, educational institution level and at the ministry level—each of these agencies has said we want to work together and to create a pool of people who are on a path toward ministry and to share the resources we have. We see ourselves working together rather than independently and parallel.

CL: What significant decisions have been made?

EB: Staying with the leadership development theme, I point to the Summit a year ago. I think we made a key decision there that we would prioritize leadership development as a primary, collaborative centerpiece.

The national team rallying around the fact that we want to be “one family with one Lord on one mission” was a clear signal that we are to continue our commitment to being Christ-centered, and that evangelism and outreach ought to be our priority plank undergirding our existence and our purpose for being.

To gather and streamline us as “one family” is the more difficult part. We are somewhat scattered and have multiple agencies. Alongside that, there is the general trend toward more individualism and more local freedom and local initiatives, so it’s just more challenging to be able to easily decide how we hold ourselves together.

CL: In what areas have we not accomplished our goals?

EB: As it relates to theological education in our seminary, we are not today where we would have dreamed. This has been a very difficult year for MB Biblical Seminary. The challenges have been real for several years, and the recent additional challenge of presidential leadership is an added test. The dream that we would be reviewing and reinventing graduate theological education has been to some degree put on hold.

In my enthusiasm or naïveté, or both, I hoped that by now we would have a greater number of our churches aware of and appreciative of the added value that the national ministry team offers and as a result of that be financial partners. That’s not happened.

Parallel to this is the question of how to connect with the non-Anglo church communities in our family. There are about a dozen of these, with Hispanic and Slavic communities the two largest. All of these local churches and communities matter to us, so we are talking about doing some things to better communicate this.

CL: I can guess that one unexpected detour has been the budget.

EB: The economic world in which we live today is different than it was a year ago. When we built last year’s enthusiastic, faith-stretching budget, we did not anticipate where we would be right now. We realize that we will have to do our ministry with less funding. This means cutbacks in the church multiplication and renewal initiatives and in our communications initiatives.

At the same time, our fires are still hotly burning. It’s tough when you just can’t pour as much fuel on them as you want to.

CL: Are we on the right road as a denominational family?

EB: I believe there’s hope. On properly prioritizing the transformation of individuals, families and communities, there is awakening in some places, but we need to do much better. There is still among us here and there an unwillingness to do as Jesus did or as Paul asked us to do: to be on a mission to seek and save the lost, to do whatever it takes to call people to Christ.

We are sometimes sidetracked by other stuff—process, form and structure stuff or peripheral theological nuancing—and quibble about a whole bunch of stuff that in the end doesn’t help us with this core mission. In whatever way I see us getting beyond that stuff, I celebrate, and whenever it appears that we do not maintain the main thing as the main thing, I grieve. My prayer is that we’ll continue to sharpen that focus and make sure we really are a family on that mission.

CL: When you look ahead, is that one of the challenges—to get our hearts in the right place?

EB: That may well be one of the key challenges for us. What would happen if each of us in one year, or two or three years, would invite the Spirit of God to help us be instrumental in bringing one soul to Jesus? Just one! I think about stuff like that. So the fact that it’s not happening in all places and among all people is a burden.

There’s something inside of me that yearns for additional sensitivity and openness to the movement and direction of the Holy Spirit. This is a time—specifically because it’s so tumultuous and unnerving—that we need the nourishment of Scripture and the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we don’t lose our way.

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