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North American Mennonite mission leaders pore over scriptural vision

Mary Mae Schwartzentruber (top left) in discussion with participants at a North American mission leaders meeting in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas, Tex.— Reasons to attend a three-day gathering of North American mission leaders here numbered as many as the sixty-five who attended.

Some came to look for signs of hope, to learn about the new Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network [USA]. Others came to take home inspiration for their conferences and congregations in dreaming about a "missional church." Still others represented their church’s mission committees, were youth pastors, or wanted to learn about mission in a wider church context.

Winnipeg youth pastor Bryan Moyer Suderman lugged his guitar and banjo to Dallas to share his newly-written "Songs for a Missional Church.". With Suderman, the group marched and mimed along the Emmaus road "talking with each other about all these things" that were happening in their own lives and congregations.

Participant Mary May Schwartzentruber, (Minister of Missions for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada) said, "We confessed that we too are slow of heart to believe. We pored over visions in scripture until we were surprised enough by what God is doing to create new verses to Bryan’s song, Let me tell you what it’s like when God’s in charge. We reflected on how Christian faith might be less effective in helping others fit in and more effective in helping them break out. We celebrated the simple yet profound ritual of hospitality, breaking bread and sharing the cup, so that our eyes might see Jesus. And then we told each other stories of what had happened along the road."

Robert J. Suderman, Executive Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada Witness brought a new lens with which to view the missional church. Rather than expecting that we are bringing a new perspective to one part of church life, Suderman urged the group to think about how a "missional church" might affect all parts of congregational life. God’s beloved people are not only gathered safely into the fold but are also led out of the fold by the Good Shepherd; in this context, life together is not an end in itself. No longer are there separate, unrelated issues such as "education," "family life," "outreach," "pastoral care," "homosexuality and membership". Rather, the church approaches each part of life gathered and dispersed under the overall vision of what God desires for the world. It is up to the people to decide how to participate in the overarching mission—in their transformed hearts, in their homes and vocations, and in their various communities.

Mennonite Mission Network’s Stanley Green offered a short course in mid-wifery. The church and its workers can no longer be considered "the experts" in mission. Instead there are mid-wives—those who help create a process where congregations bring to full-term birth a fresh, clear identity of who they are as God’s loved and sent people. Such a church values congregational life equally with witness and outreach, not one more than the other, and not devaluing either.

South African guest Xola Skosana told of his new, primarily youth oriented church, where God is creating a spiritual family from large single-parented families, orphans, and impoverished township dwellers. Here, he said, no news can be good news unless it is wholistic. There were planting stories: a seventy year old congregation that consisted only of drive-in senior citizens refused to let their church die, but rather released it to a church planter whose express intent was to start a new congregation that would attract the nearby community. On a tour of Dallas, we experienced the Many Peoples Church story—being called into a multi-cultural congregation without knowing the why’s and wherefores, but simply following the holy invitation.

Schwartzentruber notes a certain sadness in knowing that the next bi-national gathering of North American mission leaders is three years away. Until then, she says, the group will remember that the church is not divided by borders, even though the work spans many countries.

She said, "It’s important to know that Mennonite Church Canada Witness and our country-wide mission leaders are enthusiastically and cooperatively creating a new mission system to help shape our unique multiculturalism within the Canadian body of Christ, to elaborate a national vision for outreach and church planting, and to create new Christian service opportunities accessible to a wide variety of Canadians."

The first Canadian Mission Leaders' meeting, "Seeking the Peace of the City," will be held in Hamilton this fall, October 7-8.