Following Jesus with those around us

Wayne Speigle has been a pastor in various Mennonite congregations in Virginia and Eastern Pennsylvania, served on several nonprofit boards and enjoys travel.

 

Confession: when I was a student at what was then called Eastern Mennonite College, a friend and I found some dowdy looking overcoats and hats, and we wore them and carried briefcases to the library one evening in January to mimic (well, make fun of) the annual influx of older adults for “Pastor’s Week.” Thank goodness it is now called “School for Leadership Training” and the participants are cool, right?  Because I am now one of them.

The main draw to the annual School for Leadership Training at Eastern Mennonite Seminary might be to hear wise and winsome speakers or to participate in practical workshops – which is what I tell the folks at whatever church I am serving. I might also check in on students at the university so I can tell their families they are doing just fine. The worship services will be relevant and adventurous, as well as rejuvenating. The best reason, though, is to hang out with people who are trying to do the same things I am with similar successes and challenges.

I might have studied with some of them years ago and have also met many colleagues here who have become at least annual friends. Their locations might be similar or different, but we have reason to connect and to renew our vision and enthusiasm for ministry.

Nestled between Advent and Lent, these few days feel like a time when we do not have to pretend that everything we do helps to bring God’s peace to the world. We can be honest. 

The people we serve may desire to be outposts of God’s kingdom, yet they are also anxious about declining worship attendance, challenged giving, family issues they hope someone will solve for them – and maybe they wonder why their pastor can only satisfy the desires of a mere half of the congregation.  If I recited this brief list to a group of leaders at the January leadership gathering, most of them would nod and smile no matter what their setting.

Right now, we also deal with polarized culture and divisive politics, affecting church and family relationships. A friend recently said he believes that we can be most effective if we pay attention to our immediate communities. He cares, as I do, about larger systems, and we have not given up hope for kinder ways of relating. He thinks that our best hope of positive change is to live following Jesus with those around us. In fact, as we feel largely hopeless about many features of a culture, if we will see positive change, it will be closer to home.

So I expect at the leadership training in January we will commiserate, maybe tell a few anonymous stories, exchange ideas, and – most importantly – be there for each other.


Registration is open for Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s annual School for Leadership Training.

It takes place January 13-15, 2020 on the theme “Shalom in the Streets: Recapturing God’s Vision in Ordinary Places.” Scholarships are available for pastors to attend. Visit: emu.edu/seminary/slt.