What if each household came up with 12 Scriptures they believe to be most formative for Christian life today?
By Cindy Snider
(Mennonite Church USA)—Cincinnati (Ohio) Mennonite Fellowship (CMF) was one of the first congregations to engage the Twelve Scriptures Project after it was introduced in the March 2012 issue of Mennonite Church USA’s online newsletter, On the Way. The project invites congregations to identify their 12 most important Scripture texts.
Keith Lehman, a member of CMF’s worship committee, says that the congregation’s leaders didn’t want the discernment process to be “heavy”.
“We have plenty of opportunity to do that kind of work as a congregation, and this seemed like a way to have some fun thinking about our community and about Scripture,” he reflected.
The congregation began by gathering lists of 12 Scriptures from individuals and households; the congregation’s 12 Scriptures were then discerned during the Christian education hour.
“Most of the work was done by our Adult Forum Sunday school class in cooperation with our Junior High Sunday school class (about five kids),” Lehman continued. “It was wonderfully informal, with the young people participating very actively in small group discussions and adding scriptures to our ‘timeline.’”
Lehman says that the group broke into small groups and wrote brief rationales—looking at context, mission, values and formation—as to why a particular passage should be one of the 12 Scriptures for the congregation. “People had a chance to discuss and think about the importance of all of the passages we had chosen,” he says.
“One interesting discussion that occurred was whether a Scripture that was supposed to be a core Scripture for the congregation should (or could) be a ‘personal’ scripture,” Lehman says. “For example, Psalm 23 and Psalm 139 (both of which were ultimately chosen) seemed to be very individually directed, whereas Micah 6:8 or 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 are both about the nature of relationships within the community and the world. These types of questions weren’t answered to everyone’s satisfaction, but our final list has a variety of Scriptures.”
CMF then designed its summer worship series to focus on these 12 Scriptures, one per week, says Joel Miller, pastor.
“Along with worship themes and sermons, we invited one person per week who had chosen that particular Scripture to share why the passage was significant for him or her, or why it mattered to CMF,” he says. “The hope was that this could be a way for us to engage the Bible together and come to a better understanding of what we hold as most valuable.”
The Twelve Scriptures Project came about after participants in Mennonite Church USA’s Delegate Assembly at Pittsburgh 2011 adopted Christian Formation as one of seven churchwide priorities. According to the denomination’s Purposeful Plan, this priority calls for the church “to increase our capacity as a community of faith to use the Scriptures as a faithful guide for daily living.”
“There were steady calls from congregations and conferences asking what we were going to do with the emphasis on Scripture and when they could expect study materials,” says Terry Shue, director of leadership development for Mennonite Church USA.
So Shue organized an ad hoc “Bible Dream Team” of people with great passion for the Bible. The team—which was diverse in age, gender and background—brainstormed ideas to help congregations use the Bible more significantly in their congregational life. One idea rose to the top: Inspire each congregation to engage in a process to identify the 12 most important Scripture texts or stories for their congregation, and to answer the question, “Why that one?”
The team developed a four-step process that congregations can use in small groups or Sunday school classes. “Our intent is that the process will engage all congregational members, regardless of age, ability or newness to faith,” says Shue.
A men’s Bible study based at Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va., and made up of men from various Mennonite as well as other-than-Mennonite congregations, also was quick to take on the project.
Pastor Phil Kniss says that they adapted the process for their table groups and that the men participated “with much enthusiasm and lively conversation.” The group plans to study one of the 12 Scriptures together each week in the fall, inviting one person per week to share how that Scripture has been important and formative. The men also were encouraged to take the process back to their own congregations.
At Glennon Heights Mennonite Church in Lakewood, Colo., member Rhoda Miller Blough says she was “taken aback” by her small group’s experience of the Twelve Scriptures Project.
“It was so much more than I had expected,” she says, explaining that each of the group members—including two girls, ages nine and 12—brought 12 Scriptures to the meeting. “As we shared about our choices, I found it to be a very bonding experience. I got a deeper glimpse into the lives of my fellow small group members.” She added that many in the group shared verses that were important to their parents.
Blough serves as moderator for Mountain States Mennonite Conference, and participants in the conference’s annual gathering in August were introduced to the project as well.
Also, participants in the annual meeting of North Central Conference of the Mennonite Church in June had a “very positive experience” with their introduction to the project, according to Conference Minister Fred Kanagy.
“We are very interested as a conference in promoting this intentional pursuit into God’s Word,” he says. “The Bible is held very high here in the NCC, and this emphasis into the inspired Scriptures encourages us as to the future direction of Mennonite Church USA.”
Sidebar: To read more about the project, download a PDF of the process, or post your congregation’s 12 Scriptures, see http://mennoniteusa.org/2012/03/06/engaging-the-12-scriptures-project/.
Mike Bogard of Newton, Kan., then interim associate pastor at Faith Mennonite in Newton, shares during a participatory introduction to the Twelve Scriptures Project by Terry Shue, director of leadership development for Mennonite Church USA, during a workshop hosted by Western District Conference. (Photo by Laurie Oswald Robinson, Western District Conference)
Twelve Scriptures “tag” to accompany piece.