I want to be excited about church.
I do not attend regional or national assemblies, but I care deeply about the broader church. I would rather hang out with my boys than attend a meeting to discuss a wordy Future Directions report, but I would clear my schedule to sit in a circle with others to share our passions about church.
The national and area church offices have relatively minimal bearing on my life, but I want to be connected to Mennonites down the road and around the world. I don’t like the word “institution,” but I am eager to participate in collective initiatives. (That is, institutions are fine as long as they have a vibrant mission and are not just self-perpetuating structures.)
That churchy kind of talk that just repeats age-old theological truisms doesn’t do much for me.
I’m not a denominational insider. I can’t keep track of all the names MC Canada uses for the work it does.
I appreciate older white men but. . . .
To state it all another way, I care a great deal about future directions but not Future Directions. That is not meant as a critique, but as a plea. A plea to church administrators: Make it real. But mostly a plea to the other members of our priesthood of all believers who feel as I do.
I’m told that many pastors say 90 percent of the people in their congregations are not tuned in to the Future Directions process of our denominational bodies. We have to do better. Way better.
Some very important downsizing decisions are necessary. But that shouldn’t take five years.
I appreciate that the Future Directions Task Force put tremendous effort into an unenviable task. I’m just sad that their work simply doesn’t connect with my passions.
They will say it is about creating a structure that can resource my passions, and that is precisely where they lose me. That is what makes me want to scream, or cry, or go Buddhist. The process is tangled up in itself. I’m not going to wait around for another year or two for a new structure.
As for vision, yes the 21st century is complicated, but can the church ever go wrong by sitting in a circle and sharing our deepest passions and pains? To me, that is the obvious starting point, once the necessary downsizing has been done.
Let me throw a few back-of-the-napkin ideas on the table, just to illustrate what would get me excited:
Let’s localize and globalize at the same time. Every congregation could sister-up with a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) congregation abroad. We’re too wrapped up in our First-World structural dilemmas. MWC is amazing. These would be partnerships of radical mutuality. Churches in the global south are growing. We need to encounter Christ in them. Some of us would be challenged to be more evangelical.
This could tie into Mennonite Central Committee work abroad as well, in some cases.
Congregations could also sister with indigenous communities or non-Euro-Canadian Mennonite churches in Canada.
We’re practical people. We need projects. White saviour, self-congratulatory projects are a problem, but they are not the only kind. We need penitential projects. We need projects as spiritual discipline. We need projects rooted in radical humility.
The emerging social enterprise movement provides great opportunities to make change in new ways, outside the charity model, using market forces to turn problems into solutions. I recently helped write a book about this. The practical examples of creative, on-the-ground change were deeply enlivening.
I believe our Mennonite entrepreneurs have something more valuable than money to offer. Social enterprise invites that.
There have been hints in the U.S. and Canada of a new peace witness that focusses on supporting military personnel in need of healing. That could be a powerful coming together of our remarkable tradition of mental-health work and a peace witness that needs rejuvenation.
Older people could explore shared housing opportunities. Some interesting models exist. Maybe the younger folk would even want in on it. Multi-generational connections are one of the great gifts of church.
Even more with even less
Simplicity is a God-given jewel of our tradition. It is needed now more than ever. We need to simplify our lives so we can celebrate and care for each other. I recall a friend once starting a friendly competition to see who would give away the most valuable item. I loved that. I gave away the vest I wore for my wedding. We could have a national simplicity challenge. Call it the “Ministry of less.”
The possibilities are many: contemplative spirituality, support groups for doubters, support groups for parents, friendship circles with seasonal agricultural workers, ongoing refuge settlement work (with attention to how it transforms us spiritually). Mennonites are perfectly placed to experiment with a new food and agriculture system. Maybe climate-energy innovation as spiritual discipline could even find a foothold. I’d love to hear others’ dreams. Groups within congregations or groups from a cluster of congregations could gather ’round an anchor cause or partnership. Area church staff could be equipped to help groups match their passions and pains to practical initiatives.
One national staff person could serve each of these areas, gathering and sharing best practices. One person could be tasked with connecting with cool stuff happening in other denominations. The question of how we are being spiritually transformed would be a grounding constant.
The national entity could be called MCHQ. Everyone would get paid the same. Area churches would take care of camps and schools.
Every seven biblical years, everything would be up for reassessment. Can’t let things get stale.
Of course, some of this sort of thing is happening in Mennonite and other churches, including the one I attend. I just wish we were building on, expanding and organizing around that. I would attend the assembly of that sort of church. I would bring my kids and my friends. I would exuberantly report on its reports. That is the sort of future I could get excited about.