Monday, January 9, 2017

“Does that make sense?”

- guest post by Jonas Cornelsen

As a first-year student, it’s scary to speak up in class. This problem affects both students and professors. I took intro theology in my first year at CMU.

One day, the professor must have realized he’d been talking for over half an hour straight. He finished his point, took a step back from the lectern and asked, “Does that make sense?” Clearly not—the room was full of vacant stares. But class was over, there was no time to explain, and by then nobody remembered exactly what didn’t make sense. We were frustrated. I’m sure he was too.

For this post, Willard asked me to reflect on trust between Mennonite Church Canada leaders and constituents. I think of it in terms of clear, frequent, two-way communication. Misunderstandings hurt both sides. Between the publication of the Future Directions Task Force Final Report (FDTF) and Addendum last December, and the 2016 Assembly in Saskatoon seven months later, many expressed frustration that we, as congregations and individuals, hadn’t been fully informed or consulted about these big changes. I was one of them. But some hadn’t read the Task Force’s interim documents, or given feedback when previously asked. I was one of those too.

I’m not saying the Task Force’s interim communication was perfect. Like my prof’s lecture, it may have been complex, or difficult to follow for non-experts. I suspect this could have been fixed in both cases if something had been said. I recall one Task Force member saying they were pleased with the level of response the Final Report generated; they only wished it had been there all along.

It’s remarkable how similar the frustrations are on both sides. We want better communication from our leaders. They want the same from us.

It takes courage to speak up. We often think everyone around us gets it and our best bet is to catch up, or give up, in silence. My theology class, and the confusion after the FDTF report, suggest differently. If you’re lost, say something. Soon. It’s better to interrupt the lecture than to barely recognize the final exam.

MC Canada has called a special assembly for October, 2017, to vote on the new structure for our national church. This is sooner than I expected, but there’s still time to get into the conversation. Check out the Interim Council's transition site, or page through the Canadian Mennonite when it arrives. Emerging Voices Initiative (which I’m part of) was privileged to host a series of workshops this fall, where young and old have discussed our church’s future together. Events continue in Manitoba and Alberta this January.

We, as constituents, have a right to expect clarity from our leaders, and a plan for the future that reflects the best possible balance of our hopes. We need not wait until voting time to exercise that right. We’re more likely to be satisfied if we ask questions sooner, and show we’re listening.

Does that make sense?


  1. Sweet analogy Jonas! I think it's really helpful to think through FDTF, and other church stuff, from this perspective.

    Where the analogy breaks down, though, is at the final exam. That's where students are always accountable for the effort they've put in throughout the semester - whether or not the prof has been clear in their communication, whether or not they have been thrilled about the subject matter. The onus is on the student to prepare for the exam.

    In the case of our church polity, we give everyone the opportunity to speak / contribute, and even cast a ballot - whether or not they have been faithfully engaging the subject matter during the semester.

    So while I hope all of our congregations and delegates do the hard work (prayer, study, conversations) leading up to important meetings and decisions, the reality is that our system allows them to do as much, or as little, as they'd like, and still have a very big influence in our future directions.

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    2. Thanks for your comment, Phil. Didn't see it until now! You make a good point. If I could have it my way, there would be more back-and-forth during the entire 'course' (as it were). That way, the 'exam' might be a bit smoother.

      This definitely takes work on both sides, and I don't know how to make it happen, but that's the dream. I appreciate your thoughts!