By Terry Shue
At the Pittsburgh convention this past summer, the delegates highlighted three new priorities for our denomination, one being Christian Formation. This has long been a focal point for families, congregations and beyond, but hasn’t been clearly articulated until now. The priority reads:
Christian Formation. This first and highest priority commits us to fashion and mold our lives after that of Jesus Christ. As the sent One of God, Jesus sends us into the world. As missional communities, our congregations, conferences, and agencies will ensure that people are invited to make a commitment to Christ, discipled in the way of Christ, taught to engage with the scriptures, helped to develop Christian identity from an Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective, and given the capacity to cultivate their vocational calling. (Matthew 28:18‐20, Romans 8:28‐30, Colossians 1:28‐29, 2 Timothy 1:5; Articles 17 and 18, Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective)
Following our gathering at Pittsburgh, there has been a steady call from congregations and conferences asking what are we going to do with the emphasis on scripture and when they can expect something to be available for them to study in their congregations. Without question, it’s clear we identified a priority which churches desire to give more emphasis in order to be who God calls them to be.
In this task of forming ourselves as Christ-followers, which is already being done in all of our congregations, I asked myself, “What can we do as denominational staff which will uniquely advance this priority?” I became convinced it was going to take the wisdom of the Spirit speaking through the church to address this question. So I convened a group of persons to help me dream about ways to use the Bible more significantly in congregational life. I called this ad hock group, the “Bible Dream Team”.
Over the past month, I have been on phone calls with groups of people who have a great passion for the Bible. This diverse group of people—young and old, from various racial/ethnic backgrounds—have either taught Bible in college or seminary or in congregational settings. Each of them has not only taught the Bible as a tool in God’s hand to transform lives, they also give testimony to the role the Bible has played in their own lives.
Of the many ideas generated by the Bible Dream Team, there is one I want to share broadly. We desire to inspire each congregation to engage in a process that would identify the twelve most important scripture texts or stories for their congregation, answering the question, “Why that one?” These scriptures would not come from the top down, not from the denomination, the conference or even congregation leadership, but from the grassroots up!
In the process, what if each household in the church came up with a list of twelve scriptures which they believe to be most formative to the Christian life today? Then these are brought into a small group or Sunday School class where others bring their own list for discussion, debate and agreement on the list for that group. Then these lists are brought to the congregation where the specific personality of the congregation and the contextual environment which it finds itself in are part of what determines the specific scriptures which are considered to be most important to this local expression of the body of Christ.
Why stop there? What if conferences would do the same thing and allow congregations to find a way to bring their list of scriptures together and determine the scripture list (Big 12!) which the conference determines to be most formative for the setting God has called them to do ministry in at this time. And yes, what if through the aid of some technology, we did it as a denomination finding the scriptures that our people determine to be the most important passages to shape the life and ministry of the congregations across our land.
Not only do I believe this could be an important process for an individual, family and congregation to do. I believe this will give us clarity on scriptures which are descriptive and prescriptive of who we are and who we are becoming. And I believe this is something that we each can do, every congregation, large and small, urban and rural, young and old. We can do this, and the results will be transformative!
If you would like to have more help in leading this process in your congregation or your conference, drop me a note and I will make sure we pass on resources which we are in the process of pulling together. Might your congregation be one of the first to post your list on our website along with stories about how you arrived at this list and how you intend to use this list of scriptures to form and transform the people in your congregation?
If this catches on, it could be exciting. If this catches on, it will be transforming. If this catches on, it will be dependent upon leaders like you saying, “Yes, I want to make the Bible more important in the life of our congregation, conference and denomination.” With anticipation, I await what God is going to do with and through the church in the area of this priority of Christian Formation.