by Duane Beck
Consultant to Pastors on Leadership and Local Ministry
The Cow Knew the Path
A visitor to worship asked my friend, “Tell me, what are Mennonite Churches like.” “Well,” he responded, “If you’ve been to one Mennonite Church, you’ve been to one Mennonite Church.” After the laughter, my friend did describe the life and mission that we walked.
I think my friend could have been describing the Virginia Mennonite Conference. Our churches are so different! Think about it. Small…large. Multi-staff…no pastor. Full-time pastors… bi-vocational…lay leaders. Large building…rented space. Ph.D.’s…drop-outs. Rural…city. Poverty…high six-figure incomes. Researchers, management, laborers, entrepreneurs, IT, professors, artists, medical, nonprofits, and the unemployed. Reflective liturgical worship…informal, expressive worship. Jeans…suits. Grey-haired, quiet…young, active children. Newcomers…Mennonite for generations. Church plants…established traditional churches.
And Jesus Christ is the head of these different bodies! There is a wealth of gifts, faith, and life experiences, I’m discovering, among our churches and leaders that can inspire and equip one another.
When I was 10-16 years old, late afternoons in the fall, I would saddle up the horse and herd 120 head of cattle from the pasture to the barn overnight. One evening, one refused to go. Fortunately, the others didn’t bolt in all directions. After getting the cows to the barn, I returned for the one. It was ¾ a mile away and getting dark. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The cow didn’t know that. I insisted on going straight to the barn as quickly as possible. The cow insisted on detouring to the west. Now, I rode a good cutting horse, able to maneuver quickly in front of the cow. But after time, I got frustrated, my horse was frustrated, and so was the cow. Finally, I hollered, “Just go.” It went over and found a path and started to the barn. It wasn’t my straight-line path. The cow knew the path well even in the dark; I couldn’t see it. The cow calmly walked to the barn. The horse and I walked with her…calmly.
That story best describes my pastoral leadership style over the years. I know where the “barn” is; it is an authentic relationship with Jesus, with a community of followers engaging in his mission where we live. People are looking for that “barn.” Yes, sometimes they need to be pointed in the right direction. But their path of following Jesus is not necessarily my straight-line path, but they welcome, and in fact, desire to have someone to walk with them on their path.
Our churches are different. When we faithfully follow Jesus in the unique places where we live, move, and have our being, Jesus will carve out our faithful paths. Listen to one another’s hearts; catch the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing in our sister churches. Thank our brothers and sisters for being faithful. Encourage one another. Our churches and leaders have many gifts and surprising experiences that can spark our creative faithfulness. I’m amazed at the creativity Jesus has! Can someone give me a “Hallelujah?”