A pastor friend recently invited some more mature members of his congregation on a journey of transformation. Some were intrigued by the invitation; some welcomed it with relief and joy. Others declined, explaining that they have been Christians longer than the pastor and have their faith well in hand; they don’t need to change.
Recent studies cite alarming findings regarding the lack of transformation among churchgoers: 46 percent of self-identified Christians say their life has not changed at all as a result of going to church1, 68 percent of pastors and Christian leaders say that their souls are getting overlooked in the midst of ministry2, and 52 percent of self-identified Christian adults believe there is much more to the Christian life than what they experience3.
Good news that transforms
Yet the good news preached by Jesus and experienced by the early church speaks of a radically transforming power: the power to fundamentally transform the believer and the power to transform the world.
In fact, the church has deeply influenced culture. Beginning with the early church in the Roman Empire, continuing through the Reformation and the settling of the New World, Christians influenced the society around them to take care of those who are poor; protect the vulnerable; limit exploitation of children, women and foreigners; provide health care; encourage education at all levels; work for peace and reconciliation in personal, national and international relationships; promote values such as humility, generosity, forgiveness, self-sacrifice and love of all; strengthen the family unit; rehabilitate those living in crime or immorality; and more4.
Problem of decline
Today, the state churches in Europe claim only single percentages of population among their attendees, and North American churches have, for the most part, experienced acute decline over the past several decades. Though one could debate the factors that contribute to the current problem of decline, research conducted by groups such as the Barna Group and Willow Creek Association indicates that the decline in church participation is directly connected to the decline in the church’s transforming influence: on its participants and on the surrounding culture. Hence, we are faced with what is essentially a discipleship problem.
At a September 2017 conference focused on creating truly transforming worship communities, Ruth Haley Barton suggested that the claim “We are a transforming community” is the most over-promised and under-delivered in the church.
If you were to honestly reflect on whether your church community is in fact a transforming community, would you agree with Barton’s assessment? Are people in your worship community regularly experiencing deep inner change? Are they regularly discovering new ways of seeing and being? Are they regularly aware of their own becoming? Is this “becoming” reflected in a missional impulse to change the world around them?
A way to follow
CCMBC’s leadership, including the Board of Faith and Life, desires that each of our Canadian MB churches could answer all of the above questions with a hearty “yes and amen.” To this end, the EQUIP 2017 Study Conference is devoted to the topic of Transforming Discipleship. We are defining discipleship as a process of following and imitating Jesus in a way that results in inner transformation into his likeness.
This way of following Jesus was the way of the early disciples, and it was, appropriately, called the Way. This way of following Jesus has continued through the ages. In fact, it was insistence on this way of following Jesus that led to the birth of the Mennonite Brethren.
The unmistakably transforming people of the Way were characterized by three distinct features:
- The lives of the people of the Way were ordered around intentional spiritual life practices that were centred on Jesus,
- The faith of the people of the Way was not private; rather, it was lived out in intimate community with other followers,
- The people of the Way were naturally oriented outward to the people and issues in the surrounding culture.
The Way was irresistible, it was unstoppable and its impact was unmistakable.
Such influence necessitates the ongoing witness to a power greater than that of self-help psychology, yoga, positive thinking and the many other solutions floated by the surrounding culture. Such influence comes not when we pander to the human consumeristic nature, but when we invite people to experience the transforming power of the gospel in the here and now; when our churches are filled with people of inner spiritual authority that comes only from being with Jesus in a transforming way.
At the EQUIP 2017 Study Conference, we as a community of Mennonite Brethren churches in Canada seek to inspire, educate, equip and indeed transform our convictions and practices related to discipleship. The Mennonite Brethren have historically embraced the radical call of Christ. We are well poised to embrace it also in our future.
If you’d like prayer for yourself as a leader or for your church to increase in its transforming influence, please do not hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Ingrid Reichard is pastor of development at Glencairn MB Church, Kitchener, Ont. Pending affirmation at the Special General Meeting, she serves as chair of the Board of Faith and Life.
1 Barna Research Group OmiPoll January 2012
2 The “How is it with your soul?” Assessment for Leaders Transforming Center 2011
3 The Maximum Faith Project by Barna Research Group 2010 www.barna.org
⁴ Stark, Rodney. 2011. The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion. New York, NY: Harper Collins.