Most regular readers of Canadian Mennonite now know that Mennonite Church Canada is adopting a smaller structure to reduce ministry expenditures by a half-million dollars. The question of “why” persists.
While it is tempting to find and blame a single scapegoat, reality is less straightforward. In a recent MC Canada news release, general secretary Willard Metzger was careful to say that a “downward trend in giving does not necessarily appear to be a reflection of decreased generosity.” This is an important distinction to make, but it isn’t the only factor.
The situation is complex. Baby boomers are retiring and living with less income. Loyal, older church supporters are moving into care homes and passing away. The economic downturn of 2008-09 continues to affect some sectors. World disasters of epic proportions draw the compassion and dollars of generous donors. Information clutter makes it increasingly difficult to reach busy two-income families with children involved in a feast of activities and attractions. Monthly church attendance is now considered “regular.” Younger generations are demonstrating less interest in institutions. With more than 85,000 deserving charities in Canada, the offering plate has ceased to be the favoured choice for financial giving. And for some churches, becoming more missional at a congregational level may mean keeping more money within for valuable and effective ministry.
Challenges like these apply beyond MC Canada structures. Area churches across the country and other faith formation-oriented bodies like Mennonite Publishing Network also feel the pinch.
How do we see and understand church bodies beyond ourselves and our own congregations? Should local initiatives trump wider church ministry? We have inherited many good “legacy” ministries from our forebears, but can we continue to do it all? How can we best serve the generation that will inherit our ministries? With decreasing church involvement, how will the disciples of the future be shaped and formed to serve the Mennonite Central Committees and Mennonite Disaster Services of the future?
Where do we focus our efforts to continue being the church?
Lynda Loewen, a fellow church member, recently preached an inspiring Lenten sermon to my congregation. She shared her struggle to spend time daily in devotional practice and her internal challenge of deciding how much and to whom she should give her money. God’s Word exhorts us to pray for those who hurt us, to study Scripture and more, she said.
Drawing inspiration from the Gospel of John, where Jesus rubs clay on the eyes of a blind man and gives him sight, she said, “The mystery of faith is that we have to have it in order to see things. It is not inevitable that we will see.”
“You won’t understand why if you don’t do it. You won’t get more light if you don’t use the light you’ve got,” she said. “We are called to be hardcore Christians. Our master meets us along the way, intercepts us when we stumble, asks us if we love him, and reveals himself to us as we follow the light we have.” Indeed. May we follow the light that we have.
Dan Dyck is MC Canada’s director of communications.