A version of this article originally appeared on Mennonite Church USA’s Menno Snapshots blog. This article is the second part of a three-part blog series in which Glen Guyton is exploring MC USA structure while challenging members of the denomination to Journey Forward together.
If I could go back in my time machine and make one change to our bylaws, I would drop the terms agency and entity and insert the term ministry. Here is the legalese describing the role of our agencies and entities according to our bylaws:
“The task of the churchwide program agencies and other designated entities is to arrange for the delivery of programs and services that carry out specific churchwide goals. They cooperate and network with other parts of the church around common goals. To facilitate this, the agency chairpersons and the agency executive directors meet as necessary in a Governance Council, chaired by the Moderator, with the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA, to coordinate their work under the leadership of the Executive Board.”
Our agencies and entities were created to serve the needs of our church and to give us the capacity to transform the world, which is one reason so much power was given to our mission agency and not to the bureaucratic function of the denomination.
God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.
The term agency allows us too easily to think structure and business models rather than nurturing culture, capacity and servanthood. As a result, we become more concerned about profits and self-preservation than pursuing the cause of Christ.
Recently, as I have met with people who want to leave MC USA, I have been asked questions about “benefits.” The basic question goes something like, “If we leave MC USA can we still participate in the agencies (ministries) of MC USA?” My reply is usually threefold:
- Our agencies are part of MC USA, so what are you leaving?
- If you are leaving because MC USA is too sinful and God can’t bless this denomination, then you should have faith that God will give you the tools you need as you set out to fulfill your call.
- Why do you feel the need to draw this imaginary line in the sand? Our structure in MC USA is not one of control and papal authority. We are a collaborative body of believers that empowers local and conference leaders to shape how they do ministry. How much you engage the structure is totally up to you. In fact, the structure is supposed to serve you.
Let me be clear, I believe the ministry functions our agencies provide should not be limited to MC USA. God did not create us to be a holy huddle of anemic navel gazers. I hope MennoMedia, through its books and curricula, helps to spread Anabaptism across the USA and Canada. I hope Mennonite Education Agency and our colleges can share our Anabaptist faith with people who would never set foot in a Mennonite church. I hope that Everence continues its interdenominational partnerships that allow us access to resources and funding that enhance our ability to practice financial mutual aid. I hope The Mennonite provides a forum that informs the world about the good work being done in MC USA, helping our members glorify God, grow in faith and become agents of healing and hope in our world.
But it doesn’t make sense to allow those who use piety to separate themselves from this wonderful body of believers, sowing seeds of discord and discontent, to continue to receive all the benefits of what it means to be MC USA. It is like the story of the little red hen. If you are unfamiliar with the story, the little red hen finds a grain of wheat and asks for help from the other farm animals to plant it, but they all refuse. At each stage of the process (harvest, threshing, milling the wheat into flour and baking the flour into bread) the hen asks for help from the other animals, but again and again she doesn’t receive any help. Finally, after the hen has done all the work, she asks who will help her eat the bread. Of course, this time, everyone eagerly volunteers. She disagrees with them, explaining that since no one helped her with her work, no one will help her eat the bread. So the hen eats it with her chicks, leaving none for the other farm animals. Mrs. Hen was pretty harsh, and many of my Mennonite friends might say, “Let’s not ruffle feathers and share the bread.” I would encourage you, perhaps as part of your personal devotional time, to wrestle with that part of the story. As executive director, my focus over the next few years will be on those of us who have decided to remain in MC USA, those that have decided to wrestle and struggle together as people of faith.
Glen Guyton is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.