A traditional church embarks on the missional journey

Oct 13, 2014 by

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The story of how I came to do what I currently do, where I do it, still fascinates me. I love it when people ask, how did you end up at Doylestown Mennonite Church (in Bucks County, Pa.) and what is your role there? What does it mean to be “pastor for the missional journey” or “missional pastor?”

I love telling the story because I have never encountered a congregation who has done what this one has, and I’m about as immersed in the Mennonite church as one can get — a Mennonite pastor’s kid who went to Mennonite schools almost her whole life and who has served in a handful of Mennonite congregations as an adult.

And it is my hope that more congregations will do what this congregation has done. But before I explain that, a little background:

Doylestown Mennonite congregation (or DMC as we lovingly refer to it in shorthand) is more than 240 years old. In the 80s, they were as large as 250 members with many programs functioning well (children, youth and young adult groups, men’s and women’s ministries, summer Bible School, etc.). In the 1990s and early 2000s they faced various conflicts and losses which brought them to a point of decision — do something or do nothing and continue to decline until the doors close.

This is the first thing that struck me as unusual about DMC: self-awareness and the courage to be honest and intentional about what they did next. That is highly unusual in an historic, traditional congregation. Extremely unusual. Many if not most congregations would simply allow the cycles of conflict to erode the Body until they were forced to close. The fact that they took the time to talk about what was happening, where they were headed, and to discern what to do next is miraculous.

And that is where I enter the story. In their discernment process they came to realize that they had become isolated from the community that surrounds them, and that the Good News should go forth. So they set aside a significant amount of funds to bring in some leaders to focus on what they called “missional experiments,” to embody the Gospel in the Doylestown area.

This meant they let go of some older programs, to free the money. They were committed to funding missional, whatever form that might take. They declared that they were going on a “missional journey,” and admitted that they didn’t know exactly what the outcome would be but they were trusting God. I was one of the leaders called to help with the missional journey.

Do you see what they did and how incredible it is that they were able to do it, by God’s grace? They set aside people and money for a single priority. One thing. And then they generously released those people and that money for something unknown and experimental. That was a big risk. Historic churches are much more comfortable with models and programs that have been proven, things they can borrow from other ministries that have been tested and tried.

I was brought on staff and given a narrow focus (local, missional) with great freedom (experiment, try things, fail, succeed, just do something). Over a year and a half, as my work became more focused on equipping the congregation to do local mission — because one person who was new to the community could not possibly have the influence that long-time residents could — the focus and the freedom remained intact.

We are trying to embody the Good News in the Doylestown area in whatever form we can — we try things, we succeed, we fail, we try more things. And if I visit congregants, we talk missional questions and joys and challenges. When I preach, I inevitably come back to a God who is on mission and makes us missional people. When I lead worship, I focus on the missionary heart of God and our devotion to the sent and sending Son, Jesus Christ.

The fruit of the missional journey has been tangible. There is new energy and vibrancy in this congregation, new-found faith. People acquainted with DMC from the past can’t believe the stories they are hearing, coming out of this journey. So I will keep telling our story, because it is captivating and it testifies to God’s transforming power and grace. May more congregations become self-aware and have the courage to take big risks. May more congregations embrace a narrow focus and a wide freedom. May more congregations devote resources and people to the Good News.

And may it bring God’s Kingdom to earth in fresh ways! Amen!

KrisAnne is pastor for the missional journey at Doylestown Mennonite Church in Bucks County, Pa. She and her husband have two children and a rescue mutt named Reesie, who keep them active and laughing. This article is reposted from the #AntiochSession conversation on The Nuance at Patheos


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