SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Mennonite Mission Network) — In urban (and rural) congregations today society, remember these words: “Nothing is the same.”
Diversity rules. Each congregation must develop its own vision and mission. We can’t copy others. We can’t even really compare one situation to another and we surely need not compete. Rather, we need to build on our unique strengths and passions. The clearer we are about our strengths, the more energy and vitality our congregation will possess.
Let me give an example from Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church. This congregation had a vision of owning its own building in a neighborhood where there was opportunity for ministry and interaction. While that vision got sidetracked the first few years in their “new/old” building, it resurfaced again when the congregation was challenged to reflect on its history and reason for being, as it celebrated 25 years since it’s founding.
At first, neighborhood ministries were modeled on what other congregations had done, and for the most part they didn’t bring the anticipated results until we stopped and asked, “What are we good at? What do we like to do? What skills and people do we have that could be used in a neighborhood ministry?”
When we finally took those questions seriously, we shifted our attitudes from ministry to a desire to improve relationships with our neighbors. When we shifted, we began to discover energy and a response that has been a blessing.
As we developed what we now call our neighborhood suppers, we worried about an energy drain. In fact, the outreach has revitalized the congregation. Each week, neighbors gather at the church for a meal. Fears that we would not have money to pay for meals or people to help with cooking or cleaning have disappeared. In fact, boxes of food – chicken nuggets, hams, canned tomatoes, fresh produce and more – appear at our door from neighbors and members and others alike.
Now, after a year-and-a-half, we are beginning to expand the dinners. After supper, youth and young adults gather to sing praise songs and children are led in shalom-building activities. The congregation is discussing offering the adults some health care such as foot care, and blood pressure checks.
The energy is contagious.
But I pastor two congregations in Sioux Falls. This vision would not work in the second congregation I serve, Good Shepherd Community Church, where the setting and context is very different. The second congregation is still struggling to adapt to its setting. It is examining its strengths and asking what it has that God can use. The congregation has yet to fully trust that God is at work, and can use what the people have.
My task as pastor is to help the congregation bring clarity to its vision. There must be energy to power the steps that need to be developed and put into action. Only adapting visions for our unique situations will eventually bring needed life into congregations.
Rosie Epp is pastor of Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church and Good Shepherd Community Church in Sioux Falls, S.D.