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Fall 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 2 · pp. 19–20 

Response to Paul G. Hiebert

Response to “Planting Churches in North America Today” by Paul G. Hiebert 20/2 (1991): 6–14.

Jim Holm

Paul Hiebert has identified eight key issues that are part of the cultural milieu of the late twentieth century in the United States. The Mennonite Brethren are now or will be impacted by all of them. These issues are part of the larger modernity/post-modernity debate. If this is a time of parentheses between two worldviews, then this is a perfect place for the church to be. The church’s task is to function biblically and spiritually in the midst of cultural debate and changing world systems. As in all times of change, social transformation will depend on spiritual renewal. The opportunity for the church today is a golden one. The Mennonite Brethren need to be primed to take advantage of it.

Consider the issues which Hiebert raises, as they relate to the United States Mennonite Brethren Church. For example, like our contemporaries, we have learned to think more in terms of this present world than of the past or the future. The past is not generally considered important; there is very little emphasis on planning and vision-building for the future. While we set goals for church growth and ministry, few concrete steps are taken toward achieving those goals.

It is possible to take each of the remaining issues in turn, and one by one demonstrate how they exist in and impact the Mennonite Brethren Church. I will instead suggest several foundational principles that must guide us as we prepare for the decade ahead. They are summarized as follows:

  1. The principle of optimism (faith). This is a day to be optimistic. While we are realistic in assessing both our present position and our potential ministry, we need to affirm again that God’s Spirit is still able to do far beyond all that we can ask or think. The Mennonite Brethren church must never give up developing a vision as big and as comprehensive as the world in which it lives.
  2. The principle of preparation. The most important task facing us is spiritual preparation. Now is the time for concentrated sessions of prayer, for agreeing to be accountable to each other, and for seeking the face of God systematically and persistently. This means that our conventions need to be focused on prayer. Our leaders need to come together to pray. Our periodicals must facilitate vigils of prayer.

    Along with this prayer will go accountability. As leaders, we will have to covenant to own the denominational vision. We will have to call our people to account in the light of Scriptures {20} and in light of what we as Mennonite Brethren have agreed we want to do in building outposts of the kingdom.

  3. The principle of planning (accommodation). We must be willing to change the ways we have traditionally practiced being the church. Some examples:
    1. Sunday school needs to change from age-graded groupings to meeting the needs of target groups and providing support groups for various kinds of hurts.
    2. We must emphasize the priesthood of all believers; every person has a ministry.
    3. Our pastors and church leaders must think in terms of touching the community with the gospel. Evangelism must become a greater priority, not only in our words but in our lives.
    4. We must send our best pastors and leaders out of the safety of established institutions to the frontiers of church planting/evangelism.
    5. We must combine the concept and the boards of home and foreign missions.
    6. We must prioritize the funding of our conference ministries in order to live within our income.
    7. We must allow people of all ethnic groups to be leaders in significant ways in our denominational and church structures.
  4. The principle of community. There must be an intense emphasis on Christian community. Perhaps it is possible in this age of transition for the church to become once again the social glue that holds the society together. This is the day for an emphasis on small groups, on mutual responsibility and accountability.

This is the day that the Lord has made. It is indeed a day for the Mennonite Brethren to rejoice and to be glad.

Jim Holm, Pastor
Moderator, U.S. Conference
Reedley, California

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