So I’m out walking in the beautiful spring sunshine and I pass a church that has a large empty parking lot with a sign that says “No Parking.” As I turn the corner, I see the official church sign that states “Everyone is Welcome.”
The incongruity between these beacons to the public makes me chuckle a bit because I had just come from a nationwide mission consultation at which we, as church leaders, were asked, “How do Mennonite Church Canada congregations deal with big questions such as, ‘What does mission mean for local congregations in Canada in 2019?’ ‘What does it mean for the regional churches of Canada to support that mission?’ ‘What does it mean for MC Canada to nurture the mission impulse that resides in people of faith?’ ‘What does international mission mean in a global context?’ ”
Jared Siebert of New Leaf Network challenged us with some current statistics revealing how few Canadians regularly attend worship services of any kind. These statistics also indicate that the fastest growing religious population in our country is, “I do not ascribe to religion.”
He had us consider the gardening imagery found in I Corinthians 3:5-7: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
The challenge is found when growth doesn’t happen. In our Canadian context, growth is not happening. How then do we think about our role? Do we need to water more? Do we need to plant in a different space? How do we think about God’s role?
Siebert rather evocatively suggested that perhaps this is also a time to compost parts of our garden. Perhaps the parts of our garden that are not producing fruit need to return to God’s care for transformation back into fertile soil.
Another presenter, Betty Pries of Credence & Co., focused our thinking by asking, “What gift has God given to the Mennonite church?” As we discussed this around our tables, it became more and more obvious that our primary gift for mission focused around our sense of community and how that is lived out. Sometimes our community is focused on hospitality, sometimes on work together, sometimes it is found in consensus building and sometimes it is present in justice making. How does this gift affect our mission?
Throughout the weekend it was clear in our worship, conversations, presentations and many interactions that we are not simply on a mission to repopulate the church. Nor are we a people who have no hope. It was clear to me that our mission is to experience God’s love affair with the world, and to share in that gift to all that we encounter.
Ken Warkentin is executive minister of Mennonite Church Manitoba.