(Appeared first in January 2012, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”—Mark 16:15 TNIV
At the delegate session in Pittsburgh last summer, André Gingerich Stoner remarked that many Mennonites “love service, flirt with peace and are allergic to evangelism.” Many felt he hit a home run with that comment. That means we have a ways to go to become a missional church. Service, peacemaking and evangelism are all needed in order to fully proclaim the gospel.
The Missional Vision and Purposeful Plan for Mennonite Church USA highlight 12 signposts along the path to becoming a faithful missional church. These signposts are not original with me. They are listed in an appendix in Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns and Missional Faithfulness by Lois Y. Barrett and others.
By God’s grace, I intend to highlight one of these signposts each month. So here’s the one I invite you to ponder in January:
Missional character trait: The missional church proclaims the gospel.
Signpost: The story of God’s salvation is faithfully repeated in a multitude of ways.
This trait may seem so basic to Mennonite identity that you may wonder if it needs discussion. But wait. It’s easy for our congregations to become so distracted by other agenda that we lose our focus on God’s salvation. Further, we live in a cultural environment that is increasingly inhospitable, even hostile, to the idea that we need salvation from God.
In their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005), Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton discovered a different “gospel” emerging in our nation. Smith and Lundquist describe this religion as “moralistic therapeutic deism,” which posits that the central goal in life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. Further, that God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
In contrast to these insipid beliefs that empty Christian faith of its passion and power, missional congregations trust that God is intimately involved in the affairs of the world. A dynamic proclamation of the gospel brings God’s grace into the situations of trouble in the world.
As Paul Scott Wilson has said, “Trouble + Grace = Hope where Grace > Trouble.” God’s mercy and forgiveness have little meaning apart from a troubled situation, especially when accented by a sense of sin, guilt or divine justice. God’s provision has little value without a deep sense of need.
The achievement of truly missional goals can only be accomplished by God’s presence and power. The gift of grace, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the community of faith all help make it possible to discern what God is seeking to bring about in the world and how we can share in God’s purposes. When we cultivate a deep awareness of God’s work—past, present and future—we are better prepared to take our place in response to it. We learn to cooperate with God’s work in the world rather than co-opt it with our human agendas shaped by worldly assumptions and goals.
The gospel has the power to transform our lives, enabling us to live as a contrast society to the world around us. It is God’s chosen way of bringing healing and hope to the world.
Darrell Guder writes, “If Christian faith makes any difference in behavior, then the church in conformity with Christ is called to an alternative set of behaviors, an alternative ethic, an alternative kind of relationship, in dialogue with the surrounding cultures. Its difference is itself a witness to the gospel. … The church is called to be an expression of God’s reign, a community of the kingdom of God on earth.”
I desire that every congregation in Mennonite Church USA will be just that, in actions as well as words.