Engaging the Jesus Way

Are Anabaptists ready to rock and roll? Truly ready? We live in a time when the larger church is interested in articulating positions around peace, reconciliation, and simple living, among others. And that interest is driving people to check out Anabaptist-affiliated groups and churches.

But are the Russian and German cultural heritage pieces keeping people away? Is four-part singing keeping people from engaging at a deeper level? Is talk of Zwieback or Faspa keeping us from sharing the good news?

This past weekend I attended “Church and Post-Christian Culture: Christian Witness in the Way of Jesus,” a conference hosted by Missio Alliance that focused on the convergence of evangelical and Anabaptist thought and how we apply that theology to the concept of mission.

There were 10 excellent preachers on Friday, plus more speakers on Saturday, and a workshop each day as well. My mind is still churning with ideas, so what follows are a few of my takeaways and how they intersect with my work at MennoMedia.

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So many good conversations happened during this conference. Yes, there were a number of women present (including three of us from MennoMedia and Herald Press), but this photo from our booth doesn’t show any.

Cultural religious heritage

Greg Boyd, of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, encouraged Mennonites and other Anabaptists to stop putting so much weight into the cultural aspects of religion, such as four-part singing, and instead get ready to rock and roll in our churches. I don’t doubt for a moment that Greg is right. How do we make room in our churches to welcome newcomers? Music is certainly one part of what Mennonites need to work on to be more welcoming. So are potlucks, the weight given to certain last names, and more.

“As the rest of Christianity is discovering God’s peaceful kingdom, Anabaptists are trying to forget it.” Ouch. But again, Boyd is right. Many Anabaptist churches have tried to distance themselves from their historic peace position. And yet this is what is driving neo-Anabaptists to explore Anabaptism. From a publishing perspective, I know this is what others coming to Herald Press and MennoMedia are looking for and expect.

Kurt Willems, of the Pangea Communities in Seattle, spoke of his own Mennonite heritage and affirmed exactly what Boyd was saying earlier: Willems was a raised a cultural Mennonite but not an Anabaptist.

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Kurt Willems preaching about growing up culturally Mennonite but not Anabaptist.

He grew up with Mennonite foods, attended Mennonite schools, was part of a Mennonite family with all the right surnames, and yet he did not know the Anabaptist message of peace. He has a powerful story of being convicted about the gospel of peace not by other Mennonites but in attending an event where evangelical author Shane Claiborne spoke. Willems is now a church planter in Seattle and sharing the gospel of peace with those coming to the Pangea Communities.

Jesus-looking faith

A Jesus-looking faith does not mean complicity or following a stable leader without cost. A Jesus-looking faith is risky, willing to question what the Empire has taught. Over and over the speakers shared this message in different ways, and I believe people are hungry for books and resources that flesh out this message.

“Jesus wasn’t handing out tickets to heaven,” preached Brian Zahnd, founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. “He was re-founding the world … [Jesus] isn’t Lord-Elect; he’s Lord right now!”

We’ve often gotten that wrong, and thought of faith as forward-looking toward heaven rather than in the present tense.

Think, for example, of the story from Matthew 14 of Jesus walking on the water. In that story we often focus on Jesus pulling Peter from the water once he starts to sink—the act of Jesus “saving” Peter. But Meghan Good, pastor of Albany Mennonite Church, said that this emphasis causes us to miss an important point: “Most people think Jesus is the one who pulls us out of the lake, when in reality he’s the one calling us out onto it.” Good delivered a powerful sermon, with such excellent exegetical work around this story. To what is Jesus calling each of us?

Anton Flores-Maisonet is a full-time volunteer among immigrant populations in Georgia and co-founder of the Alterna Community. He shared the idea that Jesus is the “Good Coyote,” who provides safe crossing and knows how to make the outcast feel like the most important person in the room. His work among those without documentation is a powerful witness for what it means to have a Jesus-looking faith.

Time now for me to put these challenges into action, and to have conversations with possible writers to help bring these ideas into books and resources. What ideas here resonate with you? What ideas would you like to know more about in resource or book form?