Observing together what God is saying and doing

To Mennonite Blog #9

Ervin Stutzmanby Ervin Stutzman, executive director, Mennonite Church USA

I’ve been a follower of Jesus in the Mennonite tradition for many years. Therefore, for me “to Mennonite” is to instinctively follow the many rhythms and routines that express my core beliefs about Christian discipleship. I engage in particular rhythms of corporate worship and private devotion, action and reflection, exercise and rest, (lots of) work and (sometime too little) play, (too much) speaking and (too little) listening, communal discernment and personal choice. I could expand on each of these routines but I have chosen to address only the last of these several pairs.

For me, “to Mennonite” is to engage in communal discernment about the most important issues in the Christian life. Some newcomers to the Mennonite church quickly observe that our insistence on processing decisions can lead to undue cultural conformity and inertia. To new leaders eager to make changes in the church, processing often appears as a weakness, if not a downright annoyance. Stuart Murray, an Anabaptist from Great Britain, once cited a Mennonite friend who said that “process is the Mennonite drug of choice.” Ouch!

Recently, I met with a congregation of individuals who were mostly new to the Mennonite Church. Although they were part of Virginia Mennonite Conference as well as Mennonite Church USA, some members were hesitant about being identified as Mennonites. They feared that being Mennonite would drag them down, perhaps even lead them down the wrong path. They wished for greater independence from the larger body of Mennonite Christians. They seemed worried that the choices we are making as a national conference, even after communal discernment, might not reflect God’s best for them.

While the downsides of endless discussion and processing seem painfully obvious, there are clear upsides that keep me walking on the Mennonite path toward communal discernment of God’s chosen future. To Mennonite, then, is to join with others in circles of respectful and prayerful conversation, observing together what God is saying and doing in a community of faith. To Mennonite is to listen for God’s call. To Mennonite is to determine to follow where God leads, no matter what the cost.

This does not eliminate the need for effective group leadership. Indeed, it takes courageous leaders to blaze a trail into God’s future. Communal discernment can determine what God is calling us to do; getting it done is another matter! Further, coming to a group consensus can build a strong sense of ownership that will help to move the group along, especially during hard times. I have found that everybody is always lazy toward someone else’s goals. Good processes of communal discernment help us all to own the group’s goals for ourselves.

“To Mennonite” this way requires a strong sense of trust in the group. It appears that many leaders fear to engage groups in a search for consensus. I suspect they are worried that an ambitious radical will wreck the process or that a band of foot draggers will slow progress to a halt. Even more, I sense their anxiety that someone else will get the credit for any forward progress.

After years of leading groups, I have found that God can allay such fears. Consequently, I trust group processes more than ever. I am more likely now to bring my (supposedly brilliant) ideas to groups for testing. More likely to listen for the wisdom of even the quietest members. More likely to trust the Holy Spirit to point the way toward the future. If that’s what it means “to Mennonite,” count me in.

How do you “Mennonite”?  Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.

Who am I?  (To Mennonite Blog #1)
Serving Christ with our heads and hands (To Mennonite Blog #2)
Quiet rebellion against the status quo (To Mennonite Blog #3)
Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)
Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)
Body, mind, heart … and feet (To Mennonite Blog #6)
We have much more to offer (To Mennonite Blog #7)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)