Understanding ‘seekers’

What do non-Mennonites look for in plain groups?

Jun 18, 2018 by

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An interesting group of people who can be found at conservative Anabaptist events are those who have no Mennonite (or Brethren or Hutterite or Amish) background but want to join a plain church group.

They’re called “seekers,” and they’ve begun to organize conventions of their own. At the first “Seekers Gathering,” April 27-29 in McVeytown, Pa., longtime seeker David Bercot expressed frustration at how difficult it had been for him to find Christians who rejected participation in war but held conservative interpretations of the Bible in other areas.

“It was always the same thing,” he said. “Either you find someone who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, who’s conservative, or you find someone who doesn’t believe in war, but is always liberal. And there didn’t seem to be someone who held to both, and it was so frustrating.”

Amid increasing polarization between theological conservatism and progressivism, more Christians are asking: If we believe in obeying the Bible, shouldn’t that include an exception-free obedience to Jesus’ teaching on loving enemies? Or, conversely: If we’re going to take Jesus’ words on loving enemies literally, shouldn’t we also take literally all other biblical instructions directed toward us?

This frustration often leaves seekers like Bercot feeling like they have nowhere to turn but to a plain Anabaptist group.

In We Sought and Found (Christian Light Publications, 2015), compilers Russ and Wendy Boyd share 10 testimonies of seekers who joined conservative Mennonite churches. Their motivations ranged from faithfulness to biblical teaching, to attraction to the Mennonites’ peaceful home lives, to protecting their children from worldly influences they experienced in their own childhoods.

Wendy Boyd’s parents began attending “a nonconservative Mennonite church” while she was a teenager. Many members there had “grown up in Mennonite churches that were outwardly conservative but inwardly dead,” she wrote. “. . . Ironically, the conservative Mennonite church Russ and I attend today has welcomed numerous ‘refugees’ from the same type of church . . .”

As more seekers look toward conservative Anabaptism, plain groups should ask new questions: Does family-centered church life have a place of equality for single people (particularly since celibacy is required for divorced people)? Will women be able to publicly discuss and change clothing rules that affect them? How can the internet be used to connect with seekers who live far from the Mennonite geographical centers?

For many seekers, joining a plain group is still a steep hill to climb.

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