Being a follower of Jesus has three dimensions
by Clyde G. Kratz
Executive Conference Minister
Virginia Mennonite Conference held our Assembly at C3 Hampton (Hampton, Va.) with the theme God’s Kingdom: The 3D Experience. This theme emerged as our Assembly Vision Team sought to bring a new lens to the multi-dimensional nature of being a disciple of Jesus in our time.
Our encounter with God through Jesus
Each person experienced a personal encounter with God as a prerequisite for baptism. As we learned about God’s call to us through reading scripture, reflections, sermons, and Sunday school experiences, we learned the way of Jesus is normative—it is how we want to live in the world.
Our first encounter with God is not the last encounter, but it launches us into a lifetime of seeking God and reflecting the character of Jesus in our daily living.
Our encounter with God gives us a way to understand our life. Utilizing Christian teaching, our character and moral framework is developed to provide a foundation for personal choices, communal discernment, and life in the world. Our relationship with God is nurtured and developed throughout our entire life.
Palmer Becker’s work Anabaptist Esssentials frames it well in his first point: “Jesus is the center of our faith.” As followers of Jesus, we seek to understand our life experience in relationship to the way of Christ. It is the basis for character formation, virtue development, and even moral foundation. To miss this component of our faith experience will unfortunately lead to a lifetime of navigating “fool’s hill.”
Our encounter with community
As followers of Jesus, we take seriously the importance of being part of a local assembly of believers. While the worship experience on Sunday morning is a very important part of our faith experience, our congregational life is more than the worship service. The relationships we hold in the congregation contribute to our sense of identity.
In a Pew Research Center report, twenty percent of “nones”—persons who claim no affiliation to any church—identified a “dislike of organized religion” as a reason for their disassociation. In Pew’s article “Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind1,” Pew Research Center categorizes this percentage according to three broad reasons: a) anti-institutional religion, b) religion too focused on power/politics, c) religion causes conflict.
Each of these themes could be dissected further to uncover the human interactions rejected by this group of people. I suspect the challenge is based on the breadth of individualism that exists in our culture as opposed to the communal nature of being the body of Christ.
The important take away for me is that it matters how a fellowship of believers gathered in a local assembly navigates their relationships. In our tradition, we have moved from an individual or small group of leaders making decisions on behalf of the community to a more egalitarian model of decision making that seeks to understand the members concerns while in the midst of decision-making.
At the same time, this model of governing the community of faith has not solved all our problems. There are indeed still conflicts, and yes, at times decisions are made in such a way that leaves people uneasy. I merely highlight that this is an area of communal life that warrants our continued attention, not only in the congregation, but also as a Conference.
Our engagement in mission
What is the purpose of being part of a community of faith? It is more than identity formation. It is more than worship. It is about a common vision to live into the reign of God, not only in congregational life, but also in the world in which we reside. A group of people that merely tends to their own needs will become extinct, or self-destruct in conflict, leading to extinction. A congregation engaged in mission is propelled to look beyond their own needs. The mission contributes to a robust sense of purpose beyond sustaining their own identity.
Mission takes on a variety of forms. It is the place where we welcome diversity of expression. For example, some congregation will focus their mission on relating to the homeless people in their town by seeking to extend compassion through hospitality, relationship building, and material aid.
Another congregation may seek to provide a vibrant faith experience for university students during their college years.
Other congregations may see value in supporting overseas mission endeavors that bring the gospel to a place where the message of Jesus may be silent.
Yet another group of congregations seeks social change in their town, city, or country based on the way of Jesus. Their ministry of social justice may lead to new expressions of God’s reign in our culture. All of the ways congregations engage in mission are valued and necessary for our Conference.
Being a follower of Jesus does bring challenges to our life, but it can also invigorate us and create legacy experiences. As we envision our life on the way with Jesus, we are called to nurture our relationship with God and develop disciples with moral character. We envision assemblies of believers gathered in various formats that reflect a community ethos aligned with their vision as members of the body of Christ.
We implore you to extend your compassion in mission through evangelism, service, and peacemaking that reflects the way of Jesus.