Some ‘last things’

April 13, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 8
Jim Shantz |

With 34 years of ministry, including almost nine years as conference minister for Mennonite Church Alberta, behind me, I am poignantly reminded that each public event is my last, having announced retirement for this summer.

At our Alberta annual meeting last month, I reflected on both the energizing and challenging times. It has not been hard for me to name what energizes. Perhaps it’s my love of driving and geography, but road trips are by far the most energizing, as they have been my “life line” to our pastors, leaders and congregations.

My view from the conference minister’s seat has highlighted the crucial role pastors play in the health of a congregation. Congregational leaders and councils are strategically positioned to effect change and some are making new and innovative changes.

I like to say our congregations are a wild, wooly and wonderful bunch—mostly wonderful—but on a few rare occasions, I scratch my head in wonder. The variety of the Alberta landscape is a great metaphor for our churches!

For all the good will and harmony we enjoyed over the past several years, the challenges remain daunting. While a handful of congregations are growing, the majority remain on a plateau or are in decline. Some are caught in sociological factors beyond their control.

Our pastor’s circle enjoys good energy, but I wonder how we will fare as we face the sexuality question in the next years. (See “Being a faithful church,” April 4, page 12.) Our core Anabaptist values get tested especially around transitions and congregational conflicts. This is ironic at a time when many other evangelical and mainline groups are discovering our theology as a gift for these perilous times.

Perhaps the answer lies in how well we adapt to the giant “sea change” that has been happening in our culture the past several decades. Call it the “500-year rummage sale,” the “great emergence” or the “new age of the Spirit,” as some prominent authors and church statesmen have put it, our feet are getting wet and we will either swim or drown!

There are some great training manuals out there to help us swim with the tide: Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians, Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, and Stuart Murray’s Naked Anabaptist.

 As the final months move across the calendar, I found guest columnist Andy Atkins article in the last Faith Today issue helpful. He says, “I am a ‘finisher’ with a twist. Finisher is the term being used in mission circles for people who finish their careers and decide against just kicking back. Instead, they immerse themselves, their life lessons, their skills and their expertise into some sort of ministry.”

I resonate with his sentiments. I am looking for ways to discern what has gone before to shape a new direction for myself, possibly in writing, speaking or life-coaching, with an emphasis on peacemaking.

Jim Shantz completes his term as conference minister of MC Alberta at the end of June.

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