WESTERN DISTRICT CONFERENCE
September 17, 2013
A weekly communication for:
WDC Churches and Pastors
WDC Executive Board, Commission, Committee and Task Force members
Any content may be used in bulletins and newsletters and forwarded to congregational leaders and members.
WDC Sprouts is also available at: www.mennowdc.org (Publications)
IN THIS ISSUE:
by Gilberto Flores, WDC Associate Conference Minister
In 1998 I received an invitation from a small congregation to preach. It was my first sermon preached in English. After worship, an older person approached me and mentioned that he could not understand all of what I said. And for obvious reasons I agreed with him. However, he made a reassuring comment, “What I got clearly and agree with you is that we need to be revitalized and become a relevant church for our community.”
Many churches and their leaders fear stagnation, the risky condition of being at a threshold of opportunities and at the same time suffering a condition of immobility. In desperation, churches in that stage of life tend to become busier, planning and over organizing everything, as they try to move out of their stuckness. Sometimes these churches spend a lot of energy and time to resolve their dilemma, expending financial resources and looking for help from someone with expertise in the field. At the end of the day, they have new structures and complete internal reorganization. However, spiritual transformation does not begin by realigning things, changing structures or over organizing people to achieve certain goals. Surely there is time when these things have to be done. Structures, internal reorganization and good plans are instruments to help the church to support what the church is called to do, but it is inappropriate to consider them as an end goal.
To be revitalized, a church has to be clear about the reasons behind their situation. Jon Davis from Summit Church said, “We had to begin with who we were and how God had wired our heart. People don’t connect with our (church) culture, but with our heart and passion.” A church that has a great internal culture but suffers a lack of passion about God’s purpose and mission, sooner than later discovers that the church has no relevance or influence among people from the outside community. When Bethel Mennonite Church, Colorado Springs, decided to build a new sanctuary in a different place, they checked with the community with several questions about the benefit of a new church building in that place. The leaders of the church used the collected data to design the kind of building they would build. This is a good example of how a church can build relationships with outsiders.
The tendency to believe that we can do better doing the same things over and over is affecting the life of many churches. If a church does the same things they have always done, and expects different results, surely, that church will be disappointed. Revitalization demands a great deal of changes. A wise church has to embrace change.
It is clear. Change is a complicated thing to accept and a difficult task for everyone. Especially when we discover that change challenges our comfort zone, and pushes us to rethink our assumptions or traditional perceptions of what it means to be church in today’s world. Sometimes, people prefer to close a church building and dismantle a congregation rather than change their attitudes and imagine new ways to share the old story of salvation. It is hard to change to do something different, better, and relevant.
A local congregation is the true mission agency of God in the world. The church is the one able to connect with the community around with better possibilities to understand the needs of people in the neighborhood. The church uses this knowledge, not just to critique what is going wrong in their community, but rather to become light and salt for the sake of the kingdom of God. The church learns how to enjoy this connection and consequently witness to Jesus with boldness. In order to revitalize a congregation, it is necessary to make changes that help the church to get back into God’s purpose with a renewed life and joy. It is necessary to regain the blessing of seeing others coming to church, being baptized and transformed into disciples and witnesses of the Lord.
To revitalize a church, changes have to happen. A church has to be willing to obey the Holy Spirit. The core business of the church is a spiritual one, and then the other business comes later. Changes have to occur first in the spiritual level of the church life. The church needs to pay attention to God’s purpose and from there find the way to imagining their immediate purpose. Craig Van Gelder said, “…Many congregations define their purpose around the things they do such as worshiping or educating or witnessing, and thereby miss a deeper understanding regarding why God has called them into existence. A congregation’s purpose has to find its expression in the relation to what God has done and is doing.” Some questions have to be asked: Why are we here? What is our purpose in the light of God’s purpose? What is our call for this time and place? Are we doing things in accord with God’s economy?
Second, the church has to pay attention to the biblical practices which serve as normative for any congregation such as worship, service, Christian education, discipleship, hospitality, fellowship and witness. Worship is a time to honor the Lord and inspire others to become connected with God and the church. Worship has to be God-centered, a celebration event prepared as an offering to the Lord. At the same time worship is an instrument of inspiration for others to connect and move into relationship with God. This kind of worship requires knowledge of the cultural context. It requires a willingness and humility to explore new ways for relevance. It requires flexibility to engage and care for each other with wide open doors of fellowship. It requires a welcoming attitude towards newcomers and strangers.
I have hard time when a congregation sings contemporary songs and avoids the songs of blessings from previous generations, disconnecting people from the past. A church without a past is an anomaly. On the other hand, a church stuck in the past is unable to see that God still working in every generation of new churches. If we do not accept that we are denying the permanent work of the Holy Spirit across generations. It had been enlightening for me to see our younger generations engaging in worship during denominational conventions, enjoying with open hearts different kinds of music and styles. Sadly, some go back to their local congregations and feel detached in worship.
Service in the name of Jesus, is not a “detached service” without consequences for the church. When a local church serve others in its own community, it tends to develop a relationship and commitment with those in need and becomes vulnerable before them. Wisely used, this connection should develop new ways to share the gospel and inspire obedience to God. The human space of God’s people sharing is necessary to communicate verbally the love of Jesus.
Being witness is about passion to reach out to others and share with them the good news of Jesus our Lord. Jesus sends his disciples to be witnesses in the world, live in relationship with those around them, and share with them in peace. Then our sanctuaries will become places of celebration, not ivory towers to isolate the church and avoid the real purpose of our existence.
Mennonite congregations are doing a great job in discipleship and Christian formation among their children, which is excellent. The next step is to share the transformational power of discipleship and education with seekers and see new believers enter into relationship with God and have their lives transformed.
Western District Conference is committed to inspire churches and individuals to embrace God’s purpose, and accept the challenge to walk with God into the world to bless and be blessed as we spread the good news of our resurrected Lord. Revitalization is possible because God is at work in your community.
1. The Church and homosexuality: A Conversation that can hold us together is the theme of the upcoming Western District Conference Reference Council on Saturday, October 26, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm at Faith Mennonite Church, 2100 N. Anderson, Newton, KS. This is a gathering of WDC executive board, commissions, committees, staff and pastors. Others with a special interest in this topic are also encouraged to attend. The event is free, but please register to attend. Register online (www.mennowdc.org, Events) or call 316-283-6300 or email email@example.com by October 18. Keith Graber Miller, professor of Bible, Religion and Philosophy at Goshen College (IN), and David Boshart, Executive Conference Minister for Central Plains Conference of Mennonite Church USA, will speak about the church’s response to persons of same-sex orientation. This will be followed by several respondents and discussion on maintaining relationships in the midst of conflicting convictions over matters of sexuality. Lunch will be provided, with a free-will offering received. This special day is sponsored by the WDC Human Sexuality Discernment Task Force. A related event, Engaging our Sexual Culture, will be Friday, Oct. 25, is co-sponsored by the Task Force and Bethel College Campus Ministries. At 11:00 a.m. Keith Graber Miller will speak in Bethel Convocation. At 7:00 p.m., Keith Graber Miller will join Ted Swartz of Ted and Co. Theaterworks to present A Peek into the Church’s Journey with Sexuality, including new dramatic material prepared by Swartz. Both events are in Krehbiel Auditorium. Tickets for the evening event are $10, available at the Bethel ticket office 316-283-2500. (See attached flyer.)
2. Show your Pastor some love! On October 6, area pastors will be showing off their talent to benefit Camp Mennoscah. Join us at Grace Hill Mennonite Church, Whitewater, KS at 7 pm for Pastor Love. A cookie reception will follow. Hope to see you there!
3. San Antonio Mennonite Church (SAMC) has launched a fund-raising campaign for the purchase of La Casa de Maria y Marta. La Casa, currently owned by Mennonite Mission Network, has been in the SAMC family right from our congregation’s beginnings. It is a guesthouse, home to DOOR San Antonio, a place for retreats and other meetings, offering transitional housing to members and friends of SAMC, and being home to our SOOP program. La Casa is a place of ministry that has formed many within and outside of our congregation for much of the past 3 decades. To learn more about our story or to make a donation please visit our website: http://lacasa.
4. Camp Mennoscah’s Second Annual Celebration! We’re celebrating our second year as Camp Mennoscah Association with an annual meeting on September 22nd. A gathering time will begin at 3pm, followed by our most interesting business meeting and a wonderful concert by Tom, Lois, and Anna Harder. Everyone is invited to the event, which includes a groundbreaking for the new bathhouses and a pulled pork meal. Meat, buns, and drinks provided. Please bring a side dish to share and table service. Questions? Contact us at 620-297-3290.
5. Just a few more! We need just a few more people to justify having two scrapbooking retreats at Camp Mennoscah this fall on November 1-3 and November 15-17. The brochure can be found at www.campmennoscah.org under Retreats or you can call 620-297-3290 for more information. These are some of the best retreats–chock-full of cropping, creativity, and community! Send in your information or let us know when you can attend–we’ll be waiting to see you there!
MC USA Announcements
Service isn’t just for the summer! DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), also offers week-, week-end-, semester- and year-long service opportunities in urban settings! Check it out at www.DOORNetwork.org.
Western District Conference
2517 North Main, PO Box 306
North Newton KS 67117
316-283-6300; FAX: 316-283-0620