Tag Archives: Gay Brunt Miller

“Feed Me!”

Gay Brunt Miller
gbmiller@franconiaconference.org

I love watching birds, especially in the spring when they build nests, lay eggs, hatch, and then care for their young. I am particularly fascinated by watching babies who have fledged but continue to follow their parents around, mouths wide open, waiting to be fed.

bird.jpgAt some point, however, I begin to wonder when they will be mature enough to feed themselves. Even when they appear the same size as their parents, they hop behind their parents, loudly chirping, “Feed me! Feed me!” They appear big enough to get their own food, which is right at their feet, yet they expect their parents to drop the food into their gaping mouths.

I often hear people in the church talking about “being fed.” It’s the reason people frequently give for leaving a congregation or not liking a pastor. “I’m just not being fed.” This brings to mind the image of those full-sized babies crying “Feed me!”

Are we like those baby birds? Do we expect to be fed for the rest of our lives? Or do we, at some point, become the feeders?

As we and our congregations move from passively accepting our status as “the quiet in the land” to opening our hearts and our congregations to engage the world around us with God’s mission, I contend that more of us will need to become “feeders” rather than crying to “be fed.”

Many people around us need and are looking for the Good News that God is inviting us to share. Church is not just about us, and the Good News is not just for us. It is intended to be Good News for a world that is desperately looking for Good News. And many of those searching do not have a foundation on which to build. They need milk and are not ready for the meaty teaching for which those who are more mature in Christ may long (1 Corinthians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 9:7, Hebrews 5:13).

So how do we nurture those who are new to the journey without losing our own souls? Where do we get our solid food? I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that part of the answer is that more of us who have been on the journey for a while will need to step up and become the feeders. We can’t expect to continue to be fed. In assuming the responsibility to feed others, I believe we will also learn to feed ourselves (Hebrews 5:12 …though by this time you ought to be teachers…).

Are we ready for solid food? Are we ready to become part of the solution? Or will we continue to say, “Feed me!”?

Can we Embrace Both Peace and Evangelism?

dscn1868.jpgFor some months now I have been thinking about this question—with a growing sense of urgency for what it means for our future as congregations, as a conference, and as a denomination.

For the last decade or so, Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) and the broader Mennonite Church have been on a journey to recapture our voice. It has been a shift from decades and even centuries of being more inwardly focused and “the quiet in the land” to finding our voice as people that Jesus has called to live the Great Commission by sharing the Good News and making disciples.

One of the biggest struggles I see on this journey is our “peace position.” No, I’m not trying to walk away from it. In fact, that’s far from the truth. But in our society and even in our congregations today this is a loaded conversation. We have dichotomized Jesus’ call to be people of peace and to share the Good News as though either or both of them are optional.

And so we often find our FMC congregations in one of two camps—either we are trying to live out our call to be peace churches OR we are trying to win souls into the Kingdom. And it’s hard to have a civilized conversation about peace and evangelism at the same time. The tension is often palpable when these two values confront one another. Why?

I certainly don’t have the answers (in fact I don’t even have many of the answers!), but let me share a few of my observations:

  1. “The Mennonite Peace Position”: I don’t find it helpful to talk about “the Mennonite Peace Position.” I believe it’s much more than that. Jesus has called us to follow him and to live into the Kingdom of God here on earth … as much as that is possible. When we relegate Jesus’ call to follow him in a way of peace and as people of peace to “the Mennonite peace position,” we pose our world view as though it is an optional add on to following Christ. Jesus, the very Prince of Peace, has called us to follow his example. Truly we are called to live Christ’s Gospel of Peace, it’s not a “take or leave it” option.
  2. Peace is broader than war: Being people of peace is more than the issue of whether we go to war or not. How is it that our conversation about being peacemakers so often goes right to that end of the spectrum? During my recent trip to the United Kingdom, I was struck by the way our Anabaptist brothers and sisters in the U.K. have a lot to say about being peacemakers and people of peace … and war is not the center of every conversation! More often I heard this translated into people taking seriously Christ’s call to care for the poor and those on the margins of society. Working for social justice is an important part of living out Christ’s way of peace.
  3. Because of or in spite of? As we are beginning to understand what it means to be missional, new people are joining us. In some cases they are people who join us because of our core values. In the U.K. people from many walks of life consider themselves to be Anabaptists … even though there is only one Mennonite Church and two Hutterite communities. They embrace Anabaptist theology as something that completes their biblical understanding, something that they have been missing—they describe it as feeling like they have “come home.” We have those stories in our FMC congregations too.We also have those who feel at home among us “in spite” of our core value of Christ’s call to be people of peace. I embrace the shifted paradigm of people first belonging, then believing, and then having their behavior change. Too often in the past we have slammed the door on people’s fragile journey toward faith, driving them from us. But how can we be transparent and true to our core values at the same time that we invite people from very different places to follow Jesus’ example?
  4. Lost language: Have we been “the quiet in the land” for so long that we have lost a healthy way of being able to talk about being people of peace? Have we learned this from our parents and grandparents, as they hunkered down under the persecution they faced as conscientious objectors? Can we find a new language for our continent, a language that is relevant to our culture (and cultural diversity) in the U.S. today? Can we find language that transcends old paradigm bounds of being persecuted/ethnic/cultural Mennonites of Swiss-German descent? Can we learn that language from our Anabaptist brothers and sisters from Asia and Africa and South America who today are living out what it means to embody Christ’s Gospel of Peace in churches, many of which face persecution, yet which are growing by leaps and bounds?
  5. Our voice is desired: Among others, the Emergent church movement is inviting us to come to the table. They believe that Anabaptists have an important voice to add to the conversation of who the followers of Jesus are called to be. They are asking us to bring the light that Jesus has shown to us. None of us has the whole truth, but they want us to bring our best understanding of who Jesus has called us to be to a conversation of what God is calling the church to be in this rapidly changing world. (Emergent Village describes themselves as “a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Brian McLaren is a key leader in this group. For more information, check out their website: http://www.emergentvillage.com)
  6. dscn2890.jpgEvangelists: In Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned his disciples to share the Good News! Who of us can deny that as a commission that transcends the ages? For too long we have muzzled the Good News. Being commissioned is more than, “do it if it’s convenient or if you feel like it.” A commission is to be taken seriously. Our FMC history is littered with evangelists who could not find a place among us. They have gone out from us to found churches like Calvary Church of Souderton, BranchCreek Community Church, Living Faith, and more. The Kingdom is still blessed by their gifts, but how can we make space—and even embrace—evangelists to use their God-given gifts among us? What drives them out from us?

In this season, when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, can we find ways to share the Good News that Christ has called us to … in all its fullness? Can we be evangelists that work for peace?

Note: In 2002 the Faith & Life Advisory Council wrote a document entitled, Franconia Congregations and Christ’s Gospel of Peace.

Click here to view a PDF of this document available on FMC’s web site.

Being Anabaptist Leaven in a Post-Christendom Society

dscn3851.jpgI feel profoundly blessed. God is stirring the waters around the world, and I have had the privilege to witness some of this stirring. Here I share a brief glimpse of my recent God-sighting in the U.K.

As many of you were celebrating Halloween, Blaine Detwiler (FMC Assistant Moderator and pastor of Lakeview Mennonite Church) and I boarded a British Airways jet to across the pond.

Our purpose? To experience ministry in a *Post-Christendom society. Some believe that the U.K. and other places in Europe are pretty far along the path of becoming Post-Christendom societies. Some of us believe that the U.S. appears to be on a similar trajectory, perhaps a decade or two behind. What can we learn from those who are ahead of us on the curve? (Disclaimer: A seminary course and one week in the U.K. does not make me an expert!)

What I saw: I looked and behold, I saw a country with only one Mennonite church that did not worry about how many Mennonite Churches or Mennonite members there were. But I saw Christians who cared deeply that people experience the Good News that Jesus came to bring and were trying creative forms of church and finding ways to share that Good News with their neighbors and people on the margins of society. They were developing ways to equip leaders for ministry. And I saw people from many backgrounds who were genuinely trying to follow Jesus and who said things like, I am an Anabaptist Methodist or I am an Anabaptist Pentecostal. I heard people from many walks say things like, “When I learned about the Anabaptists, I realized that that’s what I am!” Their goal is for Anabaptism to be a leaven within society rather than an end in itself.

dscn3880.jpgWhat I heard: In brief, I heard people embracing Anabaptism because they understand that to be an Anabaptist means that you are someone who sees Jesus as your example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord; that Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation; that western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era; that the frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate; that churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission; that spirituality and economics are inter-connected; and that peace is at the very heart of the gospel (www.anabaptistnetwork.com/coreconvictions). I saw them building networks of like-minded people with the goal of complementing rather than competing with one another’s ministries.

In 1999, Jim Lapp (then FMC Conference Pastor) suggested that “making the Great Commission central to our life as a conference will cost us the following: our sense of family; our polity of control over congregations; our Mennonite heritage that has been precious to our forebears; our image as a conference which symbolizes roots and identity for North American Mennonites. Anabaptists in the U.K. don’t have to give these things up– they have never been central to their identity; and because of that, I have a hunch that they may be able to help us find the more pure core of our own faith.

dscn3780.jpgI think there’s much we can learn from our sisters and brothers in the U.K. as we enter a new era in the U.S., and I’m delighted to learn that they would like to keep the conversation going too.
*For further context on Post Christendom, see my attached sermon text. For more information about Mennonites and Anabaptists in the U.K. go to: http://www.menno.org.uk, http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com, and http://www.rootandbranch.org.uk.

Click more to read Gay’s Sermon on Post-Christendom: Continue reading