by Laurie Oswald Robinson for Western District Conference
Seed bombs is a phrase that West Zion Mennonite Church’s pastor, Brad Roth, uses these days to symbolize the congregation’s friendship evangelism in the rural Kansas community of Moundridge.
He borrowed the phrase from a Washington Post article about “guerilla gardeners.” They toss golf-ball sized lumps of seeds, clay and compost into abandoned lots in cities such as Baltimore. As the seeds grow, eyesore blocks become bountiful plots of wildflowers and vegetables.
“I think a seed bomb is a good image of what it means to spread the gospel by taking our cues from Jesus, such as in the parable of the sower and the scattering of seed,” he said. “This involves cultivating a new culture of encouraging all of us at West Zion to share Christ’s love with our neighbors.”
Toward that end, West Zion replaced its committee structure with five ministry teams in 2014. The Missional Team guides the congregation’s efforts in a region where the gospel has deep roots, and yet there are still people who do not connect with a congregation. According to Roth, the situation is not exactly the post-Christendom of Europe or the coasts. Rather, the issue is more one of “de-churched” who have disconnected from church because of hurt or disillusionment.
It is to some of these longtime neighbors as well as to newcomers that West Zion members are directing their loving attention. This includes visits to newcomers’ homes with freshly-baked cookies in hand. It also includes inviting people to church who haven’t been to one in years. Church families sometimes invite people into their homes for meals or treat them to a meal at a restaurant.
“All churches nowadays have to attract brand new people,” said Dan Pohl, Mission Team chair. “The population of our church is aging. Young adults are going away to college and not coming home. We are trying anything and everything to put our name out there – such as taking out newspaper ads.
“Every chance we get, we want to say, ‘Hey, we are here for you.’ We need to meet people exactly where they are at on their spiritual journey, rather than fitting them into our programs or agenda.”
“The refocus is gaining steam, and a few newcomers are making West Zion their spiritual home,” Roth said. “A few neighbors of church members are connecting to us in new ways, and I can see that the faith of people who have gone through some kind of spiritual crisis is being rekindled.”
Shalom plows up old system to plant new ministry seed
The rekindling of faith is also happening at Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan., said congregational leaders in recent interviews.
The flames of ministry passion that had burned bright in the church’s early years were beginning to dwindle. Too much committee work had left members burned out.
This weariness evoked a congregational review in 2014. The process has yielded radical changes. Changes that since spring 2015 are engaging people in less bureaucracy and more ministry, said Barth Hague, chair of Shalom’s congregational board.
“People were burning out because they had too much on their plate, and we weren’t getting to some of the things that we, as a congregation, felt were important,” Hague said. “So, we brainstormed and ‘blue skied’ it, asking people to articulate their dreams of what they wanted Shalom to look like.”
The congregation replaced five– to seven-person committees and a ten-person coordinating council with smaller, grassroots ministry teams and a seven-person congregational board, Hague said. This is setting more people free to be part of flexible, personalized ministries. The teams are created by people who will serve on them to do specific tasks in a specific time frame.
For example, one ministry team just handles food preparation for funerals. Another team is developing a welcoming statement. One team is assisting with congregational care. Worship teams also plan worship for a season of the church year, such as Advent or Lent, rather than serving for two or three years.
Rob Burdette, Shalom’s transitional pastor, has helped the congregation reconfigure. Burdette also helped West Zion with its first flush of change in 2012.
“One thing that has become apparent to me is that many congregations are still structured for the 1960s and 1970s,” he said. “They are inward focused, preserving and maintaining themselves rather than focusing outward. At Shalom, our job descriptions for pastors are changing too, with the expectation that they will use one-third of their time to engage in the community.”
Similar to West Zion, everyone is being encouraged to reach out to people where they live, rather than expecting people to fit into a church program, he said.
“We need to let the Spirit grow the church as we connect with people at the local coffee shop, or on the city league ball field. God lives outside the church, too,” Burdette said.