Nancy Kauffmann is a denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA
There is the story about a farmer who when asked if he was a Christian said, “You shouldn’t ask me, I might tell you anything. Go ask my neighbor. He will tell you whether I am or not.” Having a little grandchild around has given me a new twist to this story. Watching her imitate and mimic me and the other adults around her has amazed me as to what she picks up and I realize she is a quick learner. It is as if she is holding a mirror up to us and saying, “See what I see.” Her imitating and mimicking has caused me to pause. I have been reflecting on the messages about life that I want to model for her. I have been evaluating whether my words and my actions match as well as I think they do. Is she able to see God through me or am I giving her a distorted version of God?
If someone were to hold up a mirror to our congregation, what would be reflected back to us? I think it would be a healthy exercise for a congregation to do a survey of the neighbors around the building to see what they would say about the congregation. Would their view of the congregation match the view the congregation has of itself? Or maybe a congregation should ask the children about what they are seeing and experiencing in the congregation. What are they learning about God and the community of faith? Some possible questions for a congregation to consider might be:
- Are we a warm, friendly and hospitable congregation or are we a more reserved, congregation?
- Is our communication honest and respectful or is it passive aggressive and hurtful?
- Do we discern together as a faith community or do we fight for our position/way?
- Are we quick to admit when we are wrong or justify our words and actions?
- Are we clear about what we are for, or clearer about what we are against?
- Are we open to change or do we repeat “this is the way we have always done it?”
- Do we vote with a desire to be faithful to God or with our pocketbook?
- Are we a supporting and encouraging group of people or a criticizing group of people?
- Do we listen for a possible word from God to us or for the flaw in the sermon?
- Are we honest about our congregation’s past or do we have buried secrets or unresolved conflicts?
- Do we encourage people to develop their gifts or do we use a few people for everything?
- Do we place people in key positions because of their gifts or because of who they are?
- Do we each carry our fair share of the work as members or do we expect others to do all the work?
- Is our congregation a place of forgiveness, reconciliation and grace or a place of judgment?
- Do we act more like the disciples or the Pharisees?
- Would it make a difference in the community if our congregation no longer existed?
- Do we have a sense of joy and hope or a sense of gloom and doom?
- Can persons find new life within our body or is our body life draining?
- Do we show biblical hospitality or are we a closed community
- Do people see the love of God in action or actions of an unloving people?
- Can people find God for themselves in our congregation or are we putting out stumbling blocks and distorting the image of who God really is?
I pray that my granddaughter will grow in her understanding of who God is and that I, one of many who love her, will reflect the love, joy and peace of God so that she is drawn toward God. I pray that the church I love continues to give witness to this wonderful God who calls us to be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:16) so that others are drawn toward God.