Tag Archives: Josh Meyer

Conference Begins Building Youth Formation Team

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication

Franconia Conference has begun building an intercultural youth formation team to resource youth leaders and to connect youth across congregations, geographies, and cultures.

In February, the conference called Danilo Sanchez and Brooke Martin as the initial members of this team, implementing the recommendations of a two-year youth ministry study.  This study emphasized the need for providing more depth of resources to urban congregations (which make up a third of the conference) as well as to continue the good work of resourcing suburban and rural congregations, expanding these possibilities through the creation of a diverse team.

Danilo Sanchez, of Allentown, PA, will serve as a youth formation pastor for both congregations in the greater Lehigh Valley (PA) region (including New Jersey and New York) and congregations that have significant youth from Spanish-speaking households.

“Danilo is uniquely positioned in his experiences, gifts, and language abilities to serve our conference at this time,” reflects Steve Kriss, Franconia’s executive minister.  “Danilo has ministered in urban settings but also grew up in more suburban, rural parts of the conference, and his experience working with young adults as the director of Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Program helped him to build connections with the Anabaptist community across the country.”

Sanchez also serves on the pastoral teams of Ripple and Whitehall congregations and as the Community Life Director for RCI Village.  He has a degree in youth ministry from Eastern University and a Master of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite Seminary.  In addition to resourcing youth pastors, Sanchez will serve as a liaison for youth ministry within Mennonite Church USA.

 “Danilo cares deeply for the church, young leaders, and youth, which is a perfect fit for this new Conference role,” says Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple congregation, assistant moderator of the conference board.  “On our Ripple pastoral team, he is a thoughtful, passionate, and dedicated presence, which I have appreciated.”

Brooke Martin, of Telford, PA, will serve as Community Formation Coordinator, which includes providing administrative support for youth activities like the Jr High Blast, Mission Impossible, and other upcoming initiatives.  In addition to her work with the youth formation team, Martin will assist with planning and implementing conference events like equipping seminars, delegate trainings, and networking gatherings, with special attention given to Franconia’s annual Conference Assembly.

Martin is a member of Salford congregation and has extensive experience in administration and event planning as well as a degree in youth ministry from Hesston College.  Mary Nitzsche, Franconia’s associate executive minister, anticipates that Martin’s experience and love for planning, organizing, and coordinating events will be a good match for the conference during this time of expansion and community-building.  “Brooke is a person with contagious energy, confidence, and motivation to begin her new role as Community Formation Coordinator,” Nitzsche observes.

Before joining the conference staff, Martin served as the interim youth ministry leader at Franconia congregation, where Pastor Josh Meyer benefited greatly from her servant heart.  “Her commitment to the Church, her passion for Jesus, her effectiveness in ministry, her graciousness in difficult situations, her ability to meaningfully connect with both students and adults, and her humility of spirit coupled with quiet confidence were all incredible blessings to us,” Meyer reflects.  “I’m confident that our conference will benefit from the gifts Brooke brings and look forward to seeing how God continues using her calling for Kingdom good.”

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.”

Next Generation Ministry

On July 20th, over forty credentialed leaders from Franconia Conference and a few from the broader community including all the way from Lancaster, PA, gathered to hear about “Next Generation Ministry” from Josh Meyer, Pastor of Discipling and Preaching at Franconia Mennonite Church.  This credentialed leader’s breakfast was hosted by Perkiomenville Mennonite Church.

Credentialed leaders gathered around a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs courtesy of chickens raised by some of the Perkiomenville youth, and began the morning by engaging in table discussion about where they serve, how they came to be in ministry, and what they have found most fulfilling and most challenging.

Josh MeyerJosh Meyer took on researching millennials in ministry as his dissertation project for his Doctor of Ministry program at Biblical Seminary. With Franconia Conference having one of the highest percentages of millennial credentialed leaders (those born after 1980 and before the mid-1990s) at 11% of all active credentialed leaders, Josh utilized Franconia Conference as his case study. His goal was to identify factors that cultivate and confirm calling among millennial leaders. The project focused on the intersection of three distinct areas: 1) millennial generation dynamics, 2) the biblical concept of calling, and 3) experience within in pastoral ministry. Overall, what leads young people in to ministry and what keeps young people in ministry.

Following the table discussion time, Josh shared a video that went viral at the end of 2016 where Simon Sienk, an author and marketing consultant, speaks about millennials in the workplace. Josh asked those present, “as you watch, keep in mind: if what he is saying is true, what impact might that have on how young people are called to an experienced ministry?”

In the video, Sienk mentions that millennials have grown up in an environment of addictive social media, instant gratification and participation medals that has led to a lack of coping mechanisms to deal with stress and a lack of knowledge on how to form deep meaningful relationships. He is quick to point out these shortcomings are no fault of the millennials themselves as it is a result of the environment. Upon graduation and being thrust into the workforce, corporate environments continue to hinder this generation from learning the skills of cooperation, and that trust forms over time in slow, steady, consistent interactions.

Josh quoted Tim Elmore (2010) as saying, “The rapid changes in American society over the past century have contributed to the diverse perspectives of the four generational cohorts represented in the workplace today.”

Therefore, if millennials are having a different experience, how does that impact young pastors?

Noted in the presentation is the fact that MCUSA as a denomination has a shortage of young leaders, with a large number of leaders at or reaching retirement age. Many young leaders seem to only last seven years. Through focus groups and interviews with an equal number of millennials and older experienced pastors within Franconia Conference, Josh compiled a chart of similarities and differences between these two groups that included looking at: what leads persons into pastoral ministry and what keeps persons engaged in pastoral ministry.

Going through the chart provided in a handout, it was noted that for both generations ministry is broadly defined and Conference Leaders played a large role in their path to ministry. A distinct difference between the generations was their view of seminary. The millennials viewing it as a place of ongoing discernment and the preceding generations attending seminary as a result of discernment. As for discerning the call, the millennials seems to have a stronger outward call (others noticing and affirming it in them) than the preceding generations who are noted as having a stronger inward call. Both generations noted that being invited to lead in their home congregations as they were growing up played a role in their discernment.

Items noted in aspects of pastoral ministry included that no matter the generation, all were surprised by the amount of administration work; not that they couldn’t or didn’t have the skills to complete it, just that the quantity was unforeseen. Millennials noted the pressure and expectations along with the “lack of freedom to lead” as unexpected aspects of their pastoral ministry. Josh explained that this “lack of freedom to lead,” was felt as millennials are often being brought in to help congregations grow and change, yet the congregation is resistant to change. Also of note, as a result of being in ministry, millennials feel less tied to denomination affiliations where preceding generations feel less tied to local church structure.

As for what keeps these generations engaged in pastoral ministry, Josh’s research notes that it is stories of transformation, the continued sense of the Holy Spirit calling, and seeing the impact of their ministry. Noted differences are that millennials report seeing a counselor/spiritual director and having a persistent commitment to Christ and the church as helping them continue to say yes to ministry. Preceding generations noted healthy church structures, being sustained by relationships, and a lack of other employment options/ need for income, among other things.

Check out the handout for more on these generations’ perspectives on things that play into contemplating leaving ministry, challenges and opportunities for the church.

The event ended with those from the preceding generations praying over the millennial leaders in their midst.

Franconia Conference is grateful to Josh for taking on this project. The Conference board and staff continue to analyze and contemplate how this information can inform calling and sustaining younger and up-and-coming leaders.

To view the slide presentation including recommendations as a result of Josh’s research click here.

Five Signs of Hope in a 300 Year Old Community

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

At our board retreat last week, our California-based consultant, Jeff Wright, suggested that we are living in a time when we often say, “that hasn’t happened before.”  For a 300 year old Conference community to contend with rapid changes requires flexibility and nimbleness that isn’t always characteristic of mature organizational systems.  However, we are more than an organization; we are the people of God.  This is both a challenge and a hope in times where change is rapid, confusing and often disorienting.  Here are five signs of change we haven’t seen before that give me hope and assure me that even though we don’t know a way, there is a way that the Spirit is working out for our ancient faith to thrive into the future.

  1. The summer ministry internship program that was envisioned by Souderton Mennonite Church pastor Tim Bentch and is staffed by Sarah Freeman from the Souderton congregation is giving opportunities for young adults from our Conference and Eastern District Conference to serve alongside their congregations and in nearby communities to extend the peace of Christ. This year’s group of women and one young man remind me that God is still calling and that opportunities to connect to each other are always around us no matter our neighborhood.
  2. In the last weeks, Bethany Church in Queens, New York officially requested membership with our Conference. We are in the midst of a teaching series on Global Anabaptism with the congregation and I had the privilege of preaching there last month on the centrality of Jesus.   The congregation’s pastor is a full-time Eastern Mennonite Seminary student, Hendy Matahelemual, who brings energy, passion and deep care.  If affirmed as a new member this fall, it will be our Conference’s first worshipping community in New York City.
  3. At our Conference Board Retreat, this past weekend, we spent time praying through the lists of our member churches, our Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) and our nearly 100 active credentialed leaders. Reading these lists reminds me of the gifted leaders, our diverse congregations, and the vibrant ministries that receive support and encouragement mutually through our life together.  It was a bit of an old school practice brought to new life with the diversity of who we are becoming, visible on paper.
  4. Franconia congregation pastor Josh Meyer’s recent doctoral research took a glimpse at the callings of millennial pastors in our Conference community. At this time across Mennonite Church USA, we have one of the highest percentages of younger pastors.  At the end of our morning time together, Josh invited us to pray with the millennial pastors who had gathered that morning at Perkiomenville Mennonite’s Christian Life Center.  The tenderness and care of our experienced pastors as they gathered around the five young pastors who were there was moving and beautiful.
  5. Next week a delegation from our Conference is spending time listening to the congregations in California who have sought to become new members of our Conference. We are seeking to spend some time together, to understand past wounds and to imagine new possibilities.  As we go, we will eat, listen, preach and continue to build on the relationships already established.  What might the Spirit be calling us toward as we consider these bi-coastal relationships?

There is growth and challenge across our Conference community these days.   A new thing is becoming; on a daily basis, I am increasingly aware of it.  At the same time, God’s intention is to continue the transformative work that Christ has done in each of us through these things that haven’t happened before.  There is new possibility, each day, for us to encounter the Risen Christ through the things that haven’t happened before in our world.  And there is assurance that there are things that will remain; faith, hope, love.

Sharing Breakfast and Life

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing

“I was not really looking forward to the morning event.  I wasn’t even sure it had much to do with my call and work,” confessed Joy Sawatzky, a chaplain at Living Branches.  “What happened was a nice surprise.  I like surprises.”

The “morning event” was a breakfast sponsored by Living Branches and Franconia Conference exploring questions of spirituality across generations.  On February 14, a panel of leaders answered questions about calling, spiritual practices, and hope.

“What happened was heart-felt sharing from three different generations around call and how that was and is lived out, not just in the lives of those on the panel, but in the table conversations afterwards as well,” reflected Sawatzky.

Panelists Krista Showalter Ehst, John Ruth, Paula Stoltzfus, James Krabill, Josh Meyer, and Ray Hurst expressed curiosity about other generations, pondered over advice they would give to their younger selves, suggested practices that are important in the life of the Church, and confessed how their priorities in ministry have been shaped by their life experiences (listen to the podcast).

After the panelists shared, pastors gathered around tables to share their own stories, challenges, and questions.  The take away—a hope for the future of the church and a hope for more of these conversations.

Living Branches began to explore sponsoring conversations on aging after a pastor told them, “Our church is aging, however our energy is focused on family and youth; we would appreciate thinking and talking together about issues of aging. Help us.”   Living Branches believes that as a member of the community and a participating ministry of the Franconia Conference, they have a calling to connect with and resource their community and churches around the issues of aging, says Margaret Zook, Director of Church & Community Relations at Living Branches.  “We believe that joy and purpose in life is enriched through conversations at all stages of our life.”

Credentialed leaders are invited to two breakfasts this April:

  • April 19, 8-10am, at Souderton Mennonite Homes. Chaplains from Living Branches will present the documentary “Being Mortal” and facilitate a conversation around faith and end of life issues.  (RSVP to Margaret_Zook@LivingBranches.org).
  • April 25, 9-11am, at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. Anne Kaufman Weaver will lead a conversation around her research in resiliency for women in pastoral leadership (RSVP at franconiaconference.org/events).

“Taking time to be together to learn, to network, to eat together, to drink coffee and tea together helps keep our leadership and relationships vibrant and lively,” says Franconia Conference executive minister Steve Kriss.  “While our schedules are busy, this time apart, even for a few hours, is an important respite and a significant time to strengthen both skills and relationships among us as credentialed leaders in our conference community.”

For questions related to upcoming events or to request resourcing for your congregation, contact Emily (email or 267-932-6050, ext. 117).

The Space in Between: More Than We Can Dream or Imagine

by Stephen Kriss

MiaThis past Sunday, Mia, an elementary-school-aged girl from Indonesian Light Church, told me that she thinks she might want to be a pastor.  Her mom remarked that this is a relatively new development within the last few months.   Though she tagged on that sometimes she wants to be a doctor too.  Both tough jobs, I responded.  And both things that help people, her mom said.  Her mom wondered where the pastoral desire might have originated.  There is no doubt in my mind that having Emily Ralph Servant as the congregation’s interim pastor for the past six months has something to do with it.   This young girl has experienced that women, too, might be pastors and her life is forever changed.  I look forward to the day 30 years or so from now when this young woman might be my pastor, shaped by the city, loved by a congregation, and formed as one who is loved by God.

As Franconia Conference, our focus of energy is around cultivating healthy leaders of all ages, communities and connections.   As staff, board and committees, we regularly work at this in a variety of ways.  We do this in day-to-day correspondence, strategic planning and holy conversations.   Sometimes it’s seemingly well-planned, other times it’s the Spirit’s serendipity.  I’m learning to trust that the Spirit is working out something usually beyond what we can see and often more than we can imagine, as Paul tells the early church (Ephesians 3.10).

Two research initiatives have also begun this summer that involve our Conference pastors.  As part of a project that examines the resiliency of women pastors in several Mennonite Conferences, Anne Kaufman Weaver from Lancaster County is interviewing 11 credentialed women currently serving within congregations. Currently 30% of our active credentialed pastors are women. Josh Meyer, one of the pastors at Franconia congregation, is beginning a longer examination on what sustains millennial Mennonite pastors (those born after 1980’ish).  In his initial round of research, we’ve discovered that Franconia Conference has among the highest percentages of credentialed millennial pastors in Mennonite Church USA.

Steve KrissThe Spirit is truly upon us, calling men and women, stirring the young, and giving dreams to those of us who have been on the journey longer.  May we be able to live into these possibilities that are for sure beyond even our greatest hopes and imagination.   Thanks be to God that the Spirit is undoubtedly still with us and calling among us in the space in between.

Every Ordination is Miraculous

By Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing

oil lamp 9-24-15
To order a Dancing Flame Oil Lamp handcrafted by June Keener Wink please call 413-258-4243 or e-mail junewink@gmail.com.

The year 2015 has been a year of ordinations in Franconia Conference.   We’ve been celebrating and marking commitments and calling nearly every six weeks . . . Mike Ford at Blooming Glen, Joe Hackman at Salford, Donna Merow at Ambler, Angela Moyer at Ripple, Kris Wint at Finland, Josh Meyer at Franconia, Samantha Lioi at Whitehall and Ubaldo Rodriguez at New Hope Fellowship in Baltimore for mission work in the Philippines.

Ordination is an ancient process of setting apart leaders for public ministry in the way of Jesus.  Within Franconia Conference, we follow a set of procedures that seek to honor both the individual and the community while respecting the work of the Spirit within both settings.  There is coursework for completion, interviews, paperwork that intends to keep our communities both safe and accountable, mental wellness assessments, varieties of continuing education and varying levels of mentoring.   Some of our pastors breeze through the process at a steady and assured pace in the two year minimum waiting and working period of licensing.   Others take much longer to plumb the depths of call both personally and communally and to wrestle it out.   Personal disclosure, it took me six years of working, waiting and wondering in Allegheny Conference before I could wrap my head around the commitments and calling that ordination entails.

We take this process seriously yet the days of ordination have a more celebratory tone. There are few times in our lives when we make commitments that will shape our life like ordination.  In front of a gathered congregation at the request and affirmation of a particular Christian community, we make commitments to serve, lead, pray, study, turn from evil and live into the role of Christian leadership as long as God sustains.

Many of us wrestle with the meaning of ordination.   I’ve found this human and historic process of calling, recognizing, working and wrestling and receiving becomes quite holy.   Somewhere in the wrestling and symbols, the questions and the mundane of the paperwork, the Spirit unfailingly shows up.

In this flurry of ordinations in the midst of a turbulent time, I am confident that the Spirit is still at work with us, trying to bring life.   Each person who says yes to the invitation of God and the community strengthens the possibilities of future “yes” responses into the next generation.   This round of ordinations represents our first millennial generation ordained ministers, our first Italian American woman, our first ordination for mission work in the Philippines.  We’ve called at some of our most historic congregations and our newest.  The churches are rural, suburban and urban.  We’re recognizing the sons and daughters of historic Franconia Conference families, as well as persons who were drawn to Mennonite congregations by conviction, relationships and call.  We’ve held events in Episcopal and Lutheran facilities and even at a Lancaster Conference church in Baltimore.  (Interesting side note, a Lancaster Conference African congregation recently used the Towamencin meetinghouse for an ordination worship).

It’s definitely a different time.   The ordination process isn’t what it used to be.  There’s no somber ceremony with Bibles or hymnals and a slip of paper as in Mennonite history.   But the holy moments remain, those wonderful spaces where community and Spirit commingle to cultivate surprising invitations toward ordination and wonderfully amazing continued responses of “yes I am willing.”   Every time we ordain, it’s a sign that the church will go on.   And in these days of turbulence and questions both in the church and in the culture around us, every yes somehow feels miraculous.   And I’m grateful to get to witness it as the Good News still breaks upon us. . . this year about every six weeks.

Ministerial Committee Update

by Stephen Kriss

The Ministerial committee of Franconia Mennonite Conference board met on May 6th at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.   The committee approved and recognized the following changes in credentialed minister status.

Penny Naugle from Plains Mennonite Church was licensed toward ordination for her work as a chaplain at Rockhill Mennonite CommunityNathan Good, associate pastor at Swamp Mennonite Church, was licensed toward ordination.

Ministerial Committee Update 5-21-15 web
Angela Moyer was ordained on May 17, 2015.

In addition, the Ministerial committee approved Kris Wint, pastor at Finland congregation, for ordination which will take place at Finland Mennonite Church on June 28th.  Josh Meyer, teaching/preaching pastor at Franconia congregation was also approved for ordination and his ordination ceremony will be on June 28th as well.  The Committee is pleased to announce that the ordination of Angela Moyer took place this past Sunday, May 17th at Ripple in Allentown.

Other changes to credentialed minister status include, Doris Diener, Franconia congregation, who was received by transfer from Southeast Mennonite Conference has been moved to retired.  James Longacre, Bally congregation, was shifted to a retired credential as well.

Gerry Clemmer, former lead pastor at Souderton congregation, John Bender, former interim associate pastor at Franconia congregation, and Mark Derstine, who completed his work as Chaplain at Living Branches, were moved to active without charge.

Steve Kriss is Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing , as well as a LEADership Minister, in Franconia Mennonite Conference. 

 

Focusing on the well and not the wall

by Josh Meyer, Franconia Mennonite Church

Josh MeyerI vividly remember sitting in one of my seminary classes when a classmate asked our professor, “What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d give us as we prepare for ministry in the church?” The professor responded by saying, “Keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t ever allow Christ to become secondary because you’re distracted by other issues, pursuits, or debates. Those other things may have value, but they’re not the center. Jesus is the center. Above all else, keep the main thing the main thing.”

After nearly a decade in ministry, I’ve seen how easy it is to get preoccupied trying to define the parameters and defend the borders of our faith, rather than focusing on Christ. Debates about who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s one of “us” and who’s one of “them” have a way of distracting us from the main thing.

It’s kind of like a farmer caring for sheep. One way to prevent the sheep from running away is to build a fence. The downside to fences, though, is they require a lot of maintenance. You need to continually make sure that every part of the perimeter is secure, because just a small gap in the fence will allow all the animals to roam free.

Fences require a lot of resources, though. If you’ve got a three-acre property, you can probably afford to build a fence around it. If you’re a rancher with a huge amount of land, it’s not possible fence the whole thing.

The other option is digging wells. Since a well is a source of water, animals will stay relatively close to it. They are free to roam, but won’t wander too far from the well because it is their source of life. In this scenario, you care for the sheep through what you’re drawing them toward, not what you’re restricting them from. The goal of both approaches is the same, but it’s a whole lot easier and more efficient to dig a life-giving well at the center than it is to maintain a bunch of fences along the border.

I believe the same thing is true when it comes to our faith. Some people spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to define and defend the boundaries. Here are the lines we can’t cross, the issues we can’t discuss, the things we can’t do, the words we can’t say, the ways we can’t vote, the people we can’t let in because they believe differently than we do. It’s all about building fences that separate us and erecting walls that distinguish us from everyone else.

The danger of this kind of “bounded set mentality” is it elevates and accentuates peripheral issues while minimizing and diminishing the center. This approach to faith breeds a mentality where we’re extremely clear what we’re against–we draw really thick lines around the edges–but the center tends to get neglected.

I believe a far healthier model is to spend less time defending the borders and more time focused on the center. This “centered set mentality” acknowledges there are some lines we shouldn’t cross, but makes our primary objective the well, not the wall. The bulk of our time and energy is spent inviting people to the source of Living Water.

If we’re really clear about that–if we’re passionate and unwavering in introducing people to Jesus–we won’t need to spend as much time arguing about the border because people won’t want to leave the center. Frankly, I think the problem for many Christians and many churches isn’t that the boundaries of our faith is weak, but that the center of our faith is weak. We’ve spent far too much time on secondary issues and not enough time being formed into the likeness of Christ.

Therefore, we’ve tried to be very clear about what we’re committed to as a faith community: we’re committed to Jesus being the Christ, and we’re committed to Jesus being the center. For that reason, we will unapologetically focus more on the well than on the wall.

As a church, we’re far more interested in proclaiming Christ than we are getting into arguments about who’s in and who’s out. More interested in lifting up the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus than we are debating secondary issues that distract us from the main thing. More interested in introducing people to Jesus than we are engaging in culture wars. More interested in seeing people have their lives changed by Christ than we are convincing them of a particular theological position. More interested in opening the doors of faith to anyone who’s interested in Jesus than we are turning people away because they don’t agree with us on every single issue.

In other words, we are far more interested in the center than we are in the boundary. And Jesus is the center, so that’s what we’re going to preach, that’s what we’re going to teach, that’s what we’re going to study, that’s what we’re going to rally around, that’s what we’re going to get passionate about, that’s what we’re going to give our lives to– because Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus is the center. We want to be really, really clear about that.

May we remember and reaffirm the profound truth that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. May we be a church that is deeply committed to the well rather than to frenetically building fences. And may we always, always, always keep the main thing the main thing.

This is an excerpt from Josh’s sermon last Sunday at Franconia Mennonite Church in Telford, Pennsylvania. 

Pastors, leaders travel to Israel and Palestine

by Brook Musselman, for the Come and See tour

This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there. 

Our group of 12 pastors and leaders–from Atlantic Coast, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences–traveled to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, having intellectually prepared ourselves by reading the history of and various perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict. We weren’t prepared for our encounter with the hard realities of life in this country that would shake our hope in humanity and reshape our worldview.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group sits on steps outside of the Damascas gate, Jerusalem. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

One day, we were taken to a shrinking, dusty Palestinian village that sat in the shadow of a recently-built Israeli settlement. Our guide showed us the farm land that had been confiscated from the villagers for the use or disuse of the settlers. We saw the pond where the village children used to swim in the summer heat before they were chased away by armed settlers who came to the pond for their own recreation. We passed the entrance to the village where a checkpoint was often set up that made access to the outside world incredibly difficult.

We heard the perspectives of Jews who are hardened to the suffering they cause by decades and centuries of fear, persecution, and constant threat. They told us of the hope they have because of Zionism and the establishment of their homeland, but we were deeply frustrated to see the harm that this continues to cause nearly 70 years after independence.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group on a tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is said to be built over the place where Jesus was born. It was site of refuge for Palestinians during recent violence. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

We also met Jews who love their country but cannot support the oppressive actions of their government, so they endure teargas, rubber bullets, beatings, and arrests by the Israeli Army to stand alongside those without power.

In our brief time touring both sides of the dividing wall, we heard stories from the people that were both encouraging and discouraging. At times, we felt like throwing up our hands and admitting that there is no hope for justice or peace in this place. Each of us felt frustrated by the discrimination, inhumanity, and senseless violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people. We also felt anger toward the international community and especially our own government that acknowledges these atrocities but doesn’t take action.

But in spite of the discouragement we so often felt, we heard story after story showing the tenacity of the Palestinian people and their hope for a future. One of our guides was a Palestinian Christian with ancestry tracing back to the earliest disciples, who works tirelessly and daily risks imprisonment to raise awareness and promote peace in the area. Stories like this inspired us to come home and tell the stories of those in need of a voice and to promote shalom at home and abroad by encouraging all to be peacemakers in our broken world.