A new church for a new day
By Dick Barrett
“And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?”— Esther 4:14(b) NIV
Those words from Mordecai to Queen Esther in the Old Testament should resonate with all of us Christians in New Testament times. All of us have come to the royal position we find ourselves in, sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, for the exact period of time in history that God has placed us.
A couple of weeks ago we celebrated our 50th anniversary as Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church at our Annual Conference Assembly in Kidron. The truth is that we have been around in different names as a conference of Mennonite churches throughout Ohio for more like 150 years. While it is good to celebrate one’s history, whether it be personally, family, or as a church, we need to focus on what God has called us to do during this particular time. As with every other period of time in the 2,000-year history of the church, this is a unique time.
When I came to the Mennonite Church more than 20 years ago, it was operating out of what many churches were operating out of at that time, a mind-set that has been referred to as the attractional model of church, or “build it and they will come.” Little did I know that was near the end of a time in American church history where church was still one of the dominant institutions of our society, where many had a positive image of the church, and even if not attending a church at the time, many were raised in the church.
That is not the situation in the American church today. Church is not one of the dominant institutions in our society — people in the church could argue that this is good and/or bad. Many more people have not been raised in the church, and there is a much more negative image of the institutional church. Many people see the more traditional churches today as being “judgmental,” “exclusive,” and not very Jesus-like. Many people outside the church today would say they have an interest in seeking and finding Jesus, but they are deeply suspicious that they can find him in traditional churches today.
The good news is that although the attractional, “build it and they will come,” model of church might have worked during most of 20th century America, it is not the original model of church designed by God that we find in the New Testament. The New Testament model of church has never been about a building but about the people who make up the body of Christ in a particular setting. The New Testament model of church has never been about “build it and they will come,” but about God’s people going out, inviting others into the Kingdom of God, and making disciples of Jesus Christ. Some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples are recorded in the Gospel of John, after his resurrection and before his ascension. He said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
My prayer is that as a conference of Mennonite churches in Ohio and the surrounding area in the 21st century we may embrace Jesus’ calling and sending to be his body, sisters and brothers in Christ (a royal position indeed) for such a time as this.