Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Structural Outreach Support

Hi Steve,
Is being "missional" primarily a PNMC thing or a congregational thing? I've always thought the rise
of the term "missional" corresponded with a movement away from agency and
denomination-level mission activity and towards congregational activity. In
other words, "being missional" is something we all need to take responsibility
for at the local level, not expecting higher-level organizations to do all the
mission work on our behalf.

Dave, you bring up an excellent point, and I think it gets to the heart of our disagreement about the ODC and other missional issues. I'm not talking about my one word I wish to add to the Bylaws. I want to see what others have to say before I support that. I would like to continue the ideological conversation you began:

You see the issue of being "missional" as being centered in congregations. And I am firmly of the opinion that this is not enough. And I will now spend a lot of words telling you why.

Of course, congregations must be missional to survive. They must draw new folks in, because "bedroom evangelism" (as Nelson so politely put it) can only go so far, especially when we find that our children leave our congregation or our church, for one reason or another. So congregations must learn how to be missional and to be structured that way.

But this is what I've seen:

Human beings get culturally and idealistaclly "stuck" in certain patterns. There is just something that we see as "right" and there is just no other way to do it. Studies have been done (who pays for these things, I don't know) that indicate that, with few exceptions, by the time we are 30 we know what kind of music we like and that opinion won't change. And what we like and are used to, in the human psyche, becomes "the good" in our mind and anything else is "less than good."

How does this work in a congregation? Well, a congregation is made up of, usually, like minded folks who are in agreement as to what is "the good" and are very conservative (read: stubborn) about changing that which they consider "the good". So when others come to the church and indicate that something else might be "the good", then there is a disagreement, often sharp. Sometimes the congregation shifts, like Zion has so many times. Sometimes, if there is a church split-- again, we can look at Zion and her various offshoots. And sometimes, the congregation sticks to their guns, so to speak, and thus just pushes those with new ideas out. That third kind of congregation ends up dying with the members that have been strong against change from what they say is "the good."

I am not saying that any of these options are bad. But what I am saying is that if we are to keep the good traditions we have-- which we should-- and are to develp new traditions-- which we should-- then it is highly unlikey to happen WITHIN a congregation. It usually happens in a new congregation, such as Anawim or Old Growth, Rusty and Mary Lou Bonham's new, possibly Mennonite, congregation. Anawim at first tried to be a part of an existing congregation, but because our new idea was not part of "the good" in the established congregation, we were pushed out and forced to be a separate congregation. All this is good. And all this is necessary.

Thus, being missional cannot be seen as happening within congregations.

Within the PNMC, I have been trying to promote a model of congregational mission in which the new "good" might be able to exist parallel, but not joined to, existing congregations. This would mean that a congregation might sponsor a new and different congregation, perhaps under their roof. But in promoting this and seeing it happen at times, I find that usually the established congregation ends up pushing the new congregation out because the new congregation is seen to threaten the existing one, even if only ideologically.

Existing congregations tend to be conservative. And so it is my opinion that, most of the time, the conference must support new congregations. This does not mean financial support, except perhaps for some small "seed" money just to help a new congregation through a difficult period. However, the conference must be there to support new congregations, to welcome them, to honor them, to treat them as equals, to pray for them, to give them significance, to give them community. Otherwise there will be very little mission, because most established congregations are ill equipped-- nay, even resistant-- to be missional.

The church/conference should be the place where congregations of different cultural, ethnic, and theological traditions should meet and support each other, recongnizing Christ in each other's tradition. The conference should also put limits on this, determing what is and is not part of the church (this is a big disagreement, I understand, but we aren't ready to accept Buddhist monestaries as a Mennonite congregation, I believe). AND if the conference is to be a place of diversity, then they must support new congregations, because established congregations have a hard time with this.

The conference does this because we want to support brothers and sisters in Christ. The conference does this because we know that to survive as a conference, we must welcome new members. The conference does this because Christ is not limited to our old traditions.

We must allow congregations to stick to their old traditions, if that is what helps them be a community. But we also need to recognize that congregations that stick to ONLY the old traditions will, eventually, die out. Congregations, as organizations, only have a limited life. But if we as a whole entity are missional, we can extend that life to the next generation.

So, I hope you see, Dave, that my persistence in trying to keep the PNMC as an entity, missional, is, in my mind, for the survival of the PNMC itself.

I hope we'll be able to continue this conversation.

Steve K

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