When people ask me how my work is going, I often begin my response with the phrase, “This is an interesting time to be the church!”
This is a time of seismic shifts within our Canadian and global cultures. These shifts include not only technological advancements, but also changes in societal values and expectations of life. These shifts impact the church locally and denominationally.
Stuart Murray Williams addressed our annual Mennonite Church Manitoba gathering and helpfully considered with us the impact of being in a “post-Christendom” age. He described a movement that is taking the church from the centre of society to the margins. The effect of this change is that we in the church feel sidelined, dismissed and disregarded.
It is difficult to talk about these changes from within the institution without some sadness. As leaders within congregations and within the denomination, we must consider and honour all the forces that have brought us to this place. We are here because of the faithfulness of many generations. These faithful sisters and brothers have built up our institutions because of their desire to nurture Christian communities and share the gospel of Christ with our neighbours.
Now, it seems that our institutional structures need to adapt to the
changes in our society in order to remain faithful. The good news is that the Mennonite church in Canada has a history of adapting to new social realities. Our communities have experienced shifts, from transitions in language and changing patterns of leadership, to worship style preferences. Now, it seems that we are being called to move willingly from “majority to minority, from maintenance to mission, from institution to movement.”
We in the church follow an unchanging God, but we do so in incredibly volatile times. When I describe what I see as the challenges to the church, I often come across as gloomy and despairing. One can feel like a failure when dismissed to the sidelines.
However, this is not how I feel. I am filled with hope at the possibilities that lie before us. We are called to make sense of God’s Word in the shifting sands of our world, but we must remember that we do not do this alone. God continues to go before us, with us and all around us, to show what is already being accomplished in God’s world.
Ken Warkentin is executive director of Mennonite Church Manitoba.