Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Making the Obvious Connections

It is no wonder that denominational leaders write books – the wealth of wisdom gleaned from conversation with people across Canada provides a treasure of insight. There are two distinct conversations that have come together in my mind and generated some new thinking for me.

The first was a conversation with a small group of young adults in Alberta. After affirming their presence in the church, we started discussing what it would take to get their peers interested in church.

After some thoughtful consideration, one of the group members described a recent Peace March developed by a local Mennonite congregation. The march was considered a local Mennonite witness to the community.

While not disagreeing with the importance of the witness, it made it difficult for the young adult to invite peers to participate in the March. The intent of making a congregational statement was not conducive to involving individuals who were not part of the congregation.

The young adult concluded with the comment: “It’s too bad, because I really think my friends would have liked being part of the event.” This reflective comment clung to me.

The second conversation was an email dialogue with a Mennonite pastor in Saskatchewan. The pastor reminded me of the aging demographic of the Canadian church population and the urgent issue of the future of the church in a post-Christendom world. Maintaining the current status of church vitality has been largely assumed, causing the pastor to suggest a renewed focus on developing our skills of making new disciples.

The pastor offered some great insight by writing: “We are sometimes most vulnerable at our strong point. When something can be seen as a peace and justice issue or put into that frame, we rush to it. It's where we feel at home. We need to affirm that and keep our commitment but we need now to move in a new direction at the forefront. I don't think we know how because we've softened evangelism and outreach and even push it away.”

The clinging comment from the young adult made itself known again and these two conversations started to converge for me. Perhaps sharing faith in a post Christendom context can best be done from within the environment of shared values. Issues of social justice become a natural atmosphere where people of faith can engage with broader society. In fact, I think the Christian Church must be engaged in these common causes to be taken seriously by broader society.

But this also becomes an environment for natural conversations of faith. In missional terms, it becomes the platform to be aligned with what God is already doing. The yearning to express love and solidarity for those in need is an impulse of God’s Spirit. It is the product of the image of God within everyone. When this connection is made, it can lead to additional recognition of the yearning of God’s image, such as the yearning to be in relationship with our Creator. Questions such as “What is the concern that brings you here?” followed by the question of “Where do you think this concern comes from?” becomes the beginning of a natural introduction to matters of faith.

An issue of social justice is not contrary to the call to share faith. It is the new context of shared values from where the sharing of faith most naturally can take place.

If the church can connect with concerns that God is awakening within the hearts of broader society already, then a new platform of connectivity emerges.

I would love to hear responses to some of my most recent thinking on this. Feel free to add your comments.


  1. I think we often assume that the Holy Spirit is not at work where we are not present. As if we have the Spirit of the Living God in tow. I know...sounds ridiculous. Willard, I believe you are correct in your approach to sharing our faith. We need to work toward the type of connectivity you are talking about in our everyday living within our communities. Your use of social justice issues, though I fully agree, is but ONE such vehicle. Sadly, for many Mennonites that I've come to know, that appears to be the ONLY one. I would love to hear Mennonites recount stories which offer a much broader base when it comes to sharing our faith. I think, for example, that "Pacifism" is a truly important part of the Gospel...but is not in itself THE gospel in its entirely. Many have lost sight of this reality. Those are just SOME of my thoughts on this.

  2. Thanks Andy for your insightful comments. I agree that social justice issues are but one platform from which to initiate conversation.