Waiting to exhale

Glen Guyton is incoming executive director of Mennonite Church USA.

One of the first emails that I received after being named executive director said, “Perhaps you will be one of the persons God will use to help rescue MC USA.” My response was, “One thing I promise you is that I won’t be the one to rescue MC USA, but I do hope that God will use me to share the gospel and inspire people to live out their call. I will let Christ be our savior, and I will do what I can to uphold my end of the relationship as one of his ambassadors.” If there is rescuing to be done it will come in the form of our obedience to God. “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.  You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23, NRSV). Let’s all take a deep breath, breathing for a moment as we think about what that means.

People keep expecting this denomination to fail, but as I wrote three and half years ago, “The stories of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, and I have seen the living Word working through the many great people who are the church.

We (not some far away bureaucracy) are Mennonite Church USA. This is our church, and I hope that the rest of the world will see what a wonderful and relevant group of people we are. This church and its mission belong to all of us, whether we are members of:

  • rural congregations in Iowa or South Dakota.
  • big city congregations in Texas and California.
  • churches on the borders of Mexico or Canada like our friends in Arizona and Montana.

We are Mennonite Church USA, and I hope that in whatever context we worship and serve, we are living into our vision of healing and hope. “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy, and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.” Our rescue, our success is rooted in our “genuine mutual love” for love one another and the people we are called to serve.

After several years of working out the kinks of a new denomination we have now started the Journey Forward Process. We are leaner (hopefully not meaner) and growing into a body that is doing relevant ministry in the 21st century. We will not forget the rich and diverse legacy that we share as Anabaptist Mennonites but want to embrace the variety of ways that we do ministry and service throughout the denomination. This starts with you, the individual follower of Jesus Christ, living into the vision of this denomination, spreading God’s love with your neighbors. MC USA wouldn’t exist without individuals like you, people who are responding to God’s call. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7, NRSV). Think of possibilities for this body if we learned to breathe together, to work together, as instruments of God’s peace.

The staff and I understand that in order to Journey Forward, we need to rethink how we engage our constituents as denominational leaders. Many current denominations have become so obsessed with a single doctrinal issue that they have forgotten how to be light-hearted and carefree in their approach to sharing the gospel. Grayde Parsons of Presbyterian Church (USA) stated that, “There will be a ‘leveling out’ in the future as the emphasis shifts from clergy, buildings and the [traditional leadership] to a more empowered lay leadership, a variety of venues and a more expansive view of who God has called to be God’s people.” We as Anabaptists have said these things since 1525. At the core of our history, Anabaptist leaders thought decisions should be made not by a hierarchical leader but by the entire local assembly. Some say the Anabaptists were the first to try to practice democracy in the congregation. We need to reexamine our origins. Early Anabaptist emphasis was on discipleship — following Christ and teaching and learning together — rather than professional clericalism, demonstrating God’s love and a witness to the world. In the future, denominations will have to become more like shepherds and less like rule-makers.

More simply, we want to help you do more good in your local context. We want to equip conferences and congregations to be more effective.

Nicole Ford, a student at Dock Academy, recently challenged church leaders by saying, “My hope is when we think of the word ’church,’ we can think of fellowship with a diverse group of people, rather than a building full of people just like us, … We can either continue church the way it has always been, or we can bring the church with us and worship whenever and however the Lord leads us.” As I serve as executive director, young people like Nicole will be in my heart and mind. The church we are building is for them.

The Journey Forward process is our opportunity for renewal and revival in this denomination. It is our opportunity to breathe together and let the Spirit flow through us into our communities. We will thrive by following Jesus and listening for God’s call as we read Scripture together. We will witness God’s peace in our local communities, and we will create peace centers, designed to extend God’s holistic peace and proclaim Christ’s redemption for the world. We share in and experience transformation as the Holy Spirit dwells in and among us, transforming us to reflect God’s love. At #MennoCon19 we hope to provide a forum for members of MC USA to begin sharing how you are living out the Journey Forward experience in your ministry context.

Let’s all take a deep breath, breathing for a moment and reflecting on the rich history of our past, and preparing for the bright future of MC USA.