Written by Keith Regehr, Transition Coordinator
God loves the world and God is at work in the world.
God loves the church and God is at work in the church.
There are no truths more fundamental or more comforting. In some ways, there are no truths more discomforting. When the Spirit of God shows up, things happen. Ask Abraham about moving. Ask Peter about changing his mind about Gentiles. Ask Paul about a complete reorientation of life.
While it is easy to look on the history of the church as a long unchanging story of living the Gospel, it may be more appropriate to see it as a story of constant change as the Spirit of God shows up – and shakes things up. In every era and in every cultural context the church’s way of living and speaking about the Gospel has adapted to the context of its day. This must be so, otherwise the church cannot speak the Gospel in ways that can be heard.
The church in Canada is living in a time of significant social and cultural upheaval. The church is no longer a central institution in the culture. Membership and attendance are in decline. Fewer people understand what church is for, or why faith is important. Traditionally, many of us have measured church life by its expression in programmatic participation. But as participation in church life declines it is easy to turn inward. It is easy to spend our time lamenting the losses and then to try to create programmes that will bring back the bygone era of full buildings. But to move forward, we cannot afford to remain in lamentation.
The larger mission of God is not the filling of buildings, but the filling of lives with love for God and one another.
The larger mission of God is not the filling of buildings, but the filling of lives with love for God and one another. It is the reconciliation of all things in Christ and the transformation of humans into the image of Christ. This mission of God is the mission of the church. This does not change. To participate in this mission requires that we resist the temptation to focus inward. We need to turn outward, toward what God is doing in the world around us.
It may be that part of what God is doing is shaking up the church. God has shaken us up many times in the past, so that we can reorient ourselves to the world around us. If that is the case, the church needs to rethink how it is structured in order to create a new space for our participation with God’s mission in the world.
The Future Directions Task Force (FDTF) report points us in a new direction. With a focus on the local congregation as the centre of worship and mission, it invites congregations, Area Churches, and National Church to rethink who they are and what part of the mission of God belongs to them in their context. With its focus on the Area Church as a place of support for the work of the congregation, it invites Area Churches to a stronger sense of their purpose and ownership of joint mission and ministry across their respective regions, and all area churches collaborating together on a shared national agenda. With the focus on the National Church as the centre of identity and for engaging us in a larger picture, the FDTF report invites the National Church to greater clarity about its role in holding us together.
In doing so it also moves us toward a renewed covenant with God as we align ourselves with what God is doing among us and around us.
In this context, then, the current change process leads us toward this renewed vision as we wrestle with what it means to be a Mennonite Church in Canada, this renewed covenant among ourselves. In doing so it also moves us toward a renewed covenant with God as we align ourselves with what God is doing among us and around us.