Transforming communities

Joshua Brockway speaking at National Youth Conference in July 2018.
Photo by Nevin Dulabaum

By Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Formation

When have you seen a congregation transform its community? We could point to grand stories of movements in the whole country, but what about a local congregation being an active change-agent in the local community?

In January I had the privilege of helping teach a course on urban ministry with Bethany Theological Seminary and the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership. We met for two weeks in Atlanta at a ministry called City of Refuge. Those two weeks were eye-opening for all of us, and they challenged me to imagine how the local church can have a profound impact.

City of Refuge started when Bruce Deal was sent by his denomination to close a congregation in the worst part of Atlanta. This small and aging church had witnessed the neighborhood become a statistic—the zip code with the highest violent crime rate in all of Metro Atlanta. One of Bruce’s first Sundays, a woman came in from the street needing help. Bruce simply did what anyone could do—he helped by showing compassion and treating her with dignity. It was not long before their house and the church building were full of people. What started as a congregation on the brink of closing has grown into a multi-million-dollar agency that is a one-stop shop for housing, job training, education, medical care, and case management.

My eyes were opened to the reality of how the church can become a place of holistic
transformation. At City of Refuge, and many other communities, the distinction between the needs of the body and the needs of the soul is erased. I long to see our congregations become a catalyst for this kind of transformation in their local communities.

Thanks to my experiences in City of Refuge and the connections we made through the class this January, Discipleship Ministries has partnered with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). CCDA is a network of ministry leaders who have the same desire to see the church become a change-agent in every local community. Over the last two decades, CCDA has gathered the wisdom of church leaders who seek to transform both the church and their neighborhood. Thanks to the wise leadership of John Perkins, Wayne Gordon, and many others, CCDA is providing resources and support for countless ministries like City of Refuge.

The Church of the Brethren is now the first denominational member of the Christian
Community Development Association. With this membership, we can connect every Church of the Brethren congregation and district with CCDA resources. It is our prayer that this partnership will help us—not just to dream about transformational Christianity, but to lead us towards the vision of reaching more young people, more diverse people, and more people in general with the gospel of Jesus. We pray that it will inform how we plant new churches and renew existing congregations so that each mission point across the country can minister to the body and soul of each person.

Your gifts have made this partnership and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren possible. Thank you for generously joining us and, in doing so, writing a testimony of transformation in your community.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Joy: Giving thanks to God

A scriptural exegesis of Isaiah 12 written by Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred, youth and young adult ministry assistant, for the 2018 Advent Offering

We’ve all been told “patience is a virtue.” And we’ve all heard that “good things come to those who wait.” Waiting isn’t always pleasant, but we often regard waiting as the price we pay for some ultimate payoff. We wait those excruciating 90 minutes in line at the amusement park for those magical sixty seconds on the rollercoaster. We wait those exhausting nine months to meet the newest member of our family. It’s easy to find joy in the things that are “worth the wait.” It’s much harder to savor the wait itself, to find joy in the very act of anticipation.

Isaiah spoke to a people in waiting. His prophetic ministry spanned an age of anticipation, transition, and anxiety for the people of Judah. He came into ministry during shallow prosperity—speaking above the noise of false peace and security to expose the deeper rot of corruption and injustice beneath the surface and a looming foreign threat beyond the horizon. The bubble was about to burst. Isaiah bore witness to the gathering cloud of the Assyrian empire’s raiding army—once distant, now on the doorstep, now ransacking the kitchen and rifling through the drawers. At last, the book of Isaiah tells the story of Babylon’s deliverance of the Judeans from Assyria. But trusting in political deliverance only gave way to new subjugation and oppression. The people of Judah were left to wonder who will deliver us from Babylon? They waited.

Waiting can be unbearable enough when we know that what comes next is worth waiting for. It’s much harder still when the future is uncertain: Waiting for the Hail Mary pass to come down, the lost dog to come home, the medical test to come in. This was the sort of wait that plagued Judah. How are we to know that deliverance will every truly come? When it does come, how are we to know if it’s truly better than what came before?

It’s not difficult to see how seeds of bitterness and fear can be scattered, especially when we’re powerless and afraid, and we have nothing to do but wait. But Isaiah invites those who wait to respond with the hymn of thanksgiving and praise found in Chapter 12. It’s not just a litany of what to say when deliverance finally comes. It’s a liturgy for how to wait for God: with joy, with faith, and with praise.

Isaiah’s poem recalls the resplendent joy that God’s people have experienced in the past when God comes through for them. Isaiah 12:2 quotes from the hymn that Moses and the Israelites sang after crossing the Red Sea, “The Lord God is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2, NRSV), a verse that echoes again in Psalms 118:14, a song of victory. The imperatives in Isaiah 12:4 recall psalms of promise (Psalm 105:1), wonder (Psalm 148:13), and above all praise. These are songs that echo across scripture and that resound in our hearts. We shouldn’t just sing them anew when the next glorious day arrives. They never faded away; we can—we should—sing them while we wait.

If only it were that easy. While Isaiah directly quoted the soaring praise found in the beginning of Exodus 15, the end of that chapter describes how we really tend to relate to God. No sooner have the sounds of the Israelites’ praise and thanksgiving faded when their grumbling and complaining sets in (Exodus 15:22-27). Facing exile in the desert, their trust in God waned. Their gratitude for God’s deliverance subsided to anxiety about what would lie ahead.

Isaiah sang of a better way to live with God. His hymn admonishes us to joyfully “draw water from the wells of salvation” (12:3) to beat back the scorching fear found in the desert. Centuries later, Jesus employed the same metaphor while speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (John 4: 1-42). He offers life-giving water that forever quenches our thirst and never runs dry.  He doesn’t deliver us only to subjugate us. He delivers us to set us free.

We may not be under the thumb of Assyria or Babylon. We may not be wandering in the desert. But we face the same temptation to turn to temporary solutions that will crumble beneath our feet. We have that same urge to drink of worldly water that will only leave us thirsty again (John 4:13). We think that the next election, the next fad product, the next airstrike or sanction, the next stock market boom will scratch the itch, though it never does. We’re waiting for God, and we’re getting antsy.

Isaiah reminds us that we won’t be waiting forever. We will be awake once again to God in our midst (Isaiah 12:6). And in that day, we will “give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted” (Isaiah 12:4). Better to sing joyfully now than to be rusty, out of practice, and out of pitch when the wait is finally over.

Learn more and find worship resources for this year’s Advent Offering at www.brethren.org/adventoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Shout and sing for joy!

A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement,
for Giving Tuesday 2018 on 11/27

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where?
Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart!
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart to stay!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!”
– Verse 1 and chorus of “Joy in my heart” by George W. Cooke

Admit it! If you went to a summer Vacation Bible School as a child, you either started to hum the tune in your head as you read or even found yourself singing it by the end. I confess, my feet were tapping, and the tune of this song flooded my mind. It puts a smile on my face and reminds me of a time when summers were long, and you attended every Vacation Bible School in the area.

As I get older, each summer flies by faster than the last, and there seems to be less to smile about when I look at the world around us. Humanity continues to find ways to taunt and jab at each other, hurt one another, and in the extreme cases, take lives. It saddens the heart to hear how our children are bullied and the very institutions where we received education are no longer safe spaces, but instead are more like prison wards where padlocks and “visitor” badges are required. Our young adults grapple with body image issues and the pressures of having a “perfect” life because of the Pinterest-perfect, Instagram-ing, Facebook posting world in which we now live. Many of us are dodging and weaving the political rhetoric being spat at us from the very people for whom we prayerfully voted, and we now watch in amazement as grown, well-educated adults hurl accusations at one another at every level. Meanwhile the hungry grow hungrier and the poor become poorer, and the joy down in my heart seems like it could be snuffed out at any moment.

Thankfully, scripture can always provide hope:

“And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
– Isaiah 12:4-6

My joy is deeper in my heart now than it was when I was younger—in part because of the things I’ve seen and heard while serving the denomination. I give thanks to the Lord because of what God has done among us and through us, and what God continues to do. These past two years have given me opportunities to talk with pastors, visit with congregations, attend district conferences, and go to special events in the life of our districts, and I sing praises to the Lord, for he has done great things.

Congregations are striving to learn the needs of those who live in the communities where they worship, and they are caring for them through the way Jesus taught us:  by loving one another. This is very refreshing in a world full of hatred and division. One might say it’s another way of living!

Partnerships between congregations and denominational ministries provide a way to respond to the call of Jesus, “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and the Global Food Initiative, together and separately, provide ways for congregations to advocate for issues related to food, create sustainable community gardens, and, overall, care for the hungry in their neighborhoods.

Congregations also partner with Global Mission and Service to work alongside mission workers and international Brethren bodies as they start new church plants around the world—building churches, training pastors, and developing communities. Churches also support, in many ways, the efforts of Brethren Disaster Ministries. These ministries provide much needed humanitarian aid to those who have lived through disasters and simply need help.

Congregations are working with Discipleship Ministries to dig deeper into their relationships with God through use of deacon ministry resources, sending youth to National Youth Conference, empowering young adults through Young Adult Conference and Ministry Summer Service, and walking through the Vital Ministry Journey to discern how to more richly live into the Great Commission in their communities and circles of influence.

When I pause and think of all the stories that have been shared with me, stories that share the overwhelming effects of our ministry in the United States and globally, it sustains and renews my hope, and causes me to shout and sing for joy because of the great things God is doing among us.

As we give thanks through November and celebrate Giving Tuesday (11/27), we invite you to join us in shouting and singing for joy because of all that the Lord has done!

Join the celebration by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.

Righteous relationships

Tori Bateman, Monica McFadden, and Nathan Hosler of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

In 2007, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference delegate body adopted the “Separate No More” statement, which calls us to become the multicultural, multiracial, multinational, and multilingual church envisioned in Revelation 7:9. The vision in scripture and the one to which we committed is greater than a photogenic diverse hymn sing. It is a vision that recognizes how, as we draw closer to God, we also draw closer to one another. We become more compassionate in relationships as we see one another the way God sees us. In an effort to better express this, we changed the names of two core ministry areas.

Discipleship Ministries (formerly Congregational Life Ministries) reminds us that our faith journey is not defined by our congregational affiliation, but by our spiritual journey—both individually and collectively. This also means that having a right relationship with God is shaped and shared through building right relationships with one another. The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (formerly Public Witness) as a ministry in Washington, D.C., connects our faith with our national identity. To stand together, bridging the divides of the world, we are peacebuilders in the spirit of Christ.

The “Separate No More” statement gave us the following challenge:  “Congregations become informed about the conditions of life for ethnic and racial minorities within their neighborhoods and their congregations, so that when inequities are uncovered, they can make strong commitments of time and financial resources to local organizations working on these issues.”

In the New Testament, one Greek word used to describe the body of Christ is “dikaios,” which is translated righteousness but also justice. Since both can be used in English, we can call this work either racial justice or racial righteousness; however, scripture does not separate the two. By faith, we are called to be discipled within our church and, as a result, to work for change in systems, structures, and habits of racism in society. Not assuming that we already possess righteousness, we seek to have right relationships and to address problems in the world. The work to heal the wounds of racism is both internal and external and has the goals of justice and righteousness. To do this work means being shaped and formed by the process of discipleship.

Many congregations have been doing this work in their communities. Several members of the Mission and Ministry Board and staff have taken the Sankofa Journey. Young people attend Christian Citizenship Seminar in Washington, D.C., and New York to connect their faith with contemporary social justice work. Discipleship Ministries hosts a pre-Annual Conference training with the goal of exploring how our faith can shape our understanding of racialized hierarchies. Intercultural Ministries provide support to individuals and congregations engaged in ministry.

To increase our awareness of how government policy creates racialized experiences and discrepancies, we are testing a new Brethren Volunteer Service position in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy through a partnership with Intercultural Ministries and the Global Food Initiative. Monica McFadden, who served in our office last summer as a Ministry Summer Service intern, recently accepted the call to serve in this role.

Thank you for partnering in this work through your support of the Church of the Brethren. By working in your community and supporting these denominational ministries prayerfully and financially, this work can be expanded in the years ahead so that the church can better live into God’s vision of diversity. Through being faithful disciples—growing in righteousness and justice—all of us are engaging in the vital work of healing in our churches and communities.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Decoding your community

Christina Singh (center) talks with Laura Leighton-Harris (left) and Kevin Kessler (right) at the New and Renew Church Planting Conference.
Photo by Doug Veal

By Christina Singh, pastor of Freeport (Ill.) Church of the Brethren and member of the Mission and Ministry Board

When I first heard about the Church Planting Conference of our denomination, it did not sound like something that would interest me. But two words in its tagline caught my attention: Revitalize and Grow! Fixated on these words, I decided to attend.

For two years, I have gone into the community around our church to spread God’s word but have found little success. There is so much potential and so many unchurched people around us, so I have felt the burden to approach them and introduce them to Christ. Going to the New and Renew Church Planting Conference, I was determined to get the most out of the experience and to learn information relevant to my community, to the church in a small town where God has placed me.

The workshop that helped me most was “Decoding your Community” by Ryan Braught, who planted the Veritas Community Church in 2009 in Lancaster, Pa. This two-part workshop moved me into action and gave me insight and tools as to how we, as a church, can successfully do God’s work in our community.

The first session of this workshop taught us how to understand the culture of where God has placed or called us. We learned that a culture is defined by language, artifacts, narratives, rituals, institutions, and ethics. Ryan then shared practices that help decode a community. One of them was “walk, observe, and pray with your eyes.” To demonstrate this practice, he read from Acts 17:16-34, which can be summarized by verses 22 and 23:

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you’” (NIV, emphasis added).

Inspired by scripture and putting our learning from the first session to good use, in the second session we actually went out and practiced how to decode the community and bring people to Christ. When we walk around our communities, we need to ask, “what objects of worship are found in this community? Or what does the community ‘worship’?” It could be anything! We just have to be willing to talk with people and invite them to worship Jesus Christ rather than worship an “unknown god.”

After the New and Renew Conference, I shared what I learned with members of our church board and commission team. Now we have a great vision and plan for our church to serve the community, revitalize, and grow. Together we will work to carry out the great commission.

Find video recordings and find photos from the 2018 New and Renew Church Planting Conference at www.brethren.org/churchplanting.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Blooming in Rwanda

The Ludwick family, mission workers in Rwanda.

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

My flower garden in full bloom is a wonderful sight to see this time of year. The days are hot but the evenings are cooler, and each night dew forms on flower petals. When dawn breaks, bumblebees bounce about, as do hummingbirds, and the morning breeze blows through the garden. The droplets of dew on each plant roll off, falling to the ground and gently watering the roots of neighboring plants.

The ministry of Global Mission and Service functions in a similar fashion. As mission workers and international leaders care for their communities, they also receive care and encouragement. It is just as the Apostle Paul wrote when he hoped to visit the believers in Rome that they “might mutually encourage one another” (Romans 1:12).

Just a few weeks ago, the Ludwicks packed their bags and caught an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Kigali, Rwanda. This small family from the Harrisburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren committed to serve as mission workers for a year with a newly established Brethren church community in western Rwanda. Their ministry will include many things, but first and foremost they will be led to new levels of trust—in God, their new Brethren community in Rwanda, and their home congregation.

The Church of the Brethren is just getting started in Rwanda. There are currently four small congregations: one in the city of Gisenyi and three in rural areas where a significant number of members attend from Batwa Pygmy community, the indigenous inhabitants of the equatorial forests of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The Rwandan Brethren have a deep desire to reach out to this marginalized community and have even started a Batwa Pygmy choir.

For Christine and Josiah Ludwick, moving their children, Asher and Rachel, to a new country in the heart of Africa required much faith in Jesus. As they serve, they are also trusting that God, who called their family in this new direction, will supply all their needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

The charge we have given the Ludwicks is simple but profoundly meaningful: be present, build relationships, and be mutually encouraged by the Brethren in Rwanda. Since Christine is a nurse practitioner and Josiah is a youth minister and skilled musician, they will teach, provide medical care, sing, and serve. In return, the Rwanda Brethren will teach the Ludwicks to function in a society that they do not know. This includes finding housing and transportation, teaching them how to shop and cook, sharing advice, and providing support all along the way. The transition will be difficult, and the Ludwicks will surely have many questions, but their new Brethren community will bear with their newness and guide them into meaningful ministry. Together, they will offer the gospel of peace to those they encounter—something that is greatly needed in Rwanda at this time.

In addition to trusting in God and their new Brethren family in Rwanda, the Ludwicks are also trusting in their home congregation and in all of us of the Church of the Brethren in the United States. They are in great need of our prayers, encouragement, and financial support. Through your gifts to Global Mission and Service, the Ludwicks and other mission workers can continue to serve where God has called them.

As the Ludwicks and Rwandan Brethren serve in ministry together, they will mutually encourage one another and water the growth that is already started. Through trusting in God and one another, the blossoming ministry in Rwanda will become an ever more wonderful sight to see.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global or support its ministry at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Living your passion

Dan McFadden being honored by Roy Winter at the 2018
Brethren Volunteer Service luncheon at Annual Conference.
Photo by Regina Holmes

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

My BVS colleagues laugh at me when we start talking about BVS themes. Any time we are looking for a theme about how BVS has impacted your life, what is important about BVS, or an anniversary year, I seem to come back to the 50th anniversary theme, “Living the Story.” The staff say, “Not again, Dan! We have beaten that theme into the ground!” And yet it keeps working for me.

In 1996, soon after I started in this position, we formed a committee to plan the 50th anniversary of BVS. Don Snyder, a former BVS staff trainer in BVS’s New Windsor days, was on the committee. We were trying to come up with the right theme for that anniversary when Don said, “I was just singing the hymn ‘I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love,’ and I thought, in BVS we don’t tell the story of Jesus, we live the story of Jesus.” Bingo. Theme!

This is now the 70th year of BVS. How does one summarize a program that has influenced so many lives? All the time, people tell me how BVS has made an impact on their lives. “ My BVS years were some of the best years of my life,” they say. Here’s one of those stories: In 1956, Nancy Schall Hildebrandt and Carol Stephens Scott lived for a year on top of a mountain near Kingsport, Tenn., serving a small rural church in some of the most rustic conditions in which BVSers have served. They had no running water and made an indoor latrine. They rode horses to get around. They were two young women on their own in the hills of Appalachia. I wonder if any parents today would let BVS send their children into a setting like that. But Nancy says that year was very formative in her life. What is it about hardship and struggle that makes an experience like BVS so formative?

Not everyone’s year of service is hard. But in most cases the setting is unfamiliar and the culture is new (after all, any placement site is a new culture for the volunteer). The volunteer must develop connections and friendships just to survive. Those experiences of growth can influence a whole lifetime of living. The saying is true: BVS does “ruin” you for life.

My own BVS story started in the fall of 1981. Orientation for Unit 152 was held at the now closed Camp Woodbrook, in Mid-Atlantic District. There were 33 of us. We received 50¢ for breakfast, 75¢ for lunch, and $1 for dinner per person, per day, to buy the food for our meals. (That amount has gone up only 75¢ in 36 years). I was pre-assigned to serve in Honduras with Salvadoran refugees fleeing the war across the border. Looking back from my current chair as director, I wonder if that was wise. My Spanish wasn’t good enough. Steve Newcomer and I were sent to what was, for all practical purposes, a war zone.

Through no fault of the BVS staff, the receiving agency didn’t know who we were when we arrived. We had little support, and it was a difficult assignment. Perhaps the staff at the time wondered if they had made a mistake sending me there. And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for a different experience.

Since then? I came back to BVS as the director in late 1995. When I’m done, I will have served for 22 years and 11 months. I met my wife in BVS. Two of our children served in BVS and now live where they served. Our third entered BVS this summer. Do I have a passion for BVS? Absolutely! I recruit all the time. I buttonhole young adults while waiting to board a plane anywhere in the world. I’m expecting one of those recruits to show up any day now! Living the story? Those words still work for me.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support its ministry at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

United: Pursuing peace together

Learn more about the 2018 Mission Offering at www.brethren.org/missionoffering

A scriptural exegesis written by Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship, for the 2018 Mission Offering.

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).

The early Brethren were part of the Pietist movement within the German Reformed church of their time. Pietists were those folks who sought to live what the Bible said. Those around them, also part of the church, did not use the name “Pietist” in a nice way. It was a slur. Today it would be like calling someone “holier than thou.”

It may be hard for us to think of piety as something negative. And though the word is not used as much as it was in the 18th century, the idea remains embedded within our tradition. We strive to live lives according to the Scriptures. As one Annual Conference theme reminded us, we “take Jesus seriously.” Yet, we should remember that what is pious to us may be legalistic to others.

That was Paul’s concern as he wrote these chapters in Romans. It appears that the Christians in Rome did not get along very well. As the capital city of the empire, it was home to people from all over. Some were Roman, either by birth or by citizenship, and had adopted the customs and practices of “good” Roman people. Historians now call these people Hellenists. They spoke Latin or Greek, or both, and saw the world through the prism of the great civilizations of Greece and Rome. There were also Hebrew people in the capital city. Though they were far from the worship practices of the temple in Jerusalem, they practiced their faith and culture with conviction. These diaspora people, or those scattered from their homeland, saw their religious customs as key to their identity, just as the Romans did their own culture.

For the early Christian community of Rome, these two cultural systems seem to have been a significant source of conflict. Much of Paul’s letter deals specifically with the conflict of law, religion, and culture that quickly emerged between Hellenist and Hebrew followers of Jesus. This letter, one that scholars and theologians call his most eloquent and succinct articulation of the gospel, was written to bring these to cultural groups together.

Food customs provided one of the sources of contention. Hebrew religious practice certainly dictated what food could and could not be eaten. And surely for the Hellenists, those customs were odd and parochial. Food valued by the Hellenists, even delicacies, were not within Hebrew kosher practice. Such a conflict might seem minimal to our modern sensibilities, but for the early church, eating together was a significant part of their life. Paul focused on this conflict because it was doing exactly the opposite of what shared meals in the church meant. Instead of bringing the people together, it was dividing them.

Ever the reconciler, Paul chastised the Roman Christians without naming fault. Instead, he revealed how any kind of piety practiced without faith and concern for others in the community, was not just divisive, it was sin. He did not call into question the sincerity of their customs, but instead highlighted how the practices of their piety were more about pride than they were about faith. Here, the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount echo just beneath the page: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1, NRSV).

Paul’s critique, however, came with an instruction. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification” (Romans 14:19, NRSV). We might be tempted to emphasize Paul’s exhortation to peace in the church, but that would miss the qualifying clause at the end. Peace is not the end, in and of itself. Rather, the peace within the church is so that all believers might be edified and grow in their faith. Setting aside religious practices is not a decision to be made lightly. Rather, Paul’s admonition was for the church to emphasize two things—their shared faith in Christ and their need to build each other up in the faith. If the pious practices were sowing discord, they were also undermining the each one’s discipleship to Jesus.

For us good Pietists, Paul’s words to the Roman church are a clear challenge. While we deeply value the practices of our faith we must continue to examine our motivations and the impact on fellow believers. Peace, in this regard, is a characteristic of our community and our practices. When our practices sow discord and conflict, Paul warns us, we are not true Pietists. May our practices and changes of practice, both rooted in our faith, lead us to be United: Pursuing peace together.

Find a full order of service for the 2018 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 16) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or support the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

New and renew

Worshiping together at the New and Renew Church Planting Conference.
Photo by Doug Veal

By Stan Dueck, director of Organizational Leadership

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

I am on the highest of highs after the New and Renew Church Planting Conference that was held May 16-19. Participants experienced the presence and blessing of God during times of worship, prayer, and connecting with one another. Everyone departed the conference with a greater understanding of ministry and with useful resources to impact a new church plant or bring renewal to an established congregation. As one attendee stated, “This was an energizing conference with practical ideas and resources for different ministry contexts and situations.”

The conference theme, “The Risk, and Reward of Embodying Jesus Locally,” was based on John 1:14. The event provided the space for participants and presenters to share about the challenging and rewarding work of planting a new church, explore ways to be the dynamic presence of Christ in their local community, and offer testimonies of God’s faithfulness.

Another highlight at the event was seeing these pioneering, planting leaders as the embodiment of potential for multicultural diversity within the Church of the Brethren. Several church planters at the conference recently started Hispanic churches, including new projects in Los Banos, Calif. and Las Vegas, Nev.

Diversity could also be identified by the variety of new churches. One planter initiated a project in the Baltimore metropolitan area and it has become a growing multicultural church in just a year. Another leader in Chicago is pioneering a ministry that is extending the reach of their faith community into new places in their local context and also around the world. Another planter is pioneering the renewal of a congregation by connecting it to a startup ministry on a college campus.

The United States today is composed of a multitude of nationalities from every corner of the globe. Few other areas of the world bring together such varied ethnicity. And while all people groups retain some measure of their own historical identity, they also create unique subcultures as they become part of the ever-changing culture of North America.

As a result, the Church of the Brethren faces exceptional ministry opportunities that hold the promise of transforming countless lives through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The opportunities require fresh, creative approaches. These pioneer leaders, who are planting new churches and renewing established congregations, have a passion for seeing God glorified among those who are spiritually apart from the gospel of Jesus.

Discipleship Ministries of the Church of the Brethren, formerly known as Congregational Life Ministries, values the relationship with these pioneers who seek to care for their community as an extension of their call and passion to fulfill the Great Commission. Discipleship Ministries walks along these pioneers through coaching, training, and fostering relational networks.

Thank you for giving to further these ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Your prayerful and financial support of these ministries sustains these men and women as they serve God and their communities. Together we can celebrate the faithfulness of God as people discover Christ’s love and another way of living.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Another way of living

Support Church of the Brethren ministries today at www.brethren.org/give

By David Steele, General Secretary

Greetings to you in the name of Christ our Savior!

Once again, I want to express my gratitude for the many ways you and your congregation faithfully strive to live out the gospel—to simply try to do what Jesus did. The vital ministries of our Church of the Brethren congregations, small and large, are at the heart of our church. We should never diminish the essential role that each unique part of the body plays in our common ministry together.

These are challenging, yet hopeful, times for the Church of the Brethren. It is easy to be consumed by our struggles, yet I am heartened by the incredible ministries and programs that are happening in our congregation, districts, and the denomination. I count it a privilege to work with an incredible team of staff working on your behalf to help us all continue the work of Jesus.

As a denomination, we have been working to refocus our efforts and adapt to meet the changing needs of the church. As has been reported via Newsline, there have been a number of staffing changes and ongoing internal structural adjustments. From an outside perspective, these changes may appear cosmetic, but they represent a shift toward a more holistic approach to our ministries, grounded in mission and discipleship.

Our mission aims to serve as Christ’s presence in communities, establishing local churches, both in the United States and internationally, that offer a cup of cold water to a thirsty world. Where there is conflict, we offer peace. Where there is suffering, we offer healing. Where there is hunger, we offer food. Where there is ignorance, education. Where there is despair, fellowship. Brethren mission stands as Christ’s light in the world, challenging the church to be more than a mere mouthpiece of the gospel, but also a doer of good works that demonstrate God’s love to the world.

Through our discipleship, we embrace Jesus’ call to go make and be disciples, sharing our lives more fully with others. This emerging vision of discipleship has its emphasis on making and growing disciples, forming and developing leaders, and transforming communities. As we strive to support new and renewing congregations, we are recovering a Brethren way of evangelism, helping congregations to disciple new people—more diverse people, more young people.

While intentionally grounding our ministries in mission and discipleship, we are also assessing our efforts at intercultural ministries. We as a church must more fully live into the 2007 Annual Conference statement “Separate No More: Becoming a Multi- racial Church.” This must be more than just a commitment. It must become our desire: desire not only expressed through advocacy but growing out of Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor. A desire that finds its roots in mission and discipleship. We must begin nurturing this kind of desire in our hearts and the hearts of others—into the heart of the church—because it is this kind of desire that will open us to new possibilities to thrive.

My friends, I do hope you believe that our struggle together is worthwhile. We are doing great things together in our congregations, in our districts, and in the denomination. Our efforts of offering the cup of cold water to the world reveals that we are about another way of living—the way of Jesus. May we not forget that through our simple acts of service and peacebuilding we, too, are working to save the world—in Jesus’ name.

I invite you to join me in another way of living.

Will you give to the Church of the Brethren today?
www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)