Today I had the extreme pleasure of having lunch with three ladies that are MYF youth sponsors with me. This group of wonderful women have taken me under their collective wing and are mentoring me in the fine arts of leading an MYF group.
Each one is energetic and incredibly talented. They spread their time and talents between families, jobs, and church service roles. All to often they have found themselves wearing several hats in church roles simultaneously.
Yet this group has tread successfully through the waters I am currently treading in. Each one reached a point where it felt as if they were being pulled into to many directions at the same time and were able to recognize they weren’t being filled with joy as a result of being overwhelmed. Although sometimes it was painful, they have gracefully found ways to step back to reclaim the joy that comes from doing the work of the church to bring glory to God.
Today much of our conversations were focused on the current state of the Mennonite church and how the very concept of what it is to do church is changing. It amazed me how very similar the challenges that each person mentioned were to what we are currently experiencing at our church. Our collective group represents three separate small Mennonite congregations which are located relatively close to each other in Northeast Ohio.
It isn’t hard to find articles these days that are related to the current state of affairs of the Mennonite Church and MC USA. It has become a battle field of liberals verses conservatives. The conservatives think the liberals are moving too fast and taking the church in the wrong direction while the liberals think the conservatives are dragging their feet and hampering the mission of the new emerging church culture.
There is also a struggle going on between the older members of the church and the younger members. As the new millennial generation is growing up and going out on their own, we are finding that church is not a societal standard anymore. We as churches are trying to react to draw in this millennial generation to keep our churches from dying out.
However in doing so, the older generation isn’t always very willing to give up the traditions that are tried and true for them. They are hesitant and a little afraid to leave their comfort zones. As a result, we are missing out on reaching a new generation whose ideas of what it is to be church are changing.
Changing how we do church doesn’t change what we believe. The core values of our Confession of Faith remain intact. What looks different is how we express that faith and want to worship in a corporal sense as a body of believers.
We can see that all facets of life have changed drastically over the past 100 years. Some of the changes we see as good, others not so much. The times we are now living in are very fast paced and visual. Instant gratification abounds and it is hard to find a quiet space to tune out all of the noises of our lives.
Perhaps that is why we are finding it so hard to change the cultures in our churches. These buildings have become spaces of sanctuary where time is standing still and everything is familiar. We come to these places each week to seek refuge and to have a chance to hear those little whisperings that come to us in the silences.
But that is exactly why we NEED to change.
What was once safe and comfortable doesn’t look the same for the millennial generation. They are all working full-time jobs and starting families. Their support needs look vastly different from the needs of even just one generation ago. They need fellowship, both for themselves and their children. This new generation of church goers also need mentorship and support from the church family.
Most of all, I believe this group needs a safe place were they are allowed to ask questions. Questions about faith. Questions about life. Questions about the very nature of God. Questions about who they are as followers of God.
God is worthy of our thanksgiving and praise, and we as his children gather faithfully to worship him. He is a loving God who doesn’t stipulate how we worship him. All worship and praise is pleasing to him. Maybe it is okay after all to shake things up a little bit and find new ways to show our love and adoration to God most high.
We must pray for guidance. If we trust in the Holy Spirit, he will guide us into this new age. Let us rely on him, instead of our human instincts, to show us the way forward.
This new age of believers will find a way to do church and to be church. The great unknown in all of this is will our churches survive to continue to be church with this new age of believers? Or will they choose to sit down and not venture out of their safety zones to allow the emerging church to find homes in our sanctuaries?
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24, NRSV)