Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Locating the Church

 Where is the best place to look for the church in a Post Christendom context?

In the context of persecution, to find the church you must look in the concealed and secret places. Indeed the survival of the church relies on being unseen and hidden. Not that the church is inactive, but rather the location of gathering is undisclosed.

In the context of Christendom, the church is much easier to find. When it is an institution of respect and favour, the church is located in obvious places. It meets in the open and makes its presence known. It looks for the best exposure so that location is easy to determine.

Mennonite Church Canada and its Area Churches have begun to explore what it means to be a family of faith across the country in a Post Christendom context. From its congregations to its Area Churches and National Church, our Canadian context has necessitated that your family of faith discover a new way of expressing itself. A newly formed Future Directions Task Force is seeking to better understand and respond to this significantly changed context.

The first teleconference of the Future Directions Task Force was planned for a mid-week afternoon.  This created a conflict for me. I had promised transportation for my family during that same afternoon. We determined to leave a little early and that I would connect for the teleconference from my vehicle.

That afternoon I transported my family to the event and parked myself at the edge of a nearby parking lot. As I discussed the need to discover how to be a national family of faith in our changing Canadian context I watched the world of commerce stream by. I watched school children walk by. I watched people return from work. Ordinary life bustled in front of me.

In the context of persecution the church is removed from view. In the context of Christendom, the church seeks key locations of exposure. But where is the church to be found in a Post Christendom context? In such a context the church is not persecuted, but neither does it enjoy the place of honour and respect. It can remain in obvious places of exposure, but it is disregarded. It can advertise its location but the welcome is ignored.

As I reflected later on that teleconference experience, I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of it. Family schedules needed to be accommodated. And the work of the church was taking place in the parking lot of ordinary bustle of life. Maybe there is a message in that experience. Perhaps this is best place to find the church in a Post Christendom context.


  1. The word I use for what you described is "incarnational". Jesus didn't have a single synagogue where he met with followers. And when it came to the mission work of Paul and the other apostles, they were out there, wandering around, involving themselves in people's daily lives.

    It becomes an interesting mix of the hidden of the persecuted church and the exposed of the "established" church. It is both hidden in that the church is not out there in the open with big cathedrals and such and it is exposed in that the church is active and participant in a real way in the society around us.

    My other term for it: Be yeasty. You don't see the yeast in the bread but it's very obvious when it's NOT there.

  2. What does it mean to be a family of faith across the country in a Post Christendom context?
    Good question! In my opinion, we need to find our "why?". Why do we exist? As a congregation, as an area church & as a national church & even as an individual. Like, what is our purpose? What are our gifts? What are we meant to do?
    Willard, on Sunday you told when you asked a group of young adults if they thought that a national church body was necessary, they told you yes. The reason they gave you, if I understood correctly, was so that each of them could be part of something bigger than themselves. There's a large part of the answer! I think most of us want that. In fact, we are called to do that according to to Isaiah 61: 1-3.
    As pointed out by our Associate Pastor, Stephen Cox (in an older "devotional this is "The Christian Job Description". Of course! That's it! But how do we do all that?

    The second part of this must be John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (ESV)

    Again, how do we do that? In my opinion, this is where we need the national church body. To organize practical teaching venues & materials. No, not bible colleges; something much more practical, "grass roots" type of stuff. Teaching & practicing the "Christian Job Description". You can call them camps, seminars, break-out sessions at conferences, whatever, but they must be down-to-earth, for every man, woman and child to understand.

    Then, in today's world, we need constant feedback. How are we doing? This is crucial, because without that, we lose interest. This feedback also needs to be simple, practical & personal. Like how many people did we help this month? this quarter? this year? Then provide a few personal stories of how "we" helped. What was the result? What did it do for that person?

    So those are my thoughts on that question. I'm very interested in what others have to say about this question and what the Future Directions Task Force comes up with.

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