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Gathering 2008 pre-conference concludes: it’s about people, not programs

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The man with “the face of Jesus and the body of Buddha” was a featured speaker at the Gathering 2008 pre-conference, July 9–10. Four workshop tracks (Eagle’s Flight™, Youth Pastors, Reproducing Churches, and Engaging Culture Now) held four sessions from Wednesday evening to Thursday afternoon, including a joint lecture and a question and answer period with Bruxy Cavey.

Cavey is teaching pastor at The Meeting House, a growing, multisite church based in Oakville, Ont., which served as a case study for discussion at the pre-conference. Casually attired in T-shirt, cargo pants, and a billed cap, Cavey cut an unusual figure for a Brethren in Christ pastor, with long tresses reminiscent of many drawings of “gentle Jesus.” But Cavey’s “church for people who aren’t into church” is not the typical mega-church.

Case study

The Meeting House doesn’t follow a seeker church model. Instead, Cavey strives for “next step” teaching: a message that motivates peopled to take the next step in their faith walk.

Cavey’s message is simple. “‘Jesus is Lord’ means ‘you’re the one who has the right to tell me what to do with my life’,” he says. People can’t count the cost unless the terms have been explained to them. Contrary to conventional mega-church wisdom, this call to radical discipleship has not adversely affected the church’s growth.

The Meeting House model is not a recipe for success, cautions Cavey. “We’re just being ourselves – what does that look like for you? The strength of the church is diversity.” We serve the same God but it doesn’t mean we have to do everything the same way.

Christians must remember that God is the object of our worship, said Cavey. Everything else is just a tool, as we – as individuals or the church – are tools in God’s hands. The Lord’s work does not succeed or fail on our human efforts.

Engaging culture

“Mennonite Brethren and culture: from isolation and ethnic homogeneity to acculturation and multicultural diversity,” was Bruce Guenther’s introduction to Engaging Culture Now. Guenther is professor at MB Biblical Seminary (ACTS) in Langley, B.C.

The forces that shaped our denomination still provide a predisposition toward certain ways of doing things, said Guenther, explaining why a historical overview was the starting point for a discussion on acculturation today.

Guenther described how MBs changed from “The Jumpers” in the 1860s; to legalistic and traditional, conservative and culturally aloof immigrants of the 1920s–50s; to MBs of the 1960s taking tentative steps toward increasing cultural fluency; to today’s MBs who are reticent about proscribing behaviour such that they risk not holding to Christ’s moral and ethical standard at all.

From a history of legalism and cultural separation, even cultural imperialism, the Mennonite Brethren are now nearly indistinguishable from the rest of society, and while we may fare slightly better – statistically – on issues like divorce, adultery, and abuse, we likely struggle as much as the next person with “the deeper idolatries of the heart,” cautioned Guenther.

Leadership seminars

While the culture workshop participants were discovering the pivotal importance of relationship in church life, Stewardship Ministries’ Al Thiessen taught participants in the Eagle’s Flight™ leadership seminar the importance of people. Eagle’s Flight™ï¡¿ is an organization that develops comprehensive programs to train corporate leaders to run more effective and productive teams.

Strategies and models aside, “the gifts of your people are your greatest asset,” said Thiessen. The key is engaging the energies of staff/employees/volunteers on the project, whether sacred or secular.

The Youth Pastors workshop also explored leadership and culture with activities that brought insight about communication, feedback loops, and the need for reflection. “It’s easy to operate in crisis mode, running from situation to situation, without taking time to develop a larger plan or strategy for where you want things to go,” one youth worker observed. Again, the workshop highlighted the human aspect, a relational grounding, as the key to effective ministry.

For a denomination guilty of legalism and elitism in the past, the cumulative effect of pre-conference workshops was to stress relationships rather than rules. Whether training leaders, leading youth, expanding churches, or negotiating the intersection of faith and culture, the Mennonite Brethren seek to define our Christian identity by what – and whom – we affirm rather than what we prohibit.

Karla Braun

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