Denominations: A lost cause?By Willard Metzger
I don’t think I am delusional, but as the leader of a national church, I sometimes feel as though I am romanticizing a lost cause. I serve a collective within the context of individuals; I depend on the communal while appealing to the private.
Rather than dismiss the disengagement I encounter, I seek to understand it. There is often great wisdom within the expression of disillusion. Disappointment reflects a loss, discontentment a cherished hope. And so I welcome these gifts. I ponder the future, as mysterious as it is. I consider the past as selective as it is recounted.
Such a gift was given to me recently. The following statement was included in a quite supportive and encouraging email:
I would be like most people in our church and have a love/hate relationship with [Mennonite Church Canada]. We love the idea of belonging to something bigger than ourselves and speaking with one voice and sharing common theological and ecclesiological ground. But we find quite a large disconnect between what goes on in the offices and what goes on in our daily congregational life. And because of that disconnect, I end up not trusting what comes out of the office. I just smile, roll my eyes and ignore what’s being said and sometimes snicker to myself how people think they’re being relevant (please forgive my snarkiness).
Another email conversation offered the following:
As it relates to this conversation, I think distrust and disconnect might come from just not knowing/not being in relationship with anybody from [Mennonite Church Canada]. I don’t think we otherwise have ongoing trust issues with Mennonite Church Canada. If anything, we might feel indifferent because Mennonite Church Canada has little-to-no impact on our lives as a church.
I treasure these comments.
At a recent event, Stuart Murray, the British author of The Naked Anabaptist, told of entire denominations in Europe planning for their discontinuation. These leaders have even identified the dates. When I heard this in the company of many pastors and leaders, I wrote down the dates. One of the pastors saw me writing and asked: “What date did you write down?” I laughed at the witty comment but grimaced at the conjecture.
I understand the common dilemma of pastors in a context where few people are interested in denominational identity. I remember it well. But still something feels restless within me.
Intuitively, individualism and isolation feels wrong. But practically, it seems preferable. We warn against it from our pulpits, but prefer it as congregations.
I am not interested in defending an institution. But I am interested in nurturing a historical movement. While some congregations are distancing themselves from Mennonite/Anabaptist identity, other new emerging leaders are discovering Anabaptism and yearning to recover its expression.
I look forward to more conversations so that together we can discover what God requires of us as a collective community of faith that is striving against the principalities and subversive powers of individualism and privatization. May God grant us the wisdom and strength we need.
Willard Metzger is executive director of Mennonite Church Canada. He blogs here, where this post originally appeared.
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