The church’s primary job is growing relationships with God, says Dave Rogalsky in the feature, “Experiencing the good news,” on page 4. He encourages faith communities to be “actively teaching spiritual practices to strengthen the experience of God in people of all ages, in order to underpin our community, worship, evangelism, missions, and peace and justice work.” The implication is that followers of Christ who are connected to their Lord will also be better sharers of God’s good news.
Let’s go on a scavenger hunt, seeking places where Mennonite congregations are intentionally working at spiritual formation. Where are adults, youth and children learning the stories of their historical faith and digging into the riches of the Bible? Where are young and old having conversations about beliefs, values, spiritual questions and faith practices? Where are they learning to become sensitive to the voice and work of the Holy Spirit—in their lives and in their community? Where are faith communities empowering individual members to live out the good news of Jesus Christ?
One place where congregations teach spirituality is Sunday school. But that seems like a teetering institution. Many Mennonite churches do not run a Sunday school program during the summer. When classes are offered, some youth and adults choose not to attend them. And how about finding volunteers to lead the classes? You’ve probably heard the desperate pleas for teachers in your own church.
Mid-week prayer meetings are a thing of the past; often a congregation finds it challenging to get people to show up for more than Sunday worship. Plus, some of us might find it hard to imagine how we could fill a whole hour with group prayer. We might even question the validity of that kind of prayer. Many churches are not teaching congregants to offer spontaneous spoken prayers or to pray through song, movement or visual aids.
In the past, personal testimonies demonstrated ways in which individuals had experienced the Holy Spirit personally. Nowadays we no longer tell the inspirational “I-was-a-sinner-but-God-saved-me” stories. Cynical beings that we are, we often find it hard to talk about our spiritual experiences in ways that feel authentic. We may be hesitant to use explicit religious language to share our personal story, our testimony of how we see God present in our own lives. Some of us stand ready to judge the faith stories of others, to find the inconsistencies and hypocrisies. And we fear that others will judge us, too.
The scavenger hunt continues: How often do churches provide opportunities for us to open a Bible, read from it, and join others in the church in exploring it together? Our congregations should be inviting us to sit together around that open Bible; to savour its contents; to discuss the poetry, stories and teachings; and to relate them to our current realities. How is the church helping the Bible seep into our prayers and our daily practices? We also need to learn how to share those experienced Bible insights with someone outside of our group.
This is not a call to return to all the olden days; I do not believe there ever was a golden age of spirituality. Today, the landscape of our secular society calls for creativity and new ways of helping spiritual growth happen, both for people who still attend the church’s regular activities and for those who have given up on the institutional church. In a spiritually superficial society, we need to harness our gifts and resources for this ongoing calling.
Rogalsky points out that individuals experience God in many different ways. Whatever your most comfortable “quadrant,” your congregation can encourage your spiritual growth. It is also a place where you can help nurture other sisters and brothers in the faith. In what ways does your church help you grow in your relationship with God? We’d like to hear your stories.
Introducing Will Braun, Senior Writer
Will lives with his wife and two sons on a small farm near Morden, Man., not far from where he grew up. As senior writer for Canadian Mennonite magazine, Will’s goal is to provide in-depth coverage of matters in the Mennonite world. In addition to writing and farming, he works for the Interchurch Council on Hydropower. In the past, Will worked for Mennonite Central Committee in Brazil, on Vancouver Island and in Manitoba. Will and his family attend Pembina Mennonite Fellowship.