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Event seeks to reunite divorce of church and mission


Al Rempel of Mennonite Church Canada (left) and Marco Guete (Western District Conference – Texas) engage in conversation about the historic separation of church roles.

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Samson Lo, director of Multi-cultural Ministries for Mennonite Church Canada (left) and Edgar Rivera (Mission Leader for Mennonite Church BC) reflect on the missional role of the church in today’s world.

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(from left) Ed Kauffman, (Central Plains Conference, MC USA), Dorothy Nickel Friesen (Western District Conference, MC USA), engage in a discussion on how to reunite the separation of ecclesiology and missiology (the nature of the church and the nature of mission).

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October 4, 2005
-by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — Congregations, conferences, and denominations have lost sight of their purpose, despite a belief that that the body of Christ has an essential role in God’s mission in the world.

This broad concept was the foundational position around which participants gathered for a Mennonite Church Canada/USA conference ministers and mission leaders event in Pinawa, Manitoba from Sept. 23 - 26.

One reason the church has lost sight of its purpose is because the unified, missional role of the church has been divorced: some leaders are charged strictly with strengthening, nourishing, and nurturing the congregation (in-reach), while others are charged solely with traditional mission activity (outreach).

So said Jack Suderman of Mennonite Church Canada and Phil Bergey of Mennonite Church USA, who served as resource persons for the event. It is the first time in decades, some said, that conference ministers and mission leaders have met together to analyze the role split in light of God’s mission in the world.

Participants reflected, discussed, and meditated on how to renew and revive God’s call for the church to be a blessing to the world. Suderman and Bergey challenged participants to revisit scripture and church history from a perspective that the body of Christ is not just a part of God’s strategy of Kingdom building, but plays an essential role in restoring the world to God’s intended purpose.

The symptoms of this role divorce are evident all around us, they said: young adults want to be baptized but question the need to become members of a congregation; congregations have difficulty clearly articulating their purpose for being; para-church organizations have formed because the organized church has been an obstacle in their desire to do Kingdom work – and as a result, are no longer accountable to an organized, discerning body of believers.

To stimulate more thinking, Bergey and Suderman asked mission leaders how their work strengthens the body of the church, and how the work of conference ministers strengthens mission. Bergey then painted a picture of what missional leadership looks like, reminding leaders to get back to core questions: Why does the church/conference/denomination exist? How does it behave as it carries out its reason for being? What several things does it actually do, and what does it do really well?

Dorothy Nickel Friesen, Western District Conference minister in Mennonite Church USA, felt the event was a kind of watershed moment, and that leaders in the future will speak about the church in terms of pre- and post Pinawa.

“This event has provided some vocabulary around which to talk about these concepts,” she said. There are “…several silos [different agencies, institutions] that might need to come down in order to accomplish the work of the church.

“The hard work in the next months and years will be to transform our structures to ‘be’ the church rather than ‘run’ the church. Post-Pinawa will be the test if we learned how to not only talk to but to listen to each other, and God's call.”

A paper by Suderman entitled “Missional Ecclesiology and Leadership: Toward an Understanding of the Emerging Church” served as the background material for this event. The paper is available for free download from