CHICAGO (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Church USA) — The missional church movement is more than just language. Speakers at the April Missional Leaders Meeting said aligning the church with the movement of the Holy Spirit in mission offers purpose, direction and hope.
Around 40 individuals representing congregations, area conferences and churchwide agences, gathered in Chicago with goals for concrete ideas on building relationships and community. They left the Missional Leaders Meeting April 19-21 with a message of hope for God’s future.
Executive Leadership and Mennonite Mission Network of Mennonite Church USA sponsored this year’s meetings together for the first time and representatives of Central District and Illinois conferences helped plan the event. The collaboration was planned to help leaders examine practical applications of missional church concepts.
Leaders of Berhane Wongel Ethiopian Church in Chicago and Christ Community Mennonite Church in Schaumburg, Ill., shared stories of their own efforts at reaching out in their communities. Participants shared in table groups about their own experiences and experiments and intnentionally visited a number of Chicago worship services. Group members also spent time networking, sharing ideas and worshiping together, offering praise and thanks to God.
And the conversational and experiential themes returned to hope.
Speaking on 1 and 2 Peter, Gilberto Flores, director of denominational ministry and missional church for Mennonite Church USA, said hope is difficult to discuss in a culture more interested in outcomes and expectations.
“The church can speak about hope when it is almost sure that with a good plan, appropriate amount of money and the right time frame, all expectations and outcomes could be possible,” he said. “The real value of hope consists in an honest dependency on God.
“God put the church in the world for the sake of the world. God created the church with a purpose,” Flores continued. “The church is the consequence of God’s mission and not the other way around. Then mission defines the church, not the church defines mission.”
Stanley Green, executive director/CEO of Mennonite Mission Network, said the book of Acts is too often read as relating the acts of the apostles. Instead, he argued, the text describes the acts of the Holy Spirit. Today, he said, the missional character of the church is created “by the Spirit of God who empowers each believer to be a 'sent one' who gives witness to Jesus, the Messiah.”
Guenetu Yigzaw, pastor of Berhane Wongel Ethiopian Church, said the Spirit has offered hope to his family and his community. Six doctors said his wife would not recover from a brain injury, but after a small group gathered, calling on the Holy Spirit for healing, she recovered.
Now Yigzaw practices a friendship ministry in his neighborhood, sharing his testimony one-on-one. The congregation as a whole then prays – for guidance in neighborhood interactions, for specific healings and for the Spirit to act in the lives of Yigzaw’s friends, in whatever way God wills.
The church is now holding five-day renewal seminars that attract more than 250 people.
Green said the larger church, like Berhane Wongel, must align itself with the purposes of God. Congregations, he said, must examine their locations – within the culture and within the reign of God – and self-identities. While interacting with people, Green said the church, like the 16th century radical reformers, must maintain a critical distance from its surrounding culture to avoid championing the interests of the state over the missional interests of God.
Early Anabaptists’ commitment to God’s purpose gave them a missional focus.
“The church is a footnote to following Jesus,” Green said. “He announces the kingdom, he feeds the hungry, he engages sinners and the marginalized, and he heals those who are diseased.”
Green said communities are defined by their cores – that to which they give allegiance/priority – and the church is not the center. The fallible men and women who have followed Christ, also, are not the center.
God is the center.
“The missional church, which we envision and are seeking to embrace as gift, … is by that Spirit an agent of transformation – an instrument of healing of hope,” Green said.
Flores suggested the church must live within the paradigm (and paradox) of being immigrants or pilgrims simultaneously moving inward toward God and outward toward the world.
Moving towards God, he said, means focusing on the ultimate purpose that only God can reveal to the church and following that flexible, adaptable, open and awe-filled revelation toward worship, testimony, evangelism, discipleship and enthusiastic service.
Journeying into the world, he continued, means embarking on “an effective real journey into the world whose purpose consists in having an encounter with other human beings, not in the church’s turf but in the others turf.”
Flores said such outreach requires permanent flexibility, a commitment to experimentation and relationships, and a willingness to be servants of God, not empty traditions, fossilized institutions or easy formulas.
Paula Killough contributed to this story.