The art of boundary walking

October 23, 2013 | Viewpoints | Volume 17 Issue 21
Aldred Neufeldt |

“We are to be in the world not of the world,” my father responded to a question I asked about war. As a youngster I didn’t quite understand what he meant, but his conviction was clear. The words took on more significance later when I discovered they were drawn from the prayer Jesus offered for his followers just before his crucifixion (John 17:15–16).

These words, a touchstone of faith, seem to have faded from our collective memory. They come to mind as Mennonite Church Canada’s Future Directions Task Force seeks to discern what God’s Spirit is calling us to in the 21st century.

To be “in the world but not of it” crystallizes the challenge of Christian life. In a time when people argue that everything is relative, Jesus points to boundaries. Followers of the Jesus way are called to walk a particular path—permeable and hard to discern at times—striking a balance between the seductions of the world around us and our commitment to being “salt and light” for a world in need.

Staying on that boundary is an art. We must walk in the world so that we can recognize the pain, injustice and failures induced by its cultures and values. Yet we also have to keep far enough away to avoid losing our identity as Christians, while staying close enough to have a transforming effect on the world. Staying on that boundary was a challenge in Jesus’ day and still is today. Most denominations are concerned about the “hemorrhaging faith” documented in a recent study sponsored by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, yet there is reason for optimism. New ways of being the church and new congregations are emerging in surprising ways and places, offering fresh approaches to being salt and light in their surrounding communities. As we trust God’s Spirit enough to step outside of our comfort zones, new and transformative ways to engage with the world emerge. We rediscover God at work in the world, and improve the art of boundary walking.

Discerning God’s will for our time is much bigger than a task force can undertake alone. What we can aspire to, though, is to shape an approach that allows us to discern together how our denomination might best participate in God’s on-going call to Kingdom building. What does it mean to be “in the world but not of it” at this time in history? How do we encourage and support each other in the art of boundary walking? What is the role of congregations? Of families? Of the broader church family?

We encourage you to discuss with one another how we can effectively be salt and light in the world, in this time and place. Share your ideas in smaller groups and larger, and then with us at so that we can shape the art of boundary walking together.

Aldred Neufeldt is assistant moderator of Mennonite Church Canada’s General Board and chair of the Future Directions Task Force.

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