What is the nature of the church today and the nature of the church to come? Will it continue to be important to organize our churches into denominational bodies or is there another way for God’s people to come together?
These are some of the questions that the Future Directions Task Force grapples with. Recently, it produced a paper testing the idea of a new denomi-national structure for Mennonite Church Canada including the national church and each area church.
The interim report states, “[T]he foundational unit of the church . . . is the local congregation. Through the local congregation individual followers of Jesus experience the fullness of salvation, the ‘grace, joy and peace’ that a community can give. Just as God exists in community, there can be no privatized follower of Jesus. The congregation is the primary expression of church, the primary setting for worship, faith formation and fellowship. ”
We are testing this idea in a time of change. The national church and the area churches are looking at their ministry and wondering about long-term sustainability. Some congregations are experi-
encing significant change as well. Some are facing wonderful new ministry opportunities, and some are facing declining and aging populations. Some congregations are unsure if they need to build a new building, or if they need to refocus their budget priorities to address their community’s needs?
How will the changing face of our church affect our mission? I trust that our national vision will continue to inform how we are organized as the church. That vision reads, “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”
The church described in this vision exists to be the presence of Jesus Christ flowing out to the world around us. It exists not for the sake of the church, but for the communities in which we find ourselves. When we forget that, we run the risk of becoming irrelevant.
I have been inspired by the writings of Abraham Heschel. In his book I Asked for Wonder, he identifies the results of a faith unable to meet the inevitability of change. He writes, “When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendour of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom, rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority, rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.”
My prayer is that the changes we will experience in our church locally, regionally and nationally will focus our energy on following Jesus Christ in the wonder and beauty of his body.
Ken Warkentin is executive director of Mennonite Church Manitoba.