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On the other hand

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On the one hand, Celebration 2010 was about rediscovering that we are family. I left humming, “We are fam-i-ly…”

It’s a song about the craving of a generation, and for 30 years, it has been played at ballparks and in commercials. “We are the World” and “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” tap into the same longing. As families disintegrate around us, the image of a familial unity strikes a deep chord. When a crisis needs a response, the primal longing for family is the well that is easily and quickly tapped, but the power of an effective song can also lull us into complacency.

The power of the imagery of family seems to be heightened by the tension between the hope and dream of family and its visible decay.

I went to C2010 concerned about my MB family. I went wondering if we still are family or just the collapsing remnants of something that was. For me the answer was clear, refreshing and unambiguous: we are indeed a family. How did I know? That is harder to answer but my sense of it is unambiguous. Coming to that realization, C2010 became a celebration for me. It was more than a song.

On the other hand…. I also left disconcerted. It seems to me that although we really are a family, all is not well.

All is not well

I see theological problems. Here in Canada, a struggle between the Calvinist and Anabaptist theologies is bubbling away. It should remind us, if nothing else, that theological debate is part of life in the church. We only need to read Paul’s epistles for confirmation, but that doesn’t make it easy.

I see financial problems. We have a missional vision for church planting here and abroad, visions for leadership development and education, but these cost money – a lot of money. Churches are systemically not meeting their portions of agreed-to budgets.

I see structural problems. Who makes decisions and who is accountable in this family? There was a time when the convention was our decision-making engine. That mechanism has been abandoned, but what has replaced it? It seems to me an effective and understandable replacement has not yet emerged.

In Canada, support for our national conference continues to erode. One of our largest churches formally decided to cease financially supporting the Canadian conference. Many other churches have done so – passively but just as effectively. I think this is a very big problem.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe there are good answers, but without a place to ask these questions and hear the answers, C2010 was missing something very important.

Not every family event needs a full or even partial airing of its conflicts, but families that intend to survive must find ways to openly face their problems. Maybe C2010 wasn’t the place for this, but it has to happen somewhere. Somewhere, we need to be able to sit down and ask the uncomfortable, complicated questions.

As a MB family, we have some very good reasons for making this the highest priority.

Scriptural mandate

First, the Bible demands it. Scripture doesn’t create sentimental moments and gloss over difficult realities. At times, the biblical story is disturbing precisely because the ugly, and the painful, and the sinful are splayed out for all to see. The story of the New Testament church does not climax with a moment of unity in Acts 2. That moment was celebrated, but the church that Jesus built – which prevails against the gates of hell – only begins there. From Acts 2 onward, the New Testament is the story of churches wrestling through issues. We can do no less.

Second, problems rarely get better when left unattended. This is a truism, but it is still true.

Finally, we can face our challenges because they are not insurmountable. How do we know this? We know this because we are a vibrant family. Facing and working through issues is in the very nature of the family – particularly the family of God.

Sitting down together and soberly laying out our challenges cannot be sold as an inspirational event. It won’t be for the faint of heart. And those who embark on this will face painful moments. But there is a principle that runs through Scripture: “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them” (Psalm 126:6).

On the one hand, we’re part of a remarkable family…on the other hand, we can only keep it strong if we’re willing to face some painful issues.

James Toews is pastor at Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.

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