At the recent annual gathering of Mennonite Church Manitoba, the talk was about new directions. It seems the search for new ways of organizing ourselves is in the air everywhere. Our connections to each other as congregations seem to be fraying, we value our independence in ever greater measure, and see less and less need to support and depend on each other.
In Romans 1:11-12, Paul longed for the connection with the Christians in Rome: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” That desire seems as important to us today as it was to Paul in his day. We, too, need to continue to be encouraged by each other’s faith and need each other’s spiritual gifts to bring the message of Jesus Christ to our generation.
There are probably a host of reasons that account for the need for new directions, but significant among them is the reality that congregational contributions to area church budgets have been in decline for a number of years in Manitoba and elsewhere, particularly if inflation is taken into account.
There are many demands on our resources of time and money, and it is easy to become excited about projects that are close to us, those that capture our imagination through enthusiastic promotion or ones whose images capture our attention in the media. It is much harder to support budgets for ongoing projects that year after year contribute to congregational life, or that are long-term partnerships to build the kingdom one brick at a time.
There is, however, considerable passion among us for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the church, and the challenge is to create organizational structures that translate that passion into action.
One of the new directions is to create structures that match more closely, and are more responsive to, those among us, both as individuals and congregations, that have a passion for a particular ministry. What are ministries and initiatives for “a time such as this” that we can fund generously, work at together collaboratively, and engage enthusiastically?
MC Manitoba is working to create a structure that allows for collaboration with groups of individuals and congregations with a passion for a ministry or a particular project—to pool finances, energy and time to make it happen.
A big part of the work we do together as Manitoba churches is our camping program and here we want to begin a conversation that explores whether a more autonomous form of governance could match passion and structure in ways that will help with the long-term sustainability of this ministry.
There is understandable fear of change. Will these new directions result in even more fragmentation? We will plan carefully and prayerfully so that, like Paul, we can be mutually encouraged to be strong.
Hans Werner is moderator of Mennonite Church Manitoba.