Trust while shrinking
“Change is always occurring. But when that change appears more dramatic than usual, it can feel frightening. . . . I think that the Christian church across Canada is experiencing such a time of dramatic change.”
So began a blog post by Willard Metzger, executive director of Mennonite Church Canada.
He went on to write about recent conversations with friends about the state of the church in Canada today.
“For many, it has often felt like spending energy keeping things alive, just for the sake of keeping things alive,” he wrote. “This has become a tough sell for many people.”
God is still “very active in redeeming the world,” he went on to say. “But has sharing the Good News of Jesus become a means to assure the ministry and financial sustainability of an institutional church? That would seem misguided to me.”
Intrigued by his post, I asked Metzger to share more about how he viewed the changes happening in MC Canada and the church in general in Canada today.
“In broad strokes, it’s the dynamic of post-Christendom,” he said. “In Christendom, all good people went to church regularly, supported the church and shared financial resources with it.”
But that context has changed, he said. Church attendance is falling, and many aren’t interested in supporting church structures and institutions — structures that “just don’t fit into this post-Christendom context.”
If these structures and denominations are on their way out, what’s next? For Metzger, it’s too early to tell.
“I would say that it’s a couple decades before we really see what the new sense of church life will look like,” he said.
During this time, he sees the denomination’s role as helping individual Christians and congregations “navigate a sustained period of uncertainty and confusion.”
This won’t be easy, he says. Most people are by nature uncomfortable with uncertainty. They want to know where they are going. But trying to come up with answers too quickly isn’t the solution.
Doing that “will shortchange a very important process that God wants to take the church through,” Metzger believes.
And what is that thing God wants to do? “A recovery of what it means to trust in God,” he said.
Instead of trusting in their own abilities, skills, gifts and ideas, this time of uncertainty will give Christians a chance to recover their “need to wait and rely on God,” he said.
He acknowledges that this time of uncertainty will be especially hard for those who are employed by churches and denominations or those who work for church-supported organizations and schools.
“There’s clearly a pastoral role for people losing jobs,” he said of the need to come alongside and offer support.
Despite the changes and the uncertainty facing his denomination, Metzger is excited for the future.
“I think there will be a strong ownership at a congregational level,” he says of a recommendation going to this summer’s MC Canada assembly to reconstitute and reimagine the purpose, shape and role of the national body.
“It’s not an end of the national church but a pretty significant restructuring of our national priorities,” he said. This will “require a reduction to the bare essentials before we can see the new growth that will emerge.”
He thinks this is a time for leaders to model nonanxious confidence.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
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