Tag Archives: formational

Calling and Shaping Next Generation Leaders

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

Over 25 years ago, I interned through Mennonite Church USA’s Ministry Inquiry Program at my home church in Somerset County, PA.  I loved the experience of working alongside a congregation that had shaped my own decision to follow Jesus and working creatively with a pastor who gave me space to learn, to experiment and to honestly engage life in the church.  At the end of the summer, I declared that I loved the experience, but that I didn’t want to be a pastor because I realized the vastness of the task at hand.   My home church then, four years later, called me as an associate pastor.  It still surprises me that they invited and that I said yes.

This summer, through Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission Program, Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Worker Program, the ongoing Ministry Inquiry Program and a variety of independent initiatives, about a dozen young adults (all under age 30) are finishing up a summer of serving and learning alongside our congregations.  These initiatives are likely some of the best investments of our time and resources into the life and future of the church. 

Not all of them will be called as pastors, but through the mutual time together, the opportunity for shaping and learning  continues to prepare leaders who will engage the church and the world wholeheartedly through the Good News of Christ’s peace.  I am grateful for pastors who make space for those who are learning alongside.  Walking alongside learning leaders takes time, intention and openness.  It’s also being confident and humble enough in your own leadership to realize that other leaders will lead differently, fail differently and that working with next generation leaders can be a constant invitation to learn, for those of us who are more established leaders as well.

Back in my intern days, my pastor – Marvin Kaufman – gave me space to explore cultivating a sister church relationship with an African American congregation in our area.  That exploratory space culminated in Sunday night worship experiences at each of our meetinghouses.  This experience and our congregation’s willingness to participate and follow me into this relationship-building likely shaped forever the kind of ministering and leading person that I have become and am becoming, on working with the Spirit to cross cultural and ethnic boundaries to express the heart of the Gospel of reconciliation and transformation.

Abigail Shelley with Pastor Aldo Siahaan, leading Summer Peace Camp.

I’m so grateful for each of our next generation leaders who said yes this summer, and for the communities that hosted them and walked alongside them.  Working with Jerrell , who is serving alongside our Conference and The Mennonite this summer, has reminded me of the worthy investment of time and fruitfulness of relational possibilities.  Abigail and Tiffany serving together at Philadelphia Praise has made me smile, as they helped host our Interfaith leaders gathering last month with gracious hospitality.  My interactions with the Vocation as Mission interns, as we talked about intercultural challenges and possibilities, inspired me by their sincerity and questions when we met at Bike and Sol.  I loved hearing how much Rebecca and Ezther are valued at their places of service in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley.

2018 Vocation as Mission Interns

These experiences are some of the best investments that we make together with our Conference resources.  I’m grateful that we continue to share in this process of calling and shaping next generation leaders together for the sake of the church and the world.   This is our work together, a recognition that calling and shaping next generation leaders is the work of “our village.”   And for me, and hopefully for all of us, this is the kind of work that brings us great joy and hope, a recognition that the Good News goes on, continues to transform and will continue to transform us.

 

Faith Formation of the Next Generation

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

Psalm 133 states, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” My heart felt full and grateful after recently meeting for the last time with some of the youth pastors from both Eastern District and Franconia Conference congregations. This group of persons representing seasoned and new pastors and sponsors invested in youth ministry has met together on a regular basis for many years. To me, they embody the strengths and gifts of God to our broader church collaborating around a unified purpose of passing on a vibrant and living faith to the next generation. We have learned much in our journey together and deeply enjoyed one another’s company along the way.

We have discovered that we can do much more together than on our own. Particularly as the landscape of the church changes, we will need to find more ways to partner together rather than become isolated in ideological or theological siloes. The church has an opportunity to offer a compelling vision of God’s reconciliation to the next generation and beyond if we can find ways to come together in genuine humility and trust. Our youth need to see the church model a way to be authentic community together, when so much in our world is building walls of separation. 

One of the highlights of our monthly gatherings is hosting one another in different churches. We value the opportunity to be stretched and encouraged as we share the challenges and joys of our respective ministry contexts. As our conference continues to expand our borders, we can capitalize on the gifts of our diversity. We have mutual gifts and perspectives to offer in our churches in Philly, Allentown, Souderton, throughout Pennsylvania and beyond — in Vermont, New York, California, and around the globe. These gifts and perspectives can help our youth grow in their understanding of the expansive love and work of God in all people and places. Our youth need the skills of building relationships of understanding and mutual respect that cross boundaries of race, theology, culture and more. Initiatives such as the Walking the Walk program of Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia or Taproot Gap Year birthed from Philadelphia Praise Center can offer transformative faith experiences for our youth and young adults.

As we meet together we are encouraged in the reality that we are not alone in this work. Our task is to initiate young persons into mature Christian faith through relationships with numerous adults who join them in living the way of authentic discipleship. As elders we can offer youth friendship, guidance and listening ears as they make the passage through adolescence into spiritual maturity. This is the work of the whole church and not just a youth pastor or a few youth sponsors in the congregation.

Youth ministry cannot be done in a vacuum. As we consider forming faith in our young people, we cannot think that the process of discipleship begins in ninth grade, or can be relegated to a youth pastor. Youth ministry is only part of the whole life-cycle of faith formation embedded within a multi-faceted approach between home and church and the broader community.

Research shows that those youth who go off to college and beyond are more likely to hold onto their faith and become involved in church as adults based on the commitment and priority that church and spiritual matters played for their parents. Youth ministry has to include parents by supporting parents in their own faith and by helping parents model and communicate faith to their own teenagers. In addition, one of the most common factors for youth who stick with faith and church into adulthood is that they had at least five significant relationships with adults as a youth. Might the future of youth ministry be less programmatic and become more embedded into the fabric of the overall mission and life of the church?

One of the things my wife and I have appreciated about our time at Plains Mennonite Church is the investment by the whole congregation in the life and faith of our children. When we were looking for a church home, we were not looking for a church with a dynamic youth program as much as we were looking for a community of believers modeling an active faith that incorporated the nurture of children and youth into the whole life of the congregation.

What is the invitation of the church at this time? As a conference we need to continue to ask the question of how we are passing on the faith and work of the church to the next generation. How are we doing as a church in modeling a self-giving faith centered in Jesus Christ? We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations. We trust that the same Spirit that is at work in our lives will continue to live and move in our children and the next generation of the gathered body of Christ.

Teaching Healthy Sexuality for Faithful Living

By Maria Hosler Byler, Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation, Salford Mennonite Church

To live out our faith requires helping our children grow into healthy, knowledgeable, and faithful adults – and this is not just for parents; this task is for the whole church. This involves how we use our money, how we treat our neighbors and how we live our lives as sexual people. As Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford, my role is to help families in this task. That meant opening a conversation with parents around sexuality and our human capacity for sexual feelings.

I don’t know if the participants at Salford’s “Beyond the Talk” parents’ gathering were apprehensive before we met, but I sure was. I had planned this conversation for parents about talking with their kids about sexuality with the help of some knowledgeable and experienced congregation members. I was confident we had solid, faith-based resources to offer parents about sexuality and child development. But beyond that, I had so many questions. Were parents even interested in guidance from the church as they teach their kids about sexuality? What was the guidance of the church for parents anyway? Would parents be willing to share, or would we just sit in awkward silence? Would they even come?

We ended up with a spread of parents of kids of all ages, dedicated to raising their kids in healthy sexuality and eager to interact. The night had moments of seriousness and laughter as well as lots of food for thought.

Beth Styer, a congregation member with experience teaching sexuality education, talked about all the different ways kids pick up information about sexuality. We teach them by how we hold them, by how we talk about private parts and human relationships. Then Ron Souder, a pediatrician, brought some sobering statistics about teens and sexuality. He reminded us all that kids learn about sexuality in one way or another, and it’s up to parents what kind of influence they will add to the mix. He also showed a hilariously awkward video clip of parents trying to tell their kids where babies come from – a cringe-worthy reminder that this is a topic lots of people stumble on. He followed that by giving some practical information on developmentally appropriate information for kids as they grow.

Sexuality is anything that has to do with living life as a sexual person. Like anything else in our faith lives, healthy sexuality isn’t a one-time conversation – it’s a way of life that we address over and over again. Can you imagine parents having one conversation with their kids about how to pray, for example, and then checking it off the list with a sigh of relief? Kids learn from our own attitudes and behaviors, so healthy sexuality education starts with us. Thankfully, these little teaching moments happen throughout our kids’ lives, so we have lots of chances to try again.

Throughout the evening, parents shared their own challenges and successes in teaching their kids about sexuality. They shared poignant and off-the-wall comments their toddlers made. They shared moments of confusion and trauma from their own past, and their desires to teach their kids better than they were taught.

My favorite part was when parents shared their hopes for their kids’ sexuality. Some of the hopes that were named: that their kids know deeply God’s love for their bodies and treat their own and others’ bodies with respect; that their sexuality be important to their faith, not something to be scared of but something to discern seriously. Then parents shared ways they help their kids learn these values – giving each other ideas and reminding themselves of the process that is already underway.

That evening barely scratched the surface of the topic. Just like it’s impossible to communicate everything a kid needs to know about sexuality in one talk, it’s impossible to cover everything with parents in an evening. In the end I was left with gratitude for the work that is already happening. Parents are considering where they come from and what we believe, growing in their own sexuality, and intentionally passing on their faith values to their kids. God is already working to heal our places of pain and brokenness and walk with us as the new generation grows up.

The conversation continues, and the work continues. My prayer is that this gathering be only the start of much thought, prayer, and care for human bodies as we raise up little ones in faith.

For some age appropriate books to talk to kids about sexuality, check out “Talking to Kids About Bodies and Boundaries” by Kris and Ginger Wint from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections or find the list under the “Books to Use With Children” heading on Franconia Conference’s Church Safety webpage

 

 

Creating Space for All of God’s Children

By Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

Autism specialist Stacy McGowan

On June 13 I had the opportunity to attend a workshop offered by Franconia Conference on Sensory Sensitive Sacred Spaces, resourcing people on how churches can create space for those within their congregations who have autism. The workshop was organized by Pastor Chris Nickels of Spring Mount Mennonite Church who recently completed his Master’s Thesis on this topic, in conjunction with Heather Gingrich, Children and Youth Minister at Plains Mennonite Church. Led by Autism Specialist Stacey McGowan from the North Penn School District and Candy Nixon of Joni & Friends Greater Philadelphia, we spent a lot of time not only getting facts about how autism affects the people around us, but also receiving practical tools on how our churches can become more inclusive of those who are autistic, as well as their families.

Stacey McGowan spoke first on the facts about autism and how it affects our communities. We were informed that autism now affects 1 in 88 children. McGowan also mentioned that of the children who have autism, 40% of them cannot speak. These numbers helped me to realize that autism affects more children then I had imagined. McGowan then went into detail on how autism affects each child differently. Some children have meltdowns when there is a sensory overload with noises. Some children need to have toys or blankets to keep their minds busy. Some children need to be able to see colorful visuals to learn effectively. 

McGowan also showed us several tools that she uses within her own classes. We circled around the back of the room as she passed around different items that we could use within our churches with children with autism. There was a wig for children who like to touch and pull hair. There was a weighted blanket and vest for children who like to be bundled and wrapped up. There were even items such as silly putty and slime for children to use. McGowan suggested that we create a box in the back of the sanctuary where these items could reside, for children to use .

Candy Nixon of Joni & Friends Greater Philadelphia

Candy Nixon then helped us tear down some of the common myths around children with autism. Nixon called on us to eliminate our stereotypes and to replace them with different teaching practices. She gave us more practical tools that we could use in our churches that will help to engage children on the autism spectrum. She suggested visual schedules, visual parameters, having children act out Bible stories, etc.

I am happy that I had the chance to attend this workshop. I always advocate for inclusivity within the church, but have fallen short when thinking about how to include those with disabilities. As the church, we must realize that there are those within our congregations that have disabilities that affect them in different ways. We must be open to trying new things so that they are getting the opportunity to participate in worship as well. Whether that be using better visuals while preaching or adding motions or signs while singing hymns, we must be willing to be flexible and figure out how to include all people. As Candy Nixon said, “It takes someone with a willing heart and hands who has the love of Jesus to share.” May our hearts be willing as we try to create space for all of God’s children.

Joni and Friends provided participants with a set of 10 small books to educate and aid in caring for families with disabilities. The Conference office has a limited supply available to anyone interested in having a set for your congregation. If you are interested please email office@FranconiaConference.org. These will be distributed on a first come, first served basis. The Conference will also have one set of the books in our library, available for anyone to sign out.  

 

Does Church Membership Matter?

by Mark R. Wenger – Pastoral Team Leader and Pastor of Administration, Franconia Mennonite Church

How does church membership work in Franconia Conference?  How do you become a church member?  What are the requirements and benefits?  What happens to membership when someone stops attending?  What theological understandings underpin church membership? These questions, and more, formed the center of a Faith and Life Gathering of about 30 Franconia Conference credentialed leaders at Salford Mennonite Church on the morning of May 9, 2018.

Framed by Romans 12:4-5, a panel of three pastors led the way into the maze of membership. Nathan Good from Swamp Mennonite Churchdescribed their annual membership Sunday where new members are received after a 10-week preparation class, current members re-affirm a membership covenant, and the congregation shares Communion together. This keeps membership and attendance numbers aligned.

Ken Burkholder from Deep Run East Mennonite Church highlighted the importance of a public commitment for becoming a member.  His congregation has a Membership Covenant in the By-laws but stated it isn’t referenced much.  Ken observed a “definite trend” of people who are active in the congregation, but don’t become members.  Others remain members on the books but haven’t been active for years.

Danillo Sanchez spoke about commitment patterns at Ripple in Allentown and Whitehall Mennonite Church.  Typical church membership that grants certain privileges doesn’t fit their context.  Yet in each congregation, participants sign a covenant that highlights three Anabaptist church distinctives.  This annual signing intends to keep commitment current and to remind people what it means to be part of the faith community.

Discussion around tables followed the panel presentation.  A recurring theme: Understandings and practices of church membership are changing.  Earlier, more standard patterns have morphed into contextualized and individualized approaches. Questions that were raised included: can someone who lacks an understanding of core Christian beliefs and practices become a member?  How about someone who is engaged in behaviors considered inconsistent with the Bible or the Confession of Faith? Churches with cemeteries face unique challenges.  Can someone listed as a member still claim a burial benefit ten years after ceasing to attend?  What does church membership mean?  Is it a shell without any filling?  Or an antique no longer relevant? Lots of questions.  Not many answers.

As a point of comparison, I recently joined the Souderton-Telford Rotary Club.  I needed a current member to serve as my sponsor.  Membership dues are payable every month.  I must attend at least two Rotary functions each month to remain a member.

I came away from the Faith and Life Gathering discussion on membership feeling muddled, even conflicted. I agreed with the pastor who said: “We are holding to what we believe, but we’ve become more flexible in our practices.”  But, when does changing practice reveal an implicit shift of core theology?

In my view, church membership and a covenant community remain a worthy investment for congregations.  Jesus and leaders of the early church raised expectations of godly living, while also setting people free from bondage.  A liberating gospel on one side, and covenanted discipleship on the other, are not contradictory.

Congregations that expect a lot of their members tend to be more cohesive than free-for-all associations.  When high-demand churches also offer transformation to participants and engage them in a clear mission, congregations flourish.

Church membership today doesn’t look like it did fifty years ago.  Our congregations are less homogenous; we move around more; accountability feels different.  But the human need for healing and hope, for encountering God, for belonging to a group, and for sharing in bigger mission remains the same.  In my opinion, the vision of church where “each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. 12:5) remains worthy of our best creativity and commitment.

The Power of Story

by Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

Much research is being done on what makes individuals, families, and pastors resilient in our complex and ever-changing culture. In February, I was sent a link to a New York Times article, “The Stories That Bind Us,” by Bruce Feiler. Based upon research, Feiler noted that the single most important factor in a person’s ability to weather the challenges of life is to develop a strong family narrative.  Children and youth who know a lot about their family history and have a sense of being a part of a larger family, tend to function in healthier ways when facing life’s challenges.  Feiler emphasized the importance of creating, refining and retelling family stories including the ordinary, positive, and difficult experiences of family life.

The biblical story is our foundational narrative giving us instruction, poetry, rituals, prophecy, and stories to talk about our faith in God. Numerous times in scripture, there is mention of telling the story to the children, reenacting a ritual, or giving witness to what is seen and heard (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Joshua 4:6-7, Psalms 44:1, Psalms 78:6, Isaiah 43:10, John 1:7, Matthew 28: 17-20, Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8). The scripture is packed with stories of people living in families and in a faith community dependent on God and each other to live out their faith. These stories remind us of who God is, who we are, how we are a part of a larger family, and how the faith community continues to be called to live God’s mission in the world.

Leadership Ministers and other staff on retreat.

At a retreat in March, Leadership Ministers reflected on past and more recent Franconia Conference stories of ordinary people doing ordinary things to serve God. Our stories reflected themes of generosity of time, talent, and finances; breadth and depth of relationships; lament of congregations being asked to leave conference or choosing to leave; resiliency during internal, national, or international crisis; welcome of people and congregations of color; vision to begin local ministries or ministries beyond our geography.

Biblical, family, congregational, conference, and denominational stories connect us to each other, past and present. They remind us of God’s steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness in all generations; our failures, inaction, learnings, and activities; and our shared identity and mission. Stories remind us of our common commitment to Jesus Christ, to living as followers of Christ, and bearing witness to Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Recently, I viewed a TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story,” presented by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She frankly declares that those in power often determine which stories are told, where a story begins, and what is included or excluded. This power reinforces and perpetuates stereotypes. One single story is incomplete and emphasizes differences. It creates a narrative that shows a people, place or issue as one thing over and over again and that is what they become. Multiple stories enhance understanding and have the power to humanize, empower, and heal.

As we engage in the reconciliation and restructuring process of looking at the possibility of forming a new conference with Eastern District Conference, what stories need to be told? Who determines which stories are told and what is included in the stories? How will these stories guide us in imagining a new future, facilitate healing of past or more recent wounds, form our new identity, and shape our vision for the future? May we continue to share the ordinary, positive and difficult stories with an openness to hearing multiple stories. As we shape the future together, may our stories enhance our understanding, give witness to the Spirit’s activity among us, facilitate healing, and empower us to imagine what the Spirit is calling us to be and do.

Deeper Understanding Through God-Centered Decision-Making

by Bobbi Smisko, spiritual director and member of Methacton Mennonite Church

In hopes of expanding my understanding of our Anabaptist leanings in decision-making process, I attended Franconia Conference’s God-Centered Decision-Making Workshop held on April 21, 2018 at Swamp Mennonite Church. I was certainly not disappointed in the program that day. I found Sherill Hostetter to be an excellent presenter. Her information was meaty and extremely useful, her presentation was well-planned and delivered professionally, yet with a personal touch, and her use of both small group interactions and sharing in the larger group helped the attendees to discuss and practice the methods she presented.

There was a friendly buzz of conversation in the room during breaks that gave testimony to the relationship-building that was taking place. If this group of people moves into their decision-making process with the same generosity of spirit that they welcomed each other and me, a newcomer in their midst, I believe there is high hope for fruitful choices in future days. Surely, this was helped by the welcoming environment provided by the hosting congregations and the tasty snacks and delicious lunch provided by Franconia Conference.

If adopted and internalized, the material Ms. Hostetter presented will certainly help make God-centered decision-making possible. She presented such helpful information that I wish we could continue with monthly round-table discussions using her material. Not only did she talk about how to accomplish making decisions in group settings, but also she explained how folks from different backgrounds and cultures view conflict. For instance, most people do not see conflict as an opportunity but rather look at it as something to solve or manage. She pointed out that folks from some cultures come with evasive methods of interacting and others are more direct. Such differences can cause deep divisions and misunderstandings, so initially working with a group on understanding each other helps the process be more successful.

Ms. Hostetter also emphasized the fact that good planning for the decision-making process is essential for group unity, and added that unity and uniformity are two different things: unity is the Spirit among diversity (we are not all called to be alike, but we are called to be one, prays Jesus in John 17). Hostetter explained the challenge: Conflict is a visible sign of human energy. The greater the interdependence, the greater the potential for conflict; the greater the concern for inclusion in joint decision-making, the more tension is generated by the drive for harmony. For such reasons, preparation ahead of time is of great importance.

Discernment is integral to this process, so a main focus was helping people learn how to move into the spiritual practice of listening prayer. Spending time in silence and opening ourselves up to hear from God helps move people to connectedness in spirit. Ms. Hostetter suggested a book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Factor for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton, as a resource for this practice. She suggested other spiritual practices, such as storytelling, sharing faith stories, using silent prayer throughout discernment meetings, and listening and responding to Scripture readings.  In our roundtable group sharing time, we had an opportunity to practice listening prayer and felt the move of the Spirit as we shared what we had “received” in our silent moments of being vulnerable to the voice of God. Sharing from our hearts brought a deeper level of understanding to a group of people who barely knew each other before meeting on that day. We entered the workshop as strangers and left as friends.  How could that not be good for any family, leadership group, or congregation?

Remembering the Glory Days

by Emily Ralph Servant, Leadership Minister

He was one of my congregation’s “saints,” someone who had been attracted to the church decades ago because he heard that God was doing something there and he wanted to be a part of it.

Baptismal class at Haycock Church, circa 1960 (photo courtesy of MHEP)

I asked him about the old days and his eyes lit up as he told me about the boys’ and girls’ clubs, Summer Bible School, and a thriving Sunday School.

Those were the glory days of mission.

I’ve been thinking about this saint often during this past week as I talked with a number of pastors about mission in their context.  It’s so easy for us to get caught up in remembering times past when our congregations had flourishing programs, our institutions were growing by leaps and bounds, and we were sending missionaries to the “ends of the earth.”

By comparison, many of our congregations now feel like Moses, hiding his face behind a veil so that the people of Israel couldn’t see that the glory of his encounter with God was fading (2 Corinthians 3:13).  We feel discouraged, tired, and worried.  We wish that we could think up the next great initiative that will draw hundreds—or at least dozens—of people through our church doors so that our faces will once again shine with God’s glory as our congregations come to life again.

Instead, when we remember the glory days, we feel like we’re dying.  We feel like we have nothing to offer as our numbers are dwindling and our energy is waning.

Perhaps our memories of past mission have taken on a bit of a golden hue, however.  Our stories have been shaped over the years of telling to remember the highlights instead of the everyday acts of love and friendship that drew others to a relationship with God and to participate in our communities.

When I asked people who had grown up in my congregation’s neighborhood about those same years of mission, their eyes lit up when they told me how this gentle man had walked the streets on Saturday mornings, sharing coffee and donuts with them in their homes.  They remembered how he would sit with the teenagers as they smoked and drank on the church steps.

They didn’t just remember the programs; they remembered the people.

As the glory fades away, we are left only with ourselves and what a gift that is!  It’s vulnerable to put ourselves out there and risk rejection, embarrassment, or hurt.  It’s a lot messier and a whole lot more confusing.  Yet you don’t have to form a committee to share a meal (or coffee and donuts!) and you don’t have to be young and energetic to shoot the breeze for a couple hours on a Saturday morning.

It can be scary to stop hiding behind the veil, to show who we really are.  But the Spirit of the Lord is there, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).  Freedom to stop trying so hard and just be ourselves.  Freedom to risk building relationships with no strings attached.  Freedom to trust that there may be some glory left after all.

Learning to Pray In New Ways

By Randy Heacock, Leadership Minister and Pastor at Doylestown Mennonite Church

Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks?  Many of us have heard or said this phrase over our lifetime. We say this to state the challenge when trying to change patterns or habits. Those of us in congregational leadership can name our fair share of experiences that indicate old dogs do not learn new tricks. However, I want to celebrate a congregation that is learning to pray in new ways.

For some time I have been disturbed by the focus of our prayers. Back in 2013 while on sabbatical, I visited 10 congregations to see how they did prayer on a Sunday morning and to discover what their practice communicated about the purpose of prayer. Though some churches were quite liturgical and others more informal, my overall conclusion of the purpose of congregational prayer was that God needed to be directed what and how to help those we love. In talking with individuals, I discovered people had formulas and for some, their prayers were bargaining sessions with God.

I struggled to align this with Jesus’ teaching, “thy kingdom come and thy will be done.”  Our prayers seem to call on God to make our will be done and our kingdom be ordered as we see fit. However, I knew changing our prayer habits would not be easy. Even the suggestion that our practice of prayer needed to be altered raised some eyebrows. For the past several years, we at Doylestown Mennonite have tried a few different ways to pray. I preached differently about prayer and we offered some additional training.

Recently, we invited Noel Santiago, Franconia Conference Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation, to lead us in four sessions on prayer. Though we have only had two of the four sessions thus far, there is clear evidence that we are learning to pray in new ways. Noel quickly developed a level of trust with those present and encouraged us to believe for our time together that God will speak to us if we listen.  Rather than starting with our need, Noel encouraged us to seek what God wanted and then pray for that rather than our own desire. While it would be too lengthy of an article if I went into all that Noel has shared in our two sessions, I can tell you people are being changed.

People from the age of 18 to 89 are reflecting together on what God has said to them.   Tears have been shed for prayers people have crafted for one another. A younger person declared only God could have given those specific words of encouragement. Noel then pointed out that we prophesied over one another. We are a long way from mastering this new way to pray as we raise questions and acknowledge some awkwardness. Yet there is no doubt the Spirit is moving and God is stirring deep within us.

Please pray for us as we have two sessions yet to complete, but also as we seek to continue to practice and learn what God has for us in prayer. I am grateful that Franconia Conference is willing to hire such people like Noel with different gifts to equip us as churches. I have witnessed people of all ages, learning new ways to approach God in prayer!

 

A Sacred Trust Maintained By Healthy Boundaries

By Josh Meyer, Pastor of Discipling and Preaching at Franconia Mennonite Church

 To serve in the role of spiritual leader is a sacred trust.  Sometimes, without intending to, we exploit and hurt those we want to teach and nurture by inappropriately crossing boundaries.

This was, in a nutshell, my major takeaway from the recent Healthy Boundaries 101 training provided by Franconia Mennonite Conference.  The training consisted of resourcing from trained facilitators, DVD instruction, small group discussion, large-group sharing, and personal assessments.  I’ll admit: I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a full-day of training when I had so much other work to do.  It seemed excessive and came during a particularly busy time in my schedule.  However, the experience proved not only worthwhile, but stimulating and enjoyable as well.

As spiritual leaders, we hold power – it is given to us whether we want it or not.  Therefore, it is important to understand and establish proper relational boundaries.  Such boundaries help us maintain clear professional relationships and signal to others that it is safe to trust us.  They aren’t intended to shackle us but to free us in our work as pastors and leaders.  Healthy boundaries protect both us and our congregations: us from other people’s problems becoming overwhelming, and congregants’ from our unintentional misuse of power.

While the concepts of power and boundaries may seem abstract, the training itself was quite practical.  I walked away with a number of concrete tools for guarding against violating boundaries inappropriately:

Awareness.  Be aware of my own needs and find healthy ways of having them met other than by people I am supposed to be serving.

Motivation.  Ask myself these questions when engaging in care for people: “What is my role here?”  “Who is this for – is this in the best interest of the other person or does it only satisfy my needs?” “Would I be comfortable if all my acquaintances knew I was doing this?”

Accountability.  Establish a system of accountability.  One practical way of doing this would be to arrange to meet regularly with a spiritual director or colleague with whom to share honestly.

Something from vs something for.  The teacher should never want something from the student, other than for them to be their full self.  When I start wanting something from a person I am leading, I need to reassess.

 Prevention.  It is my responsibility to ensure prevention.  The obligation is always on the pastor/leader – not the congregant – to set proper, healthy boundaries.

Intervention.  When prevention fails, intervention is necessary.  Having established policies and procedures can be very useful in these situations.

Discernment.  Boundaries are not always easy to discern and there are often no clear guidelines for the best action to take when confronted with an issue.  Therefore, we need spiritual wisdom, divine prudence, and godly insight to help us faithfully navigate such encounters.

To serve in the role of spiritual leader is a sacred trust.  As a result of this training, I have a greater appreciation for the power I hold as a leader and a greater awareness of how I can appropriately use this power to serve, bless, and protect those God has entrusted to my care.

Healthy Boundary 101 Trainings are being offered by Franconia Conference to anyone who would like to attend. All those in a leadership role within their congregations are encouraged to attend. Credentialed leaders in Franconia Conference are required to complete the training for their 2018 credential renewal cycle.  For more information and to register for a training click here.

Nathan Good, Pastor at Swamp Mennonite Church had this to say about the training held on March 15: “I was not at all excited about attending the mandatory boundary training event held two weeks before Easter in the midst of my busy schedule.  I have already been trained on boundaries multiple times and have even taught others about healthy boundaries.  But, it was the only training session that fit into my schedule and it was required for maintaining my ordination credentials, so I went.  At the end of the day, despite the sacrifices I needed to make to be there, I was glad that I had attended.  Barbie and John did an excellent job presenting the material and creating a safe space for open storytelling.  It was encouraging and helpful to hear how other leaders wrestle with boundary questions within their role and to realize that I am not alone.  Even though most of the material was not new, it was presented and facilitated in a way that was refreshing, brought healthy reminders, and served as a sounding board for real life scenarios I found myself in at that time.  Despite my reservations about attending an 8 hour training event on boundaries, it was time well spent and I am glad I attended.”