Executive Conference Minister
Members of Central Plains Mennonite Conference have been living into a Covenant of Spiritual Practices since it was adopted one year ago. Our Annual Meeting in July provided an opportunity to check in and discover if our covenant was making any difference. Church history is replete with new initiatives that fail to produce substantive difference. Our delegates sent a clear message that a renewed commitment to spiritual practices is making a discernible difference in our local congregations and within the conference as a community.
The significance of this difference should not be underestimated. It is hard to remember a time when church members came together to report a change in the spiritual vitality of their congregations.
When asked what difference our covenant of spiritual practices is making, the delegates offered four measures of spiritual growth. I offer specific examples of each from the written comments from table groups.
Strengthened witness beyond their congregations
Delegates reported that an emphasis on spiritual practices has resulted in transformed attitudes toward prisoners. Members have seen reconciliation with others and healing of broken relationships. Some reported growth and connection to the wider community by moving church meetings outside the church building. Our members are thinking more intentionally about what we want our identity to be in the community.
Increased awareness that our spiritual practices are essential to Christian vitality
Focusing on spiritual practices raises our awareness of the Spirit’s presence in our midst. By fasting we are made more aware of the needs of others. We become refreshed in giving ourselves to the things we should be doing anyway. We are more aware that God is among us.
Strengthened sense of community within congregations and across our conference
The covenant of spiritual practices makes us more honest with each other about our spiritual lives. It is clearer for us to know how to handle our disagreements. When we practice our spiritual lives together, we build relationships together. We become more patient with each other as we walk together in spiritual practices. Spiritual practices help us “lean into each other” when we struggle. We are reminded that we – across our conference – have many things in common.
Increased confidence and competence in practicing the Christian life.
The covenant of spiritual practices gives us new eyes for Bible study, new energy for faith, new hope to have better answers to share with people who are turned off by Christianity. This emphasis has created greater understanding that transformation is more a process of God’s grace than what we do.
These are just some examples of all the ways our conference delegates expressed the difference our emphasis on spiritual practices is making.
As I reflect on this feedback, I wonder, what is needed to keep us moving farther on this same path?. Discernible transformation grows out of our understanding of God’s grace more than our grand designs. Maybe moving to the next level is as basic as keeping our focus on those things that bring us face-to-face with Jesus and doing those things together. Could that make all the difference?