How is God calling us as Mennonite Brethren to pursue his heart for justice today, in our local neighbourhoods, nationally, and on the global scene?
Amid all the pain in the world that may cause us to ask “where is the church in all this?” is there anything we can collectively bring to this? MB Herald invited pastors and lay leaders from across the country into conversation on this question.
As MBs, we have this historical pattern of looking at culture and responding with renewal. If challenges around modernization in North America led to renewal through church planting and Bible colleges in mid-20th century, what is today’s cultural equivalent?
Among the North American church in general, the main problem isn’t secularism, but Christian complicity in injustice.
I think MBs today risk being tossed by the wind (James 1), but it’s not the wind of secularism or liberalism but the status quo of injustice.
A guiding question for faithfulness is “How do we adapt in creative, Spirit-inspired ways?”
That doesn’t have to raise alarm around a “social justice agenda.” This is a gospel agenda, a faithfulness agenda.
For this next generation coming up, the issue isn’t going to be “Will we pursue justice?” but “How can we pursue justice in a way that is rooted in the gospel?” What they’re learning in school – racial inequality, gender inequality – those are important things that God cares about, but the perspective is just a bit skewed. When we’re rooted in the truth of the Bible, we are able to more and better bring about justice.
The gospel is best revealed when we are aligned with God’s kingdom purposes and redemptive plans for the individual, the community, the society, the nation, and the world.
Biblically speaking, poverty is not just the absence of financial resources, it is the absence of shalom. This “wrong-relatedness” translates into social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual poverty.
We are better able to love our neighbours when we are aware of our need for Jesus to free us for “right-relatedness” with him and others.
Part of our baptism and church membership class at my church is a quick survey of church history – to place MBs in that larger context. Our lead pastor called us to notice patterns in history. It didn’t really lend itself for thriving when the church was quite comfortable. When the church is under pressure – even persecuted – that’s when you see growth.
Right now, we’re exiting a time of comfort in the church where our growth was because it was acceptable to be there. We’re entering into this phase of increased secularization. I don’t necessarily view it as a terrible thing.
I see God calling us to figure out how to navigate the discomfort of losing some privilege. As we find our way into this new space where we’re not the default – there’s no assumption that people are spending time in church, I see it as an opportunity to disciple people into authentic faith.
The challenge is that there are a lot of local discrepancies in terms of where our hearts beat – think about the 96 churches in B.C.
By virtue of geography, leaders, and other dynamics, issues will come to congregations at a different pace, in a different way. When churches are in step with issues in our broader culture, it’s because it’s presenting in their local congregation.
It’s okay for some people to be right on the leading edge working through these issues hard and long. (I think about some of our churches who work with people on the margins in inner cities – One88, Winnipeg, and Metro Community, Kelowna, for example.)
According to their heart beat, some churches take a lead. Are we well structured to help each other lift those responses to need and advance them together?
As Anabaptists, we are part of the holiness tradition which focuses on transformation of the heart. If you try to do justice or peace work but it is not coming out of a place of compassionate love for God, others, and yourself, it could “gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13: 3–7).
If people’s hearts are in the right place, they can see God in any place of need and be drawn to it. People go after what their heart beats for. If we do that, we will be in all these places collectively because God will lead us differently.
Connecting with MCC or another MB church ministering well – is this part of why it matters that we’re a denomination?
One of the biggest ways we do peace and justice work is through individuals within our church getting involved with these agencies. MCC is probably the biggest one, and MDS as well. Knowing we’re not starting from zero when we want to be peacemakers in the world, I think we value that deeply.
It would be a real challenge to have the same impact if every church were working on their own.
A re-engaging between heartbeat and agency partners is what I hope will come out of the current national conversation on the collaborative model.
How much is pragmatism playing into this conversation? As leaders come into our family who don’t share a history of working with our agency partnerships and family members, they reach for what is familiar.
They don’t call KP and ask what Anabaptist resource is best; they look around. If what they find happens to have Anabaptist flavour, that is a consideration but not the consideration. Individualism is institutionally prevalent in our churches as well.
Our challenge is to help each other understand and address these dynamics.
Connecting with MCC or another MB church ministering well – is this part of why it matters that we’re a denomination?
We hear lots of global news, but at the same time, there’s a trend to think more locally. That’s tangible – you can see the impact you are making. So, making international connections is a huge part of the picture for me as someone who has served globally.
In the West, we seem to have this crazy divide between community development (with all that goes into the well-being of people) and spiritual development. For those I’ve met from the Global South, these are two sides of the same house.
Canadians might be “wealthy,” but we are not very well; I think the state of our mental health speaks to this reality. We have split our house and we are not whole because of it.
If shalom is about completeness, we have to stop thinking these pieces don’t impact each other.
This reminds me of the map that [MWC general secretary César García] showed us at EQUIP. The next Sunday after, preaching on Ephesians 2, I told my congregation: “We saw this map showing the most Anabaptists are in Africa now. We need to expand our consciousness and realize how wide and how diverse this family is.”
I think we’ve been through this white Christendom era as MBs. We need a deeper theology of diversity, and maybe a more diverse self-image as Anabaptists.
Our self-consciousness is still quite ethnically based. The global picture challenges that.
In our local context, we try to incorporate global perspectives with our intentional approach to be a multicultural community.
One of our challenges is to deeply engage. Representation is one step, but that’s not the only step.
We have a diverse leadership team, we have practices like songs and prayers in other languages, but it’s just scratching the surface in what it means to integrate global perspectives.
For our church, and MBs more broadly, this integration could involve looking at regular practices such as service start times or the structure of meetings and ministry programming. How do the regular rhythms of North American church life perpetuate the status quo of a divided community?
I also think this is a good time to ask, What is our MB philosophy of leadership? Are we prepared to incorporate diverse perspectives? Will we maintain the status quo or take the opportunity for real learning?
My dream is for us to be defined by diversity, not because it’s mandatory but because it’s simply present in who we are.
There’s a need for us to have exposure to the world around us, but we need to do it with integrity.
In my studies in international development, there was a lot of emphasis on local community development as the best way. Nevertheless my youth group partnered with another church to do a mission trip to Mexico.
It was quite a powerful experience for us – mentioned in baptism testimonies over several years.
But three years later, there was nothing there in Mexico. Of the three houses we built, one was empty because the family had to move, another one was empty because the family split up, and the third one was occupied by a different family.
It’s great for the youth to be exposed to a different culture, but we didn’t help in the end. It’s hard to acknowledge out loud – especially given the money the church invested.
ICOMB should be taking centre stage. Through partnerships across MB churches, we can expose ourselves to other cultures and do good work in areas of need – for ourselves and our partners.
The role of a national organization is to bring groups together to help them understand where they are alike, and where they need to learn from differences that exist beyond their locality.
For some churches, if there’s a groundswell to respond with peace and justice, it’s Let’s work with MCC. Other churches have an impulse to find another church doing this kind of work and pursue a relationship.
The global church can help us position ourselves to receive. We can learn helpful dynamics when we don’t hang out with people like us.
We need to be telling stories of the global reality of our family.
This will be stories of forming relationships in Northern Saskatchewan, serving alongside traumatized individuals in downtown Winnipeg or Vancouver, and of the MB churches doing trauma healing in refugee camps in Malawi. These stories can inspire faithfulness in our local contexts.
Despite a concerted church planting effort over almost a decade, we have roughly the same number of churches in the Canadian Conference of MB churches as we did at the outset. The church of the future may be smaller, less influential. Should we fear this?
Vision, mission, justice, causes, and strategic plans presume upon the local churches, but do not nourish them.
To endure will require leaders who are lovers and fighters. It is not “mission” or “vision” that churches follow, but credibility. Caring for churches will take attention and responsiveness to the churches as they are, but it will be worth it.
Bigness vs. smallness – it’s not a uniquely church challenge. There’s a movement in our culture to get really big and do a bunch of things or become focused and do one thing well.
Neither approach to church scares me.
I’m aware there’s benefit to size: I’m paid because we have a certain number of people.
Yet, there’s a part of me that feels restless trying to keep people happy. We have ideas of how church should be, but rarely do I hear people articulating that church is a place we meet Jesus and are challenged.
It’s discouraging to decrease, but I don’t want 400 people if 350 want to marionette me to fit a need that isn’t a hunger for the gospel.
What has happened so that the numerical size of our churches has been the greatest metric of success?
Our priority must always be faithfulness over fruitfulness. Faithfulness to Jesus will bear the fruit of the kingdom in God’s time and shape.
God have mercy on us when we prioritize our ways of comfort and convenience over laying down our lives, picking up our cross, and following Jesus as King and Saviour.
We’re coming to the end of a generation that was prosperous, able to support non-profit work.
With the economic pressure on my generation, it’s going to be tough.
Over the last decades, we as MBs have lost ourselves in a push for bigger and better. I wonder if what we’re called to in the future is smaller, less powerful, but more relational, more community oriented.
Maybe it will happen because of these demographics. Maybe it’s God moving us.
Something that has come out of heavily staffed WMB adopting lay-led KMB was seeing the beauty of lay leaders, serving together.
Be openhanded, discern the Spirit in community, and do the best we can.
We need to balance confidence in calling people to repentance and purity of heart with grace and compassion – and with patience. May we stay true to these characteristics of God’s heart.
lives in Saskatoon, She leads the developmental leadership team in Saskatchewan, Leaders Collective, and attends West Portal Church. She serves as co-coordinator for Canadian Foodgrains Bank in Saskatchewan.
lives in Abbotsford, B.C. He is part of The Life Centre, known as the church with the flags. He teaches theology and culture at Columbia Bible College.
lives in Langley, B.C. He is lead pastor of South Langley Church.
lives in Winnipeg. She is youth and young adults pastor at Fort Garry MB Church. A mother of one, she is working on her MA at Canadian Mennonite University.
lives in Waterloo, Ont. She is intern coordinator at WMB Church. She is working on an MDiv from Tyndale Seminary, Toronto.
lives in Langley, B.C. He is pastor of Jericho Ridge Community Church, Surrey, B.C.
lives in Linden, Alta. He is pastor at Linden MB Church.
lives in Dartmouth, N.S. He is pastor at The Well.