“Change is always occurring. But when that change appears more dramatic than usual, it can feel frightening . . . I think that the Christian Church across Canada is experiencing such a time of dramatic change.”
So began a Church Guy blog post by Willard Metzger, Executive Director of Mennonite Church Canada, one of the largest Mennonite denominations in Canada.
He went on to write about recent conversations with friends about the state of the church today.
For many, church feels like "spending energy keeping things alive,
just for the sake of keeping things alive."
“For many, it has often felt like spending energy keeping things alive, just for the sake of keeping things alive,” he wrote. “This has become a tough sell for many people.”
God is still “very active in redeeming the world,” he went on to say.
“But has sharing the Good News of Jesus become a means to assure the ministry and financial sustainability of an institutional church? That would seem misguided to me.”
Instead, he wrote he sees “a future where people are invited to discover their own vision through Christ rather than keep the dream of the church alive.”
Intrigued by his post, I asked Metzger to share more about how he viewed the changes facing his church, and the church in general Canada today—what was causing it, and what he thought it meant for organized Christianity in this country.
“In broad strokes, it’s the dynamic of post-Christendom context,” he said.
“In Christendom, all good people went to church regularly, supported the church and shared financial resources with it.”
But that context has changed, he said. Church attendance is falling, people no longer want to serve on church committees, and many aren’t interested in supporting church structures and institutions—structures that “just don’t fit into this post-Christendom context.”
But if these structures and denominations are on their way out, what’s next? For Metzger, it’s too early to tell.
“I would say that it’s a couple decades before we really see what the new sense of church life will look like,” he said.
And what’s the role of denominations during this time?
For him, their role will be to help individual Christians and congregations “navigate a sustained period of uncertainty and confusion.”
This won’t be easy, he says; most people are by nature very uncomfortable with uncertainty—they want to know where they are going. But trying to come up with answers too quickly isn’t the solution.
What does God want for the church? To recover "trust in God."
Doing that, he said, “will short-change a very important process that God wants to take the church through.”
And what is that thing God wants to do? It will be “a recovery of what it means to trust in God,” he said.
Instead of trusting in their own abilities, skills, gifts and ideas for what is the best thing to do during this time of change, this time of uncertainty will give Christians a chance to recover their “need to wait and rely on God.”
He acknowledges that this time of uncertainty will be especially hard for those who are employed by churches, such as pastors and denominational staff, or those who work for church-supported organizations and schools.
“There’s clearly a pastoral role for people losing jobs,” he shared of the need to come alongside and offer support.
Despite the changes and the uncertainty facing his denomination, Metzger is excited for the future.
“I think there will be a strong ownership at a congregational level,” he says of a recommendation going to his denomination’s summer assembly to reconstitute and re-imagine the purpose, shape and role of the national body.
“It’s not an end of the national church, but a pretty significant restructuring of our national priorities.” It will “require a reduction to the bare essentials before we can see the new growth that will emerge.”
As for his role as a leader, he thinks this is a time to model “non-anxious confidence.”
"When we need to know what we need to know, God will let us know."
This isn’t a “passive letting of whatever happens happen, but a confidence that when we need to know what we need to know, God will let us know,” he said.
“We are being invited to recover our sense of trust in God,” he added. “We can’t do that if we know where we are going . . . we can’t see the future, but we can develop a confidence in a God who knows the future.
You can read more of Willard’s reflections on his Church Guy blog.