NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — Leaving Mennonite Church USA on Dec. 31, 2017, brought one of the biggest changes LMC (formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference) had undergone in decades. Now the Anabaptist fellowship of 218 congregations faces new decisions that promise to further shake up the status quo.
This was the heart of the message brought by moderator Keith Weaver in his address March 16 at LMC’s annual Celebration of Church Life at Petra Church.
Weaver focused on the theme of “Breaking New Ground” by identifying changes needed to move forward with God.
A task force has developed a strategic plan for this transitional time of opportunity laced with uncertainty.
“There are so many good things happening, and yet I have been sensing that the Holy Spirit is calling us to a check, to rethink our ways of doing things and to move into a season of change,” Weaver said.
The Israelites had to let go of their past to enter the promised land. Similarly, LMC must let go of its past to perceive the new things God wants to do.
“God often does things in the reverse of our expectations,” Weaver said. “They would not go through the sea as they had in the past. They would trek through the desert.”
LMC in the next couple of decades will look very different from the past, said Keith Blank, bishop of Landisville-Manor District.
“Breaking up new ground that has been rock hard is not going to be easy,” he said. “It is going to take a lot of humility and meekness.”
Jonathen Bailey, a newly credentialed African-American pastor in Baltimore-Washington District, where he is planting Shalom Community Church, suggested another ground-breaking ingredient.
“I think this LMC movement is strong, in that it is open to the Spirit of God and is seeking unity and prayer,” he said. “But revival doesn’t happen without repentance.”
Blank and Bailey were among the 525 leaders, pastors and laity who attended the March 15-16 gathering to seek their call as a new entity. LMC, formerly MC USA’s largest area conference, left the denomination over differing convictions on sexuality.
Since its exit, LMC has increased its number of congregations, broadened its geographical scope and changed its name to LMC: A Fellowship of Anabaptist Churches. It’s joined Mennonite World Conference and launched new initiatives. It now has 15,000 members in 11 states and the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico.
Five areas of change
Even as there is much to celebrate, a Holy Spirit check is in order, Weaver said. Encouraging humility for the work ahead, he cited the need for change in five areas:
— Discipleship and spiritual formation — raising up disciples who are open to the filling of God’s love, who avoid falling to temptation and who are not deceived by the culture around them.
— Leadership development — calling and mentoring more emerging leaders from within congregations.
— Intercultural competency — embracing cultural diversity in a fellowship where more than 40 percent of LMC congregations are majority nonwhite.
— Organizational structures — spreading more of LMC’s leadership structures, as well as gatherings and events, beyond Lancaster County.
— Relationships with global partners — cultivating interdependence with the body of Christ in every part of the world.
Weaver was thankful for the congruence between his words and the message of plenary speaker Marvin Lorenzana, discipleship initiatives director for Mennonite Mission Network.
Lorenzana suggested shifts, including moving out of stagnation into multiplication and mobilization, to join with God’s vision.
Lorenzana said God’s people need to shift from a lake mentality to a river mentality.
“A lake mentality is about church as a place where people flow and stay,” he said. “In a river mentality, people flow in but keep moving downstream. They come to be equipped to go.
“We say God has a church. Rather, God has a mission, and the church is invited to be a part of that mission. . . . That means making more and more effective disciples who multiply. It has never been about you going to a Sunday service where dedicated clergy have prepared a sermon for our consumption.”
Members new and old
Both longtime and new members of LMC took part in corporate worship, 32 seminars, fellowship over meals and among informational booths, and a Saturday morning prayer walk.
Among the newcomers were Jason and Andrea Ramer, whose congregation, Yellow Creek Mennonite Church of Goshen, Ind., left Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference to join LMC.
“We have an opportunity for a new beginning,” Jason Ramer said. “Instead of using all our energy to debate hot topics and staying stuck, we can now embrace new vision and look forward.”
On the other end of the spectrum are Lancaster-area natives Carl and Julia Sensenig. He is bishop of the Bowmansville-Reading District, and she is a nursing instructor.
“I am excited about LMC’s exploring how to grow up new leaders within our congregations and better helping our children to follow Christ rather than the ways of our culture,” she said.
Michael and Lori Deckman of Nanticoke (Pa.) Christian Fellowship, where he is associate pastor, are planting a cell group that meets in their home. In their mid-40s, they show the potential of a younger generation of leaders.
“God spoke to us about how if we were willing to take a risk in opening up our home, he would cause rivers of life to trickle out into all the streets of our neighborhood,” she said.