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Counting the Cost of Ministry Together

I am grateful for having read Will Fitzgerald's post regarding the ministry at work in the Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship.  I have an immense amount of respect for small church ministry - I cut my teeth doing ministry in small group settings. I have found that the smaller the church, the more intense the relationships and the deeper the discipleship.  It is incredibly challenging to get more than a handful of congregationalists to agree on nearly anything. Small churches likely represent the future of the church in America and we ought to live into their example.

A concern that I have for all churches (large and small) that is highlighted by the articles posted by my peers is as follows: what is the substantial difference between participating in church and living a Christian life?  In other words, is church membership sufficient for transformational ministry or is it merely a supplement to following the Way of Jesus?  Our identity as a congregationalist church can become a hindrance when we selfishly fail to address the larger reality of the greater church in the world.  As Kris Van Engen helpfully points out, occasionally we are blindsided by circumstances beyond our control, or outside of our scope of understanding, when we act upon the world instead of within the world.  God, in Jesus Christ, was fully enmeshed in the world.  The Mennonite Fellowship is, perhaps, living into the very identity that God has called them to, and this may include a certain level of critical distance from politics for the good of the world.  If all theology is usurped by political posturing we've made a hash of a wonderful gift - namely, the living Bible.

Will suggests that our congregation, despite her firsts, has likely missed the mark in her two centuries of Christian labor.  I completely agree! I will give one absolutely glaring example. I am the 29th Senior Minister. I am a white man - as has been every single Senior Minister to come before me.  This is a product of the biases of the congregation - because it is certainly not a product of a lack of qualified candidates who identify as women or persons of color.

I do want to gently push back against Will’s concern over our activity in “identity politics.” Many in our congregation were created by God with identities that, like the Ethiopian Eunuch, or the Hemorrhaging Woman, or the Gerasene Demoniac, are considered “unclean,” or “undesirable,” or, worse, “criminal” by our larger society.  Their identities can occasionally get them killed. So we view identity politics through the lens of Matthew 25:40.

I don’t find myself particularly surprised that the three of us seem to substantially agree on nearly all of these issues.  When you spend your life immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ the differences begin the get a bit fuzzy around the edges. Much of the disagreement in the church in America is a product, I believe, of untrained pastors and celebrities attempting to seize power by “othering” different Christians.  Observe, today, that the leadership of Christian denominations as diverse as the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of Jesus Christ (Latter Day Saints), and my own beloved denomination, the United Church of Christ, have each independently released statements decrying the inhumane treatment of children on our Southern Border by the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

My greatest unanswered question has to do with sacrifice.  I honor and celebrate the sacrifices made by the missionaries in Kris’ post.  It sets my heart on fire - I think missionaries make an incredible sacrifice. Or the sacrifice made by turning one’s own home into a church.  What is God calling on the church in America to sacrifice, today? I’m not sure. But the church will remain strong for generations, of this I am most certain.


 

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