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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Congregations as the Center of Mission, Part 3

I began a five-year tenure working with short-term mission programs at Mennonite Board of Missions in 1994. At the time, MBM was in the middle of a project called Cana Venture, an effort to adapt to the shifting terrain of denominational missions. The behavior of church members was changing relative to their congregations and to church wide agencies.

After doing intensive research and study, MBM concluded that congregations and church members were no long interested in paying experts to do mission on their behalf. They wanted to be involved directly. MBM understood that its value was not in “doing” mission on behalf of the church, but linking congregations with other congregations doing mission around the world. Partnership became the operative word around the office. When the two largest Mennonite bodies merged in 2001, the new combined mission agency called itself Mennonite Mission Network, emphasizing this networking aspect of bringing people together to do mission rather than doing it on their behalf. Properly speaking then, Mennonite Mission Network is not the mission agency for Mennonite Church USA. Congregations are the agents for mission. Mission agency happens at the congregational level.

In 2006, Mennonite Church USA learned that it was over-structured for its size, with too much bureaucracy and an oversized budget. The phrase “congregations are the center for mission” comes from Mennonite Church USA itself. Churchwide leaders recognize that our future health and vitality will rely on congregations engaging directly in mission, rather than looking to conference and denominational institutions to provide the impetus. 

Marty Lehman internalized this value, moving from her position as Associate Executive Director for Churchwide Operations, to Administrative Pastor here at College Mennonite, taking a significant pay cut to do so. For Marty this was a move to the center, where the action and excitement is, and where she could have the biggest impact for the mission of Mennonite Church USA.

Mennonite Disaster Service has excelled in this work of linking congregations in mission. The work of several congregations here in the Goshen area building homes locally, in Minnesota and in New Orleans, partnering with local churches in each case is an exciting way to work, and puts the accent on relationships.

Increasingly, it is congregations that are planting churches or adding sites as they become multi-site congregations, and not conferences or churchwide agencies. In our interconnected world, congregations are using direct personal links to build relationships with others around the world, working together in mission.

College Mennonite Church is one of the largest and most resource rich congregations in Mennonite Church USA. We have both an exciting opportunity and an obligation to grow as a center for mission. If we don’t do it, who will? Here we are Lord, send us!


Anonymous said...

Amen, amen, amen, amen. amen. amen. amen!!!!