Outgoing executive director reviews “big wins” during his season as “playing coach”
When Ed Boschman, pictured right giving the keynote address at the 2014 National Convention, stepped into the role of USMB executive director in the fall of 2007, he described himself as a playing coach who was hoping for big kingdom wins for USMB. Now, as he hands off the leadership role to Don Morris, he looks back at a season of both significant wins and some losses and looks forward to being a “cheerleader” for those in leadership. Morris will serve as both interim executive director and director of Mission USA.
Boschman reflects on his season as executive director and player-coach in an interview with CL assistant editor Myra Holmes. Following are excerpts from that interview:
CL: At the beginning of your tenure as executive director, you described yourself as a playing coach. Is that still an apt description for the role?
EB: That’s my preferred way of looking at it: team and partnership and being in the trenches. There is some responsibility for the leader to say, “Let’s go.” But in my own soul, it’s pretty clear to me that right behind “Let’s go” is, “Let’s stay together.” So I think it still works for me.
CL: As you look back on nearly seven years, what part of the job has given you the most joy?
EB: I am still driven by one thing: by experiencing, both personally and vicariously, lives being changed. When I have been able to be on site and watch the Holy Spirit break into someone’s life and experience their trust in following Jesus, that’s just the best. For me there’s no higher octane fuel than that.
Second to that, there’s always joy for me when the leaders representing our various ministries gather. When leaders gather—and there is a clear sense of God’s presence by his Spirit and a unity that can only be attributed to us all being passionate about our mission—that’s a high privilege as well.
CL: Where have you seen big wins for US Mennonite Brethren?
EB: The wins are the healthy churches that we have planted in the last seven years through Mission USA partnership initiatives. It’s been a joy to see those churches focus very much on penetrating their communities and bringing people to Jesus. That’s just a big win.
We have also built into the DNA of those partnerships an understanding of how the national, the district and the local work together. To see that mutuality throughout all of those levels of partnerships, to see that verbalized, to see specific actions being taken, to see those churches affirming their district and national partners through financial partnership—that’s a win when there’s a church that understands that that’s both a privilege and a responsibility.
From where I sit it’s sometimes hard to measure, but there are indications that throughout our constituency there is some desire to function well as a healthy family, which is the first of the triplets in our national mission statement: one family. There have been times when I’ve noticed that. That’s a win.
We have made some progress in our partnership with MB Mission to try to broaden our understanding of how we can better work together and how global mission and national mission overlap. In all of that, I think we have been able to deconstruct at least a little bit of the latent understanding in our constituency that when we use the word “mission,” it means not at home, foreign, some other place. It’s been my passion to help us understand that the mission assignment begins right in our own communities. To whatever degree that has happened, I count that a win.
I’ve enjoyed healthy and vital partnerships with our district ministers over the years. I love those guys. It has been great to spend time with them, whether it’s been watching the Rockies play baseball, on our knees praying or dreaming together about how we can strengthen our partnerships. Both personally and for the sake of our national cohesion and mission, I count that a win.
CL: What about losses?
EB: I wish the wins were bigger. In any of the categories in which we have wins, I have to think, we could’ve done this, or we could’ve strengthened that. While we made progress, there’s still a lot of opportunity for us to make the wins bigger and to multiply the wins.
It’s harder to pinpoint regrets or losses.
I regret the pain in our constituency as a result of decisions that are more locally, institutionally or geographically driven. An illustration of that would be when we as a national leadership team, along with several other lead teams, chose to affiliate the national seminary with Fresno Pacific University. That decision, while it was honorably motivated, created big waves across the Rockies. It created some pain. When that happens, it tears at the fabric of the vision of being one family.
I have long wondered whether a structural realignment could help us in many ways. We as a USMB Leadership Board tested that idea a couple of years ago at a Leadership Summit meeting and basically asked if we couldn’t do better if we realigned ourselves for the sake of our mission—maybe review how districts are connected to the national team, maybe reevaluate how our MB Foundation is connected. While this is not meant to say that we aren’t partners, I think the regret that I have is that we weren’t able to address that effectively and make some changes that would’ve strengthened our impact. I am encouraged by the fact that the Leadership Board has facilitated a significant review and so perhaps those opportunities will be addressed.
CL: When you came into this role as executive director, you already had significant experience with the Mennonite Brethren, having served in several USMB leadership and pastoral roles. What have you learned about Mennonite Brethren in this latest season?
EB: We’re much more a blended family than we once were. When people come to us as new believers, when people come to us from other faith traditions and with other familial histories, the old assumptions and the old ways of doing things are challenged. Sometimes they die hard, but over time, they die.
So there are some changes happening among us. I think some of them may well be for good; some of them maybe ought to be reviewed. Those changes that take us in the direction of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission—let’s celebrate those. If changes challenge some of our core convictions—the rich theological bloodlines that we have with respect to what it means to be a follower of Jesus, the meaning of baptism and covenant membership—if we’re being challenged there, I think maybe we need to say, “Whoa. Wait a minute.”
There are some good things happening. Many of our churches, historically, have functioned in a very strong congregational governance system where everybody gets to say something about everything and everybody gets to own everything. I think we’re moving more in the direction of freeing people to operate in their giftedness so that everybody moves with better impact into the position on the team which God has prepared them for. I think those kind of changes are good for us.
More and more of us in our local churches are recognizing that, while we are there in part to nurture ourselves and to minister to the gathered community, at least as important—and some would say even more important—is to be on mission. It’s a balance between nurturing the found and seeking the lost. Historically, many of us have been more about nurturing the found than we have been about seeking the lost. As much as I can see that shifting, it’s fulfilling.
CL: How do you hope history will remember your time as executive director?
EB: I’d be OK if I were remembered as the guy who championed one family, one Lord, one mission— and I don’t mean the words; I mean the concepts. If that initiative, that vision, should last beyond my generation, I’d be deeply honored.
CL: What do you hope for, personally, as you head into this new season?
EB: I want this next season of my life to be driven by affirmation and encouragement for those who are moving into leadership roles. I want to be a cheerleader. I want to be an affirmer, an encourager.
CL: When you look to the future of US Mennonite Brethren, for what do you hope and pray?
EB: I hope and pray that the review process that is underway will result in some changes that will align us more effectively as partners, that will strengthen our capacity for missional impact, that will deconstruct some of the separateness and silo mentalities and that will unite USMB and MB Foundation in a unity of vision and mission.
I would hope and pray that we will be able to redouble our church planting initiatives. Church multiplication in North America is still measurably the most effective way to reach the lost, and until they’ve got a better way, I would hope we would redouble it. In addition to that, I would hope that existing churches would strengthen their emphasis on the missional part of their assignments.
I think that there is every reason to believe that our USMB family can strengthen and broaden our impact in our nation, even while we are small and scattered. Our Anabaptist theological moorings are a powerful foundation for effective ministry for Jesus in today’s world, in our America. We really can make a difference.
Let’s not be too proud to go often to our knees. And let’s not be too exclusive to partner with other tribes on this mission.