Opening worship session focuses on communion, mission
by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
A quiet murmer of prayer arose among the delegates seated at tables in the Marriott Grand Ballroom as Friday evening’s session of the USMB National Convention opened with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. At the invitation of Executive Director Ed Boschman, they took the moment to remember the significance of forgiveness, to celebrate redemption and to anticipate Christ’s return.
Some table groups prayed silently, reflectively, a tear wiped away as a heart was touched. Others joined in intense prayer aloud, together beseeching God. As the prayer time closed, they reached for the bread and cup at the center of each table and passed it from hand to hand. The praise team from The Bridge Bible Church, of Bakersfield, Calif., played quietly in the background.
The music built in volume and intensity as the gathering stood and the room was filled with music in a time of worship, the hymn and contemporary choruses focusing on Christ’s sacrifice and the assurance of salvation.
Keynote speaker Ed Stetzer stepped up and moved the focus from reflection to action—to what it means for the church to be “on mission” in today’s world. Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research, an author and well-known conference and seminar leader.
Balancing his iPad on his fingertips he said that the church often thinks of the world as flat, like a pancake, where people are all the same and can be reached with the same approach. Turning the iPad on its side, Stetzer explained that society is more like a waffle, with various groups sectioned off into subcultures. He called the sections “divots” in the waffle.
Stetzer told two stories of his own experience of church in the “divots” of American society. In the first story, he had come as guest speaker to a church plant called Sojourn in the “arts and croissant district” of Louisville, Ky. The young adult congregation he met there was generously tattooed and pierced. “Half the church looked like they had fallen into a tackle box before church,” he joked.
But beyond their subculture distinctives, he found a common spirit with them—a spirit of following Jesus. He watched as about half the people went forward to partake in communion and then went back to pray with people who hadn’t participated. He heard two people’s stories of dramatic conversions and witnessed their baptism.
“These people wouldn’t go to my church and I wouldn’t go to this church,” he reflected, “But thank God he sent someone [to plant a church in] that divot of the waffle.”
Stetzer’s second story came from a preaching engagement at Crossroads Church in Oklahoma City. He arrived a few minutes late. As he entered the sanctuary they were heartily singing a lively rendition of Victory in Jesus.
“Did they just yee-haw in church?” he marveled. “It was so out of my culture zone.”
As he learned in a lunch conversation after the service, God was also reaching people in this “cowboy divot” of society. The man seated next to him at the restaurant had been released from prison just six months prior. Knowing he needed support in his transition back to society, the man had sought out a church and experienced repeated rejection. But when he came to Crossroads, the man told Stetzer, “I got washed in the blood of Jesus.”
Stetzer pointed out that because of its Anabaptist heritage, the Mennonite Brethren are in a good place to connect with people searching for God. “People are open to some of the unique ways of thinking that you bring in the culture where we find ourselves today,” he said, “but the question has to be: Will you go into the divots of society because Jesus has sent you?”
MBs are also uniquely equipped to fulfill Great Commission’s call to reach the increasing number of immigrants who make up American society, he said. Just as Jesus called the disciples to be witnesses in Samaria—to people of the “wrong ethnicity” on the margins of their society—Christians today need to reach the many newcomers on the margins in the US.
“Wouldn’t people who love peace and justice love immigrants who are often without the peace and justice in their own land?” he asked. Mennonite Brethren are known for “caring for the hurting, both showing and sharing the gospel,” he said, efforts that effectively reach every part of society.
U.S. Mennonite Brethren should send their “best and brightest” to plant churches in the “divots” of society. “Will you send them to reach all different kinds of people?” he asked. “Because if you will then your church and your movement is not a cul-de-sac on the Great Commission highway.”