Governance structure hurting us
Re “Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Mennonite Brethren” (January). At least three times in the January issue of the Herald, a somewhat troubling note arises. “Interaction with one another seems to be diminishing,” writes editor Laura Kalmar. “Mennonite Brethren are facing a lot of fragmentation,” says seminary president Lynn Jost. “The linkage between the Chinese churches and the MB conference is weaker than I thought,” writes Joseph Kwan, editor of the Chinese Herald.
And regular columnist James Toews reflects on the decision of the conference to divest itself of MBBS and to place the onus for raising its support on the seminary itself and the burden of responding on individual churches.
Why all these voices saying almost the same thing?
There are certainly a number of reasons and it would be unfair to attribute too much to any one. But I might offer a reason that needs some careful reflection. Some years ago we adopted a conference structure and model that placed most of the burden of linking us together on conference staff. Most boards were simply dropped. An executive board was to form an effective decision-making body.
We set aside boards – Christian education, communications, evangelism, management – and kept only faith and life, alongside the executive board.
One of the results is that we’ve greatly reduced the number of people who have a vested interest in what we’re doing together. This is true not only at the national level, but also provincially. I note, for instance, that at a national level we now have no one entrusted with concerns about youth and children. In my province, that’s also true.
Board members elected within the provinces had the burden – even if it seemed small – of carrying concerns both to and from the larger body. These people are no longer there. The input to conference staff is vastly reduced and the ability to carry concerns back to home communities likewise.
We should be careful not to assume that because we have smaller, tighter decision-making structures we are therefore more effective. Much of what happens within a community of believers happens informally, it happens through the way we influence one another. The church of Christ – whether it’s the MB expression or some other – is a body of people who choose to relate to one another. We want to connect within a shared history and shared confession – a shared love for Christ and one another.
Certainly, to do that requires inspirational, motivational leadership that reaches both our hearts and minds, but it also requires engagement with one another. I think we’ve cut off a great deal of that and I wonder whether that doesn’t account for a good deal of the fragmentation we’re experiencing.
(Matthew 14:14–21) The tomb had been dark, hot, and survival almost impossible. Seven days without food and water. Finally, a ray of hope, a glimmer of light, and then hands to carry her to freedom.
With her hair encrusted with dust, lips parched, and her 69 years showing, we heard the unwavering, clear sound: “God is good, God is good” and “Thank you God, thank you God.” Via the media, the whole world heard her testimony. Thus, she gave “thanks” and sang the doxology before a great meal – God’s miracle of feeding hundreds of thousands in earthquake-devastated Haiti.
And he settled them in lines, so they were easier to feed. Then he said, “You give them something to eat!” And the demanding appeal reverberated throughout the whole world – non-Christians and Christians alike couldn’t shake the urgent request. No matter where we turned – television, radio, internet, print media – voices promoted the appeal to give, give, and give more.
God’s voice? God’s hand seen in all this? Perhaps. Our hearts were softened and we gave, while God began feeding the hungry and healing the maimed bodies. How amazing!
And when we go to pick up the baskets containing the broken pieces accrued during this tragedy, we hope that one basket will contain the elements of a viable future for poverty-stricken Haiti, and the other will hold a permanently open door for the Christian church to minister to the thousands of displaced and orphaned children.
Over and over we saw the children, and were cautioned that if nobody cared they might someday turn to the street. Here is a great opportunity to show these little ones the loving face of God. Truly, “God is good, God is good,” and “Thank you, God.” Who can forget that?
Don’t idealize first-century Christianity
I was a bit surprised to read on the back of the December issue of the Herald the slogan: “Imagine what it would be like to live like the first-century church in the 21st-century” in relation to the Regenerate 21-01 vision. I must say that I’d be horrified if we became the first-century church!
Didn’t the apostles have to encourage first-century Christians not to sleep with prostitutes or their mother-in-laws, and not to commit murder? (1 Corinthians 5; 6:9–10,12–20; 1 Peter 4:15). Our frequent desire to be like the first-century church is based as much on an unrealistic idealization of it, as on a tendency to bypass tradition and the history of the church, as if these were worthless.
Should we then forsake the Trinity, since first-century Christians had not yet come to a formulation of that doctrine? Indeed, should we throw out the New Testament, since the collection of its writings and its canonical status were not yet a reality? It’s the collaboration of the church (even after the first century) with the purposes of God that allowed crucial developments which define Christianity.
Support Bible school students
Re: “Will anyone recommend Christian higher education?” (Viewpoint, May 2009). In response to John Longhurst’s article, I believe our MB church could be a little more supportive of youth who endeavour toward a biblical education experience. Our son returned from a 7-month Capernwray program and asked why our church didn’t support Bible school attendance the way his European classmates were supported by their churches. In some cases, those students were 100 percent sponsored by their home churches.
I wonder why the church won’t even give a token amount, if for no other reason than to show encouragement for a student’s choice to embark on a spiritual journey? Another of my son’s Canadian classmates from a Mennonite church had asked his congregation if they would partially support him, but they responded that if he had chosen a denominational school, they would have given him $100. But since he had chosen Capernwray, it wasn’t on their list.
As a parent, I’m happy to support my son in his choice. I wonder if the church needs to examine its position on support guidelines for youth who choose a Bible education.
MB denomination on the demise
Re “Far from NT reality” (Letters, December). There’s no question that the MB church has drifted far from the reality of the New Testament church. With the kind of commercial business model we’ve oozed into, the signs are all there that we’re actually on the demise as a denomination.
Yet even in the business model, there’s an accountability factor. As MBs, in the company of most evangelical churches, we’ve subcontracted the work of the church to senior pastors who aren’t holding us to the Matthew 28:18–20 mission statement. If they did, it’s my hunch that many would lose their jobs. The narcissism of the “electorate” wouldn’t tolerate the message, “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?”
Jesus’ most common theme was the threat of Mammon, his biggest competition. When do we hear about that? Rarely, if at all. Church budgets are largely consumed by local congregational needs – these come first. Bear in mind 1 Corinthians 4:1–2, “now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful”! Using a commercial/business model, we would be fired forthwith.