Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Unintended Message of Worry

Every term of leadership contains challenges. The church is always in a period of discernment - as it should be. Context is always changing. New questions of discernment constantly emerge.

This is why I think one of the greatest gifts a leader can provide is a display of non-anxious presence. A non-anxious presence is rooted in confidence that God will provide what the church needs to faithfully discern and make the necessary changes.

I was reminded of this at a workshop hosted by Emerging Voices Initiative (EVI). This young adult initiative began in November 2015, when Mennonite Church Canada faced a substantial donation revenue shortfall and was forced to reduce staff and program. Their concern for the church resulted in considerable conversation and a commitment to engage in the work of the Future Directions Task Force. Their enthusiastic participation in the issues facing the church is heartening for me as it is for many people.

One of the questions the EVI leaders are asking workshop attendees is: "What do you want to say to the leaders of Mennonite Church Canada?"

This is the gift being offered. For leaders interested in the thoughts of others it is a precious gift whenever people express themselves.

One of the first responses to this question has reinforced my determination to resist fear and panic in these changing times. The young adult voice walked up to the microphone and after glancing in my direction said, "the church will be okay.”

Indeed! What a message for leadership to hear: The church will be okay. It is both a message of hope and chastisement.

What message do we communicate to our youth and young adults when we express panic and fear about the state of the church? The underlying statement of fear and panic is that we do not trust our youth and young adults to carry on the faith.

Confidence in our youth and young adults would echo the statement offered at the EVI workshop. The church will be okay, because God is at work in our youth. The church will be okay because our youth and young adults are dreaming dreams and seeing visions. God is at work, even if as leaders, we don't always perceive it.

A confidence in God expects the Spirit of God to be at work beyond our comprehension. A confidence in God anticipates that our youth and young adults will see things we do not see.

The church of the future is the church informed by the past but embracing the developing expression of the leaders forming in our midst.

I am confident that our faith is finding new expression.

Open yourself up to possibilities not seen before: possibilities articulated and envisioned by our youth and young adults.

Upcoming EVI Workshops and locations in Nov./Dec.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Covenant of Disagreement

In the past, the Church could hardly imagine placing 'covenant' and 'disagreement' into a shared concept. Disagreement represented the opposite of covenant. Covenant necessitated agreement.

But no longer. It is now possible to discuss covenant in the context of disagreement.

Followers of Jesus Christ are beginning to realize that covenant speaks more to relationship than it does to theological agreement. Jesus made it clear that covenant people commit to "turning the other cheek" and "praying for" those considered enemies.

This is no easy task! Indeed an endeavour quite impossible if not empowered by the spirit of Jesus Christ.

It is only reasonable then for followers of Jesus Christ to extend that same grace to fellow members of the body of Christ. If covenant people are instructed to love their enemies, how much more their brothers and sisters with whom they disagree?

In a recent trip to Israel/Palestine an ecumenical organization challenged a group of denominational leaders that unless we are able to speak as a unified voice of diversity, we have no platform to offer anything to the situation in the Middle East. I agree.

A reshaped understanding of covenant is an important challenge to a world becoming increasingly fragmented by ideological, theological, and ethnic conflict. Followers of Jesus Christ must stand ready to embrace disagreement within the covenant of loving your neighbour as yourself. This is not a poetic ideal. It is a covenant responsibility.

The global community has considered it important to remember the devastation of war. Divided church bodies realize destructive outcomes of internal conflict. Loss of life, destruction of families, relationships broken by harsh words are the lamented impacts results of armed violent conflict. Such lament should be expressed. But so should a commitment to peace that displays a new comfort with disagreement. Disagreement is an opportunity for conversation, not a reason for conflict. The Christian faith must learn to embrace disagreement if it hopes to be relevant in a diverse world.

I think God has provided an opportunity for the church of Jesus Christ to shine. This is a chance to display a renewed commitment of love and respect for all people of diverse understandings. It is an opportunity to boldly model how to remain in disagreement without resorting to hateful and hurtful rhetoric. It is an opportunity to portray the compelling love of Jesus Christ.

I pray that we will rise up to this opportunity. I pray that followers of Jesus Christ everywhere will commit themselves to represent the covenant of disagreement.