On this first day of August, I greet you in the name of Jesus who lives and walks among us.
I pray you are having a good summer, with some time for family and relaxation. No doubt there are always things clamoring for attention. How is it when you spend time praying for conference and Renewing a Vision? My sense is that we all still wonder about some of the details. While delegate action this summer was important, a vote about vision is not living the vision.
As our first shared spiritual practice, the invitation is for congregations to spend 15 minutes in prayer on Sunday morning asking God, “What do you want for us?”
I haven’t heard that congregations are responding to the call to prayer in this time. I don’t hear everything, of course, so I know my picture is incomplete. It’s not easy to facilitate an effort like this in a congregation. But thanks to those of you who are making an effort to have your congregations pray. I’d love to hear about it.
First, in my prayer time, I feel a pull to focus on engagement. John 3:16, God moved toward the world in Jesus. I wonder how conference gatherings can strengthen congregational efforts. We’ve been a conference focused on our life together. What might it mean to focus on congregational empowerment and discerning God’s activity in the local setting? I wonder whether that pushes “business” even more to the edge of what we do when we gather. If so, we will still want good process and to involved delegates in decision-making. Maybe there is a different question to ask.
Second, as I pray I note God seems to have dropped some opportunities in our laps. We didn’t do anything. They are simply coming to us:
- 3 congregations in three years requesting membership (Mara Christian Church, Emmanuel Living Christian Church, Dawning of a New Day),
- a call by Mennonite Disaster Service to look again at Mennonite efforts in Detroit, and
- an invitation from the Tanzanian Mennonite Church for prayer and relationship
What gifts is God offering Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference (IMMC) through these opportunities? How do we go about receiving these gifts?
Third, I am drawn to Richard Foster’s description of the six streams of Christian spirituality. (See https://renovare.org/about/ideas/the-six-streams or http://spiritualpractice.ca/what_practice/six-spiritual-traditions/) I have been nurtured by most of these streams at different times in my life. Like people, organizations have personalities and characteristics. I wonder if a conference can create a culture that values and learns from all six. For example, I am interested that both AMBS and Goshen College have events this year about the Holy Spirit, an early Anabaptist emphasis that can easily lose out with our strong Christology. God, what do you want for us?
Finally, I wonder about the APEST understanding of leadership. Alan Hirsch gave a quick overview to delegates at Kansas City in 2015. Alan did not create this model, but has incorporated it into his books such as The Permanent Revolution and 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence an Capacity of the Body of Christ. Jessica Schrock Ringenberg, Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio, recently wrote about it in a blog at themennonite.org. APEST sees apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (read pastor) and teachers as a plurality of leadership gifts given to the church. Jessica suggests our common understanding of church leadership as pastor/shepherd presses the variety of gifts given by the Spirit into one mold. The congregation expects all leaders to first love, nurture and care for the church community; and then exercise their spiritual gifts with any remaining time/energy. This connects for me with some of Conrad Kanagy’s research that after at least two generations of pastors teaching Ephesians 5 “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry,” a majority of Mennonite congregants still hold that the pastor is the one who does ministry! How did a movement of people who proclaimed the priesthood of all believers end up here? I can’t help but imagine connections between the priesthood of all believers and being engaged in God’s mission.
In the hope of continuing the conversation, I am posting this letter to pastors on the conference website at http://im.mennonite.net/2017/08/01/august-2017-greeting-to-pastors/. Feel free to click on the link and share reflections from your congregation’s prayers.
Finally, Missional Leadership Team meets for its first meeting of the new year – a retreat on August 11-12. The hope is to listen deeply to delegate comments, to one another, and to the Spirit as a significant series of fall meetings is given shape: MLT retreat, all-teams retreat at the end of September, pastor gathering in November.
God is with us.