My last seminar at the Mennonite World Conference was one my friend told me I needed to attend, since it was by Wes Furlong, pastor of an unusually large Mennonite Church in Florida. I was eager to see how the Anabaptists were trying to come to the megachurch picnic.
I was disappointed because Furlong did not show up. The replacement said he was still with his family after his vacation and felt it was better to stay with them. This was ironic, since part of his material included asking a good-hearted skeptic to tell you what your church is like after they attend a meeting for the first time. I was the good-hearted skeptic at his meeting this time. Not showing up made a big impression. Come to find out Furlong has gone to quarter time at the church and started hiring himself out as a consultant and as one of the architects of the new splinter-group Evana. When I googled him, the first thing that came up was Wes Frulong.com. He’s his own brand.
There is a lot I learned from my seminar experience, but let’s give the material his substitute offered some respect. He wanted to explore how Anabaptist assets can serve the cause of fulfilling the Great Commission. This is always a good topic of discussion. We do well to think about it because, I think, Circle of Hope and BIC assets are deep, but they are often poorly delivered in service to the cause. In the case of the BIC, I think the assets are well described, but the organization has been talking about itself for a decade or so instead of mobilizing for action. The BIC has hired a lot of Wes Furlong types to get ourselves going, but the denominational culture has become even less about our historic or actual assets, it seems to me.
The teacher talked about three things that are special threats to Anabaptist types if they want to fulfill the Great Commission. These are threats to most other churches, as well.
1) The original vision of a founding pastor/formation team or of a denomination tends to move toward institutionalization. The goal line might be clear and the way to get there might even be clear, but the requirements of the institution are too distracting to make enough good plays to get the ball over the line. To get anywhere, the homeostasis needs to be disrupted, but the system is designed to preserve itself.
2) Fear of authority. The baby boomers are in charge and they have taught their children to be even more suspicious of anyone in charge than they are. Unless you are an especially skillful or charismatic person, a leader in the church spends a lot of time figuring out who is in charge at a given moment and making all their many bosses happy. They never succeed in making everyone happy so they are on a hamster wheel of failure until they burn out. Nothing can be mobilized.
3) The lack of clarity between modality and sodality. This is about being a people and being a mission. Obviously we should be both: a missional community. But often the modality (the church as a means to the end) is more important than the sodality (that singular cause for which the church exists). Churches get on the bus and then decide where to go rather than being invited onto a bus that is already scheduled for a destination. We end up with a covenant to confab rather than convert.
In the face of these threats to meeting the Lord’s goal, what must be done?
1) Trust the Holy Spirit to start a movement. You can’t do anything right enough to make the plant grow, but you can prepare the soil, sow, and till.
2) Understand that a lot of it depends on the hearts of the leaders. If they don’t want to go where Jesus is going and they can’t bear the rejection they will bear when they go with him, there is not going to be enough passion to sustain mission (like enough of THE Passion).
3) Our perception of ourselves in Christ will probably need to change. The teacher gave a metaphor of the Mennonites (and I think the BIC have this disease a bit) as being the quiet people of the land because they have the tongue-screw still applied from their days of being quieted by persecution. It is hard to get the assets on the road if you can’t talk about them. People are worried about how the gospel is communicated but that can’t be the main concern; we should know who we are and let the communication be contextual and variable.
4) The organization will need to change to facilitate the goal, not vice versa. The Cape Christian church went to local officials and other neighbors and asked what big need in their area was going unmet. They found out that it had to do with families, especially foster children. They took on the task. They built a new building that included a splash park. Soon families were coming to their church after going to the splash park. What’s more, they got committed to fostering and ended up responsible for 50-60% of the foster family placements in their city of 175,000 people. Their goal changed everything.
What does it take to help people know Jesus and become fully-functioning members of the body of Christ — not abstractly, but in our location? Serious answers to that question could arrive at serious goals that are worth our lives – the lives Jesus gave us to live, not to waste while we aspire to live in some more-perfect future – like the future when some renowned presenter shows up to encourage you to show up.