Birthday wishes for U.S. Mennonite Brethren
by Connie Faber
Birthday cakes and candles go hand-in-hand, as does the tradition of having the birthday person make a secret wish that will be realized if all the candles are extinguished in a single breath. Since we in North America will be celebrating the 150th birthday of the Mennonite Brethren this July with a weeklong celebration, I want to share my wishes for our church family in the United States.
I wish we U.S. Mennonite Brethren would do what we say. The struggle to have congruency between belief and action is one shared by Christians through the ages. Inconsistency between what the Bible teaches and how Mennonites were living prompted our spiritual ancestors to break away from their church and community 150 years ago and to form the Mennonite Brethren Church.
This commitment to have a consistent witness in belief and behavior is prompting our U.S. Conference Board of Faith and Life (BFL) to begin looking at how we 21st century U.S. Mennonite Brethren measure up to our stated convictions. Denominational leaders who participated this past April in the annual Leadership Summit encouraged BFL chair Larry Nikkel and the board to courageously lead the denomination in this quest. Becoming Christians characterized by theological integrity will require some of us to lead, most of us to follow and all of us to wisely execute our responsibilities in this process. We need bold leaders and valiant followers.
I wish that we would handle our disagreements in healthy ways. Several news stories in this issue allude to the fact that disagreements can become conflicts that create unhealthy situations. This happens in local congregations as well as at district and national levels. To imagine that Christians—and Mennonite Brethren—will never disagree is pie-in-the-sky thinking. On the other hand, to believe that disagreements can be resolved before they do permanent harm is to prioritize biblical peacemaking.
Leadership matters in every sphere of life, says Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker Ministries, a Christian organization endorsed by the U.S. Conference that offers conflict resolution resources to churches. Even in the healthiest organizations, including the church, conflict and leadership are interwoven threads. It is not uncommon for U.S. Mennonite Brethren leaders with some history in our denomination to talk, sometimes laughingly, about ours as a dysfunctional family. They recall that conference leaders have not always handled disagreements in healthy ways. Nor have they always processed decisions in ways that kept everyone on the same page. Nor have leaders always talked directly to and honestly with one another about important things.
Admitting that leadership in our denomination has at times been flawed is helpful, but it is not enough. We must be willing to do the hard work and invest the time it takes to build a culture of peace among U.S. Mennonite Brethren. Those of us in leadership need to avoid corporate thinking—“results over relationships.” Instead, when leadership and conflict intersect we are called to put into the practice the counter-cultural message of Jesus Christ. We don’t just repeat what our Confession of Faith says about being agents of reconciliation but commit ourselves to putting that conviction into practice. It means that our leaders, boards and committees put a higher priority on relationships than the speed by which agenda is addressed.
I wish that we would be people who radiate hope. The mission of our denomination is to “partner as one family to serve one Lord on one mission, for the transformation of individuals, families and communities.”
Our neighborhoods and schools are filled with people who need to hear that their messed-up lives can be different. We will meet people this month thanks to summer recreation programs or at the gym or swimming pool who may look put together on the outside but who are swamped with feelings of despair. People need our message of hope to nourish their souls and acts of kindness that acknowledge their physical needs.
While some transformations come quickly, others require an exhausting investment of time and energy. Transformation can be messy and inconvenient. But we don’t really have a choice. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means demonstrating the kind of “true evangelical faith” that Menno Simons describes: responding to spiritual and physical needs out of thanksgiving for what God has done for us. New life is God’s wonderful present to us and one that we can share with others.
These are my wishes. Will they come true? That’s up to us.
Thanks to MB Herald editor Laura Kalmar for her “Make a wish” editorial, January 2010, that inspired my own wish list.
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