Theologians and laypeople study the Bible together

AMBS is starting the Anabaptist Thriving Congregations program, which will equip congregations to read and interpret the Bible in their social context. — Cassidy Rowell on Unsplash

Malinda Elizabeth Berry is developing “Anabaptist Thriving Congregations,” a five-year program designed to equip Mennonite congregations in the U.S. and Canada. The program teaches congregations to read and interpret both the Bible and their sociocultural context for the purpose of being witnesses to the gospel in their local community.

Berry, director of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s (AMBS) Faith Formation Collaborative (FFC), noted that a core belief of Anabaptism is that faith communities consisting of ordinary people can read and interpret Scripture together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Malinda Elizabeth Berry. — Brittany Purlee/AMBS

“The more a congregation gathers all kinds of readers to study and interpret Scripture together, the more equipped its members will be to identify their common values and mission,” said Berry.  

However, in North America, the practice of studying Scripture together on a regular basis has diminished over time among Mennonites.  

 “Gathering ‘professional readers’ like my colleagues who can read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew, and ‘everyday readers’ like me who read Scripture in translation” is central to this Bible study, said Berry.  

The idea for the project emerged from a listening process that AMBS conducted in 2021 with leaders in the seminary’s sponsoring denominations, Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. In response to the question, “What is the most meaningful thing AMBS can do to support current and future congregational leaders?,” many leaders asked for help in understanding their social contexts, leading congregational discernment processes and teaching biblical stories to engage the present context.  

The new program addresses these specific needs through the practice of Confessional Bible Study, an approach developed at AMBS.  

Each year, “Seminary Sages” (AMBS teaching faculty members and other professionals) will train and accompany teams of three to five “Congregational Guides” (including a pastor) to lead their congregations in a structured learning process. They’ll study their social and cultural contexts and learn to lead Confessional Bible Study. Then they’ll reflect together on what they’re learning, how it’s shaping their congregation’s values and mission, and how it will help them embody the good news of God’s love in their community. 

“Recent discussions among pastors in the New York City Council of Mennonite Churches reflect a growing interest in communal discernment that engages the Bible as a sacred conversation partner,” said Ruth Yoder Wenger, pastor of North Bronx (New York) Mennonite Church and conference minister for the New York City congregations of Atlantic Coast Conference of Mennonite Church USA. 

Berry expects that when the program concludes in 2028, it will have generated many resources for ongoing use by the seminary.  

A slightly longer version of article originally appeared on May 24, 2024, on Mennonite World Conference’s website.

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