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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Congregations as the Center of Mission, Part 2

David Brooks had this piece in the New York Times this morning, observing the significance of peer to peer economic transactions, such as Uber and Airbnb. Both these services rely on people connecting with each other with the minimal assistance of a broker, in these cases a simply smartphone application.

This is yet another instance of social and economic structures bypassing brokers. This phenomenon is increasingly the norm in the church world as well, including here at College Mennonite Church. We manage our own relationships with outside parties, whether it be for purposes of mission and outreach, or resourcing for ministry.

Examples include sister church relationships, connections with local ministries here in Goshen, Vacation Bible School, flood relief for Indonesia, large churches seeking resources together, and support for international mission where we have a personal link. Churches of all types are bypassing brokers like conferences (known in churchy lingo as middle judicatories), mission agencies, and denominational resourcing, when it makes sense to do so. It isn't that we don't like these brokers, or that they haven't done good work in the pasy, but why add another layer of communication and bureaucracy when you don't need to?

I am particularly interested in the implications this has for leadership in the church. For much of the twentieth century, Christians looked to churchwide structures for leadership in mission, ministry, and articulating vision. Now we are at a time when congregations are the leaders. If Mennonites are going to be effective in mission, outreach, ministry and articulating vision, the energy and vitality will have to come from congregations.

This makes sense for Mennonites, with a long history of congregational polity. This polity will look different in the coming decades than it has in the era of churchwide institution building. As a pastor, I am excited about what is going to happen in and through congregations in the years ahead.