By Dick Barrett
There is no doubt that the past two years have been both different and difficult on our churches. In one sense, as Mennonites/Anabaptists we don’t find ourselves to be any different from other Christian churches throughout America. Almost all congregations can say that their church has lost members and attenders, and the church doesn’t look the same as it did before the COVID pandemic began.
Many in our Mennonite churches have been drawn to the writings and podcasts of Conrad Kanagy titled “A Church Dismantled.” His main thesis is that through all that is occurring in the beginning of the 21st century, including the COVID pandemic, God is allowing his church(es) to be dismantled. It is our responsibility as Christians (pastors, leaders, members and attenders) to see how God is working during this dismantling season and embrace who he is calling us to be as we move to the middle of the 21st century.
In the second volume in his series, Kanagy writes, “Any church meeting that begins without asking what the Spirit is saying and acknowledging that Christ is present, will never be the church that is able to break the rules needed to make the changes required in this dismantling season.” ̶ Ministry in a Church Dismantled, p. 43
One definition of Christian discernment says that it “involves the community of believers gathered in Jesus’ name around Scripture in the presence of the Holy Spirit to find its way through.” It is no coincidence that the author of this definition, Michael King, is a Mennonite. This definition incorporates what have been the essential elements of discernment for Mennonite/Anabaptist Christians throughout our 500-year history ─ it is done in the community of believers who are gathered in Jesus’ name, grounded in Scripture, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
At our recent Ohio Conference Annual Assembly our delegates approved a new mission statement as we move into the future: “The mission of Ohio Conference is to Gather, Equip and Send our congregations by the power of the Holy Spirit to live out God’s Greatest Commandments (Mark 12:29-31) and Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).”
The next task for us as the community of believers making up Ohio Conference is to discern together, around Scripture and in the presence of the Holy Spirit, where God is leading us in the years ahead after this dismantling season. What should the structure of Ohio Conference look like to empower us to live out our new mission statement in the years ahead, and will our affiliation with Mennonite Church USA help or hinder us in faithfulness to that mission?
We are blessed to have Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi of Design Group International, a lifelong Mennonite/Anabaptist Christian and a member of one of our congregations, to help guide us in the discernment that will take place over the next year. On April 28, 2022, she facilitated a daylong retreat for the Leadership Team and pastoral staff. It was a great day of relationship building and discernment to get a sense of how Conference leadership sees God at work in our Conference and among our congregations. Her next steps will be to gather our credentialed ministers for a one-day retreat in late summer and to facilitate discernment with our delegates at regional cluster meetings in early fall.
The discernment that will take place over the next year is not one for us to take on alone. We will need Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us. We will need prayer and fasting from many, and it must all be done in the name of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
For more information about Conrad Kanagy and his work, please see https://achurchdismantled.com.