Selling Dad’s Farm

Selling Dad’s Farm

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Melvin Lehman conducted by Reagan Schrock. Melvin lives with his family in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he served as a teacher at Faith Builders Educational Program for many years. Melvin is passionate about teaching the Bible to the next generation and enjoys tending their small family farm.

***

Mennonite culture has traditionally promoted work that is centered around agriculture and working with one’s hands. But in the last decades, a shift has begun towards fewer people working the land. Instead, Mennonite breadwinners have moved toward more “conventional” forms of income. As one who grew up on a dairy farm, I have been a part of this transition. I have also observed that those who still farm have changed too. Farming is done differently now than it was when I was young, and I think that is more significant than some realize.

I grew up attending Strasburg Mennonite Church in Chambersburg Pa. At least 70 percent of the families there were either directly involved in agriculture or at least connected to it-such as working in a feed mill. Today, in the same congregation, there are less than 20 percent who farm. This vocational tendency is quite prevalent east of the Appalachians. Many of the Western churches still have significant numbers involved in agriculture, but even there, the changing scene is evident.

The results of this shift are not all negative. The changes are significant, but intelligent people pay attention to what’s happening and pay attention to their core values, understandings, and so on. It is important for all of us to grapple with the significance of these changes.

So how will this affect our culture? This occupational shift is a part of the reason for the fragmentation in our circles. The shift is certainly not the only reason for the fragmentation, but it is a contributor. The generation of the early 20th century farmed together more than what my parents did. Labor intensive work such as threshing grain called for 4-6 families to pool their resources to keep up with the work. The agricultural community set the agenda for the church community.  Schedules were created to accommodate the farmer. The upshot is that farming together created community out of necessity. As the movements away from the farm happened, that natural integration of church community began to come apart at the seams. Few have been paying attention.

There are some good aspects to the migration from farm to something else. Although moving away from the agricultural lifestyle has contributed some to acculturation, depending on your perspective, the acculturation may be helpful. A few examples might be- turning from the German language to the English language and the development of businesses that resulted in rubbing shoulders with neighbors in the workplace. In short, it forced us into contact with the broader society and reduced isolation from our non-Mennonite neighbors. This contact has helped to correct the tunnel vision that is so common when we are too introverted.

One of the most significant down sides to the move away from the farm is that of less dad-presence. It doesn’t matter how you cut it, farming created great opportunity for lots of dad-presence. On the family farm where I grew up, I experienced 24/7 dad-presence for the most part. Dad put on his bib overalls and we worked together all day on the farm. By way of contrast, my father-in-law was a trucker. To this day, he says that the worst thing about his job was being away from home too much of the time. There was a price he paid for that absence of dad-presence. I do not think everyone needs to go back to the farm to have healthy dad-presence. But I do think it is important for us to be thoughtful and intentional about creating a culture where Dad is “at home” in his own household.

To explore this a bit farther, consider how farming itself has changed in the past 40 years. Few in my family still farm. My one nephew who does dairy farming hires Mexicans to do his milking; not all the time, but sometimes. My dad would never have done that. Ours was a family dairy farm and we did all the work. A benefit was that I received an education from my dad—a political and theological orientation so to speak, while milking in a stable. Not a milking parlor, mind you, but stanchions and cows facing away from the walkway while we did the menial tasks of milking. That was every morning and evening, seven days a week. We wouldn’t think of having somebody else milk the cows. My dad and I, along with my brothers had an hour and a half to two hours every morning and every evening, milking cows and talking about life and the neighbors. (Of course there were plenty of times that the mood dictated silence.) My nephew will be missing that. I do not criticize him for hiring help, but those are some of the changes in farming methods that he and others are facing. To reiterate, it’s not just the movement from farm to city that is changing the cultural landscape. It’s the changes within farming itself that I think affect us more than we might realize.

Looking towards the future, I have four question that I suggest we think about. One: What must we do to create community solidarity? Two: How can we maintain and improve a strong work ethic that we gained on the farm?  Three: How can we increase dad-presence when our culture pushes us away from such? Four: How can we stay connected to the good earth in good ways as we move away from the farm?

How should we approach the future in light of these questions? Well, first we should consider how we might develop models and strategies for sustainable small-scale farming. I think we’ve given up on “farming” too quickly. Again, don’t misunderstand me to say that I think we should all get back on the farm. My point is that we have obviously experienced some real value from farming. Why just give up because it seems not to pay enough in dollar value or in free time? Why not explore small-scale strategies and make farming more accessible to more people?

What are some possibilities for small-scale farming? I have grass-fed beef. Why am I doing that? One reason is that it fits with today’s cultural atmosphere of eating healthy. Raising grass-fed beef is also inexpensive. When I say it’s inexpensive, I mean that you can raise an animal with far less cash investment if you’re feeding only grass and hay. The equation changes if you want to fatten them fast by feeding corn or some other high protein grain. This is what I mean by developing models and strategies for sustainable small-scale farming. I am a teacher, but I do small- scale farming with relatively inexpensive equipment on the side. Here in Northwest Pa, one can create a supplementary income by tapping trees and making maple syrup. My vision would call for some thinking and doing outside of the box. It seems to me that at times Mennonites are too quick to buy into modern farming methods—more fertilizers, more pesticides, etc.—in spite of mounting evidence that such approaches may be problematic. Should we not be leaders in the field for alternative means to make the land productive? Buying into modern farming methods leads to big business models. The result is that farming becomes less and less accessible to the average person. It is true that there are many people in the world to feed. This seems to argue for bigger and better. But I wonder if we would not be able to achieve a more sustainable productivity from the land over the long haul by keeping the farm small enough to be family owned and family run. I have a vision for this, but we will have to do some innovative work to make it happen.

One way would be by encouraging small businesses. Our people have naturally moved that direction. When I was around 12 years old I remember my dad telling me and my brothers, “Boys, you can’t all farm.” which I also took to imply, “at least not on the scale I am farming.” He continued, “Some of you are going to have to do something else.” He thought I should be a mechanic, which was my occupation as a young adult. We need to encourage small businesses that will give us a chance to capture the core values that are present in farming. Those values could possibly be garnered and passed on to the next generation in small businesses. I think we are more vulnerable in the professional world. Certainly some have pursued the professions and done quite well. Whatever, our vocational choice, I think a key question is the dad-presence question. Will it increase or decrease?

Another possibility is to take agriculture and business to the city. This is kind of cutting edge, but I know of some who are doing this. One man I know of has a special interest in aquaponics and hopes to “farm” in the city sometime. That fascinates me! Why not take farming to the city? Why not find ways of producing food right in town? There are limits, of course, but why not explore the limits? This is something that we should pursue. The younger generation has an interest in city life, but they will have to think carefully about the gains and the losses. There are always pros and cons. My suggestion here is perhaps there is something to be gained by carrying some of our cultural instincts in respect to farming right into the city.

Thinking beyond the farm now, what do we need to do? We need to integrate professionals into community culture. The transition is that of moving from farm, to trades, to business, to semi-professional, and professional. So what about the professionals? What I hear from them (doctors, nurses, and so on) is that, particularly in the typical Mennonite community,  they feel like they’re at sea. I think more effort needs to be made to integrate the professional into the core activities of the community. We need thoughtfulness and hard work in this area.

To summarize, I would say that we need to identify core values and promote them through multiple avenues, in our effort to carry them forward generationally. An example would be our sturdy work ethic. A strong work ethic is natural to the farm. Not all vocations point as strongly toward that same sense of grit and determination. For the dad who is a professional nurse, he comes home and his evenings are free. (I know he wouldn’t think so.) It appears that he has more leisure time. More leisure time means more “fun” options to pursue. Increase leisure time and the culture will change. Hopefully, the change will be positive. Often it is not.   My generation has seen this firsthand. For example, if a game of softball or volleyball were planned on a Wednesday or Thursday evening when I was a child, my dad would have responded, “You’re going to do what? There’s hay to unload! What do you mean you’re playing volleyball this evening?” Many do not have those kinds of restraints on their time in today’s world. That means it will be harder to maintain the sturdy work ethic that was naturally a part of the farm. This is just one example of a core value that we should preserve and protect. I have confidence that with prayerfulness and persistence, the next generation will rise to this task.

__________________

 

Why Graduate From Four Colleges

Why Graduate From Four Colleges

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Kyle Stoltzfus conducted by Reagan Schrock. Kyle is on staff at Faith Builders Educational Program, a conservative Anabaptist school whose mission is to prepare young people to serve their churches and communities through teaching and ministry. Kyle manages the communications department while pursuing a graduate degree in church history and theology. He lives with his family in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania.

***

When I think about being a student of four different colleges, I sometimes feel this wave of shame. There are stereotypes which imply that people who keep going to college will become perpetual students who are of no earthly good after a while. As much as I’d like to say that I had big ideals about having a college education and of hoping to end up here at Faith Builders on staff, that’s just not the reality.

So why would somebody attend four colleges? For me—it was because I couldn’t build mini barns. Coming out of high school and trying to enter the workforce, I had some ideas about where I wanted to be headed, but they were vague and poorly defined. I was a decent student and knew something about computers, but I had very few manual skills.

I think a lot of people coming out of high school go for blue collar jobs that are immediately available to them; a low-level job where you apply and get the position. My application went to a business called Yoder Barns. I applied, got the job, and became a laborer. I guess some people can learn carpentry faster because they are more skilled or have background in it. However, I soon realized that I’m actually rather bad at building mini barns. I would arrive early and faithfully to work every day, but I would look at the time clock, time card in hand, and be absolutely miserable. I knew I would punch in, go out on the floor, and hate every moment of the day. I had a gnawing ache of sadness and depression. The ache goaded me to do something different. I needed a springboard and that’s what pushed me toward college.

My first experience came through Penn College where I earned an Associate’s Degree in computer science. They offer “degrees that work”. They are a skill focused school and offer technical degrees. After earning my degree, I began to see other possibilities besides just manual trade skills. Going to school allowed me to apply for a job that I otherwise wouldn’t have even considered because it would have been out of my league. I got the job, moved two hours away from my home area, and began to apply the skills I had gained.

Skills developed in college are not designed to cover everything. But they gave me the confidence I needed to settle into a new job. After starting that job I met my wife, Marlene, who was teaching school. Although we were making pretty good money, working long hours, and enjoying the meaningful work our skills-focused jobs gave to us, we still felt unfulfilled. What was the significance of our work? We were beginning to feel kind of burned out around the margins. My wife and I knew how to work, but how should we work with meaning? How could we learn to serve people that we care about and contribute something into their lives? These considerations brought us to Faith Builders. They had a faithful view of life, more than just a view of meeting the bottom dollar or getting to the American dream. I studied at Faith Builders for two years, and was then asked to come on staff.

The two-year degree at Penn College gave me technical skills and an occupation. Faith Builders helped me to find meaning in the work and answered the question of how I could participate more fully in God’s Kingdom with my work. The third part of my education, a bachelor’s degree from Liberty University online, paved the way for graduate school. This was the progression in my life which has prepared and provided for meaningful work and service.

When asked if I would recommend these steps for others, or if college should be pursued at all, one could consider the question, “Should I continue to grow, develop, and change?” The answer is yes, absolutely. Everybody needs to do that or else life will quickly become stale and stagnant. Regardless of the type of field a person is interested in getting into−whether it is carpentry, the manual trades, etc.−you are going to need to grow, change, and find sources of input to make that happen.

Would I recommend that someone go to four colleges or go to college at all? No, for two reasons. First, the skills which people bring to life around them are different. Some people are more suited to do manual labor and that is necessary and good. Second, anyone who goes to college in an attempt to elevate themselves above the common laborer probably has a defective view of schooling. There are many different types of intelligences. Some kinds of intelligence, such as being a farmer, are more applied. That doesn’t make the work less intelligent; it’s just a different kind. People who go to college may be more gifted in abstraction and being able to spin yarns and theory. Their education isn’t really complete until they develop something of a very gentle contempt, perhaps, for those abstract abilities as they recognize the limitations. A farmer needs a diversity of skills. He needs to care for cows, take care of his plants, be a diesel mechanic, and a bookkeeper. He needs all of these various skills, and it takes a certain kind of person to do that well. That person may not be well suited for academics, but the academic person, if you put him in that same situation, would probably fumble.

Superficially, one incentive to attending college is that having a degree will allow for a higher pay scale−if you can find a job after graduating. We might also think that a college experience can help us find what is authentic about ourselves. But you’re probably going to be disappointed if you look at going to school or landing the perfect job as “finding that core identity”. There’s just more to it than that.

These are relatively superficial reasons to attend college. So we must get down to the questions of real value. Do I want to do this job because I want to grow in my capacities? Why do I want to enlarge my abilities as a person?

Going to college not only helps us to gain particular working skills, but also provides a different way of looking at the world. You come out on the other end of college training and see new possibilities in the world that you didn’t see before. The possibility may be as simple as saying, “Oh, you’re having trouble with making sense of your finances. I have tools and training that can help you sort that out.” You are seeing possibilities on the other side of those muddled up finances. It begins to change how you see the world. When things break, you see the possibility of a system that works again, such as the possibility of health in patients who are really sick. The possibilities begin to bring equipped people’s imaginations alive. With a college education, they now have skills which make a possibility of something previously out of reach.

This is all good motivation for going to college, but, for the Christian, we can go even deeper than that. The statesman Abraham Kuyper is quoted as saying, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”1 This call of Christ extends into that space of imagination where we begin to see possibilities in the world, as well as into the disciplines a person gains from college. It begins to change and inform how they see the possibilities.

There is talk in today’s world about the sacred and the secular. The majority of trades that people learn in college—whether nursing, mathematics, or technical skills—are all chunked off in the realm of the secular. What this really mean, though, is that these trades haven’t been influenced yet by the Christian imagination. In reality, they have already been claimed. This is what Kuyper was referencing when he spoke of Jesus laying claim to everything. “Mine!” The task of the Christian, then, is to see those possibilities as the raw material they really are. Seeing them through the lens of their education, claim them for Christ, and then rehabilitate or reform them. What is a Christian way of doing nursing? What is a Christian way of doing computer science? What is a Christian way of doing agriculture? There are incredible opportunities out there for this kind of reform because all of these kinds of work have been set apart as secular, when really it needs to be reclaimed for Christ. College allows you to have access to both worlds, spiritual and secular, and to begin to redeem and reclaim them together for Christ.

______________________

Samantha Trenkamp–My Journey to the Mennonites

Samantha Trenkamp–My Journey to the Mennonites

Anabaptist Perspectives, Testimony

The following is taken from an interview with Samantha Trenkamp conducted by Valonna Miller. After being raised Catholic, Samantha later encountered the Anabaptists and joined a Mennonite church. Samantha is part of the production team with Anabaptist Perspectives and also works in publications for other non-profit missions organizations. Her blog can be found here.

***


Valonna: Tell us a little of your life before joining the Mennonite church.

Samantha: My extended family identifies as Catholic on both sides, though nominally so. My dad attended a Catholic high school. My immediate family was nominal as well, but we wanted something more. We visited many different churches during my growing up years. We were never felt settled in the Catholic worldview, but we didn’t know anything else.
             I attended public school until 4th grade, at which point my mom and dad decided to begin homeschooling me and my siblings. It was difficult to leave behind our friends and enter a new way of life, as well as a whole new type of culture as the typical homesteader-homeschoolers. Another factor in my growing up years was that, young as I was, I was seriously on my way to becoming a professional dancer. I was helping to teach younger classes, performed with the Knoxville Ballet twice, studied briefly under a German choreographer, and had a trip scheduled to go to New York for further study. My instructor had great faith in me. But a series of events out of our control effectively derailed those ambitions, and I ended up not taking dance classes at all. Looking back, I’m certain that was a God-directed shift in my life for which I am thankful.

Valonna: Tell us about the transition from Catholic to conservative Mennonite. Was that challenging? How did you find information on the Mennonites? How did you find our churches?

Samantha: After we started homeschooling we began regularly attending a local Catholic church with another homeschool family. I was not baptized as an infant and so I received baptism through this church when I was 11, along with my other siblings. We did not understand why we were being baptized; it was just part of what you did, a part of the process of being in the Catholic church. I remember feeling less than satisfied over this time. I often found myself as the youngest in the crowd of young people and had few friends I could call my own. I felt alone and wanted the reality of people and relationship. I appreciated the traditions and rituals of Mass, but never felt connected to the Lord or to the people. God was never presented to me as Someone with whom I could have a relationship, so I viewed Him as a God who did things for me if I did all the right things by Catholic standards (reciting the Rosary, confession to the priest, partaking of the Eucharist, etc.). God was distant. I was never really told why we did things or what anything meant. After a time, our elderly priest became ill and was replaced by a younger priest, whom we did not feel we could support, so we started looking for another church.
          I was 12 to13 years old when we began attending a charismatic, non-denominational fellowship via another homeschool family. We liked it there because there were quite a few young people. A few weeks after we began attending, the youth were going on a retreat. Since we were unable to afford it at that time, the church paid the way for my sister and I so we could join them. It was during the retreat that I encountered Christ and took hold of His salvation for me personally. Because there was a great deal of emotionalism and expectations within that kind of geared up atmosphere, I wasn’t sure if it was a real salvation experience and chose not to receive believer’s baptism with my sister upon returning home. Looking back now, I know that is where Jesus first found me. Unfortunately we did not receive much follow-up in terms of discipleship. After attending the charismatic church for about six months, various issues began to arise internally. Ultimately we decided it was time to move on to another church, as did some other families.
            Over the next few years my mom began seriously researching the web and various books about denominations. She was open to just about any kind of Christian faith at that point. Surely there were people sincerely following Jesus and Scripture somewhere! Eventually she came across the Anabaptists. These people intrigued her and somehow she made contact with a Mennonite pastor in Indiana who sent us information on the faith and practice of the Mennonites. We began studying the Scriptures and Anabaptist faith and practices, but it would be a little while before we would actually meet anyone of Anabaptist faith.
          During that time we began adjusting our lifestyle according to what we found in Scripture. We experimented with practicing the woman’s head covering and wearing skirts. I remember the day my mom told us that she would like to start wearing the head covering regularly. I don’t understand it even now, but I went to my room, pulled out the only kerchief I owned, and put it on. Skirts though were a different issue. Having always been a prideful tomboy, wearing skirts was kind of hard for me. I remember standing in my closet with a garbage bag intended for the thrift store and struggling with having to give up my favorite pair of hunter’s camo cargo pants. Socially, that was harder for me to adjust to than wearing the covering. Anyone can wear a basic kerchief and not be too noticeable, but, as a woman, wearing a skirt gives you a whole new identity in society. When people see a woman who embraces her femininity, they look at and treat her differently. This was a good thing, but an adjustment all the same.
           Later on, when I was about 16, by a wild “coincidence”, we happened to be taking a new route home one day and were shocked to see a little Anabaptist church tucked back in the hills! We had been living in the Sevierville/Knoxville, TN area practically all of my life and here was a little church in the middle of nowhere right when we were becoming interested in that very thing! We called the pastor (Joe Rudolph), began attending the somewhat new church plant, and the rest is history. Our family had to move a couple of times after that for jobs between Kentucky and Tennessee, so the few churches we found during those years were discovered by randomly crossing paths with other Anabaptists, or by local people pointing us in the direction of other “head covering people” who were homechurching. Now it’s more than ten years later. I began attending Wellspring Mennonite Church almost 8 years ago, finally received a believer’s baptism when I was 21, and positively love being a part of this group of believers who love Jesus and His Kingdom.

Valonna: What were some of the contributing factors that convinced you to join the Anabaptists?

Samantha: There were two big reasons why I joyfully chose to identify with the Anabaptist faith and people:
1.   They were serious about being devoted to God and His Word. I had never really met people who lived out Scripture like they did. Not to say that they always did this perfectly, but if Jesus commanded it, they adjusted their lives accordingly so as to be faithful to Him. They were all in and all eyes on Jesus. During our attendance at the charismatic church, the 2002 “Spiderman” film had come out and the youth pastor showed it during a youth lock-in. Even as a young girl I wondered why in the world this kind of thing was being shown in a church! By living counter-culturally, the Anabaptists proved to me their sincerity and devotion to the Lord above all else. Generally speaking, in my experience with the various Christian denominations and people I came into contact with, the teachings of Jesus did not appear to have impact on how Christians lived their daily lives. They worshipped on Sunday and lived like anyone else the rest of the time. The Anabaptist people were radical, seriously committed, and I loved it.
2.   The other factor was community! Coming into that first Anabaptist church, they took us right into their homes and lives and hearts. They loved us and made us feel like we belonged. They were like one big family with everyone there for everyone else. I had never had that kind of connection or relationships with a church before. This continues to be one of the greatest blessings about being a part of the Anabaptists. In a world where everyone is fighting for the top, the Anabaptists take us back to the early church where we lay down our lives for one another.

 

Valonna: Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?


Samantha: Yes. Because of the path I chose in following Jesus and identifying with the Mennonite church, relationships with extended family became increasingly strained. Others who have come into the Mennonite church have experienced similar tensions. The Anabaptist worldview and lifestyle of faith rubs harshly against the grain of our flesh and it can be difficult for others to understand and accept. In spite of that, Jesus’ promise has proven true that, if we forsake all for His sake, including family, He will restore a hundred fold. I like to think of my faith family as my other “Blood” family, because the Blood of Jesus over His people is eternally binding.
When I take time to look back over my life, I often think of the hymn that says “The half has never been told”. So this is just a part of my testimony and journey with the Lord. God is faithful; all we need to do is trust and follow Him. Everything He does is good.

____________________

Mennonites and Social Media

Mennonites and Social Media

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Matthew Landis conducted by Reagan Schrock. Matthew serves on the leadership in his local church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. He is founder and owner of Landis Technologies, a technology company providing custom software and support to various industries. He is deeply interested in the effects of technology and how Anabaptists can respond in a reasonable, Christ-like way.

***

Social media (and technology in general) is a big question among Anabaptists. When computers first came out, they were not used to interact with others in natural and social ways. They were very technical, and people did not think of them as a tool to connect with one another. Now things have changed, and computers have gotten much easier to use. Older media, like TV and radio, were used to broadcast messages to many people at once. Social media, on the other hand, involves individuals interacting on a social level. Another interesting aspect of social media is that it is made up of user created content. Rather than a TV station creating broad content, individual users are creating and sharing with each other, and then interacting around their own content. TV and radio limits the user to information intake only, while social media allows for personal interaction as well as immediate feedback on those interactions.

Social media is also more decentralized than TV or radio. The individual sitting in his living room can amplify his voice, for good or bad. When two people are talking together in person they are communicating directly with each other without any type of interface. With social media, there’s an application (such as a web app or a phone app) that’s mediating or brokering our communication, which then has the ability to shape what we say. For example, Facebook has a “like” button, but it does not have a “dislike” button.

Neil Postman studied media and said, “…technological changes in our modes of communication are even more ideology-laden than changes in our modes of transportation”1. Interestingly enough, I think Anabaptists have been rather sensitive to this. As a matter of fact, one statement from the South Atlantic Mennonite Conference says this, “…one of the most significant areas of technology is in communications technology.”2 This is technology many conservative Anabaptists are concerned about. Neither medical nor transportation technology are major points of concern. They recognize the power of communication and information technology to shape and change the people and culture.

The ability to amplify a message is one of the ways that social media can be beneficial. Posting a positive message that reaches all around the world is a huge opportunity. On the other hand, many people take the same opportunity to distribute negative or harmful messages.

One important thing to remember when considering involvement in social media is to act on social media like you act in person. Providing of course that you’re acting right in person. Be consistent between who you are in person and who you are on social media. If you don’t talk about yourself all the time in person, don’t do it on social media. Kevin Kelly wrote a book entitled “What Technology Wants”, and Facebook certainly wants something. It takes intentionality to be aware of the direction social media pressures are pushing you and to fight against them.

In the past, Mennonites either didn’t become involved with or stepped back from those mediums of technology in which the user couldn’t participate. However, Mennonites did get involved in the forms of technology which allowed them to create content. With that history, it seems Mennonites will tend towards social media in the future. Some Mennonite groups might not use Facebook, but they will still use email socially. I think that people will use technology socially, in the sense of interacting with others, as well as being able to participate in creating content.

Typically, new ideas generate questions. I was not alive when Mennonite churches started to do street meetings, but I imagine that kind of outreach was somewhat controversial in the beginning. When we make a shift in how we do evangelism (which doesn’t happen overnight), we need to find the proper way to go about it. Street meetings began because that was where the people were located. There are lots of people in cities and on the streets; that is where you can actually engage with them.

I’m not saying everyone needs to approach it in this manner, but perhaps a way to think about social media would be to ask “Where are people today?” You can drive down Main Street and see them sitting on a bench looking at their phones. We know that people are on social media. If we want to reach the world with the Gospel, social media may be a very open avenue to meet people where they are.
___________________

The New Conservatives

The New Conservatives

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Melvin Lehman conducted by Reagan Schrock. Melvin lives with his family in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he also served as a teacher at Faith Builders Educational Program for many years. Melvin is passionate about teaching the Bible to the next generation, and enjoys tending his small family farm.

***

Ten years ago, after some of my interactions with the young folks who were coming to Faith Builders, I wrote an article entitled The New Conservative. I began to realize that they had a different perspective than I. But why was their perspective different? What had changed?

I grew up in public high school in the 1960’s and had taken in the rebellious mindset of the times. During that era, there was a fragmentation of the solidarity of the old Mennonite conference. Many divisions happened, but the biggest were between liberal and conservative.

What do we mean by “conservative” and “liberal”? Back at that time, the two were clearly defined. But as I taught students between 1980-2000, I could tell that they were not thinking in the same terms I did. These are the people I’m calling the “new conservative”. They were not coming out of that 60’s and 70’s perspective, but neither were they liberal. In fact, they were quite open to conservative people and thought. What I heard them asking for was a compelling reason to follow the conservative path. As I heard these students discussing issues that were relevant to their lives, I found six points that define the “new conservative”.

1. They appreciate traditional practice. When something is presented as traditional they do not react in opposition, but neither do they blindly accept simply for the sake of tradition. While a “liberal” would automatically react to anything that is traditional, the new conservative does not do that, which is why I refuse to call them liberal.

2. The new conservative rejects authoritarianism without relationship. I grew up in a world where authority might be quite distant, but if they spoke, you obeyed.

3. The new conservative seeks to respect and honor other Bible-believing groups. They seek to discourage divisiveness.

4. They value Christian education. As a teacher at Faith Builders, I care about education and I respect their position. Generally speaking, the deeper one goes into conservative thought, the more anti-education one tends to be. The new conservative, however, sees education as an outline to the kingdom, his church, and his life.

5. The new conservative emphasizes that separation from the world in thought and practice begins in the heart and affects every area of life, not just in arbitrarily selected areas. Being willing to not only accept, but embrace a position that separates me from a pagan world is important, although I prefer the term “countercultural” better than I do “separation”.

6. The new conservative longs for meaningful Christian community as a basis for personal growth and effective outreach. There are some who are wanting a level of community that seems slightly beyond their grasp in today’s Anabaptist circles. I hear the new conservative wanting community in a more complete and real sense.

These six things generally define the new conservative. So where are they headed? I think the new conservatives are tilted toward tolerance and away from raw authority in institutional organization. I think the new conservatives will struggle with administrative structures.However, the new conservatives will have to learn that structures are needed to move things forward. They will need to create these structures, and know the difference between godly tolerance that leads toward holiness, and tolerance that could open the door to crass worldliness.

There are some positives and negatives to new conservative ideology. A positive is its emphasis on missions, particularly children’s ministry. The millennial generation has become very concerned with the children of the world. There is an increased interest in childcare, pregnancy centers, Bible Clubs, and similar ministries. When I was growing up substantial focus was placed on prison ministry, which is still needed. However, children’s ministry is working from a better place as it seeks to lay a foundation early in life.

I already mentioned the community emphasis, but I’m not sure if the new conservatives have identified what they mean by community. Does it mean living together in close proximity? Is it just a feeling of camaraderie? Is it having a common goal? Again it seems that the new conservative’s work is to bring community emphasis into administrative structures that actually bring those ideals into reality.

A negative aspect of this movement is that, if one tries to show tolerance and be all things to all men, one ends up being almost nothing to everyone. I’m not saying that everyone needs to identify with the conservative Anabaptist constituency, but identity may be a little ambiguous for the new conservatives.

The new conservatives need to build a sustainable culture by passing their core values to the next generation. Thinking of the six items I mentioned earlier, I wonder if the next generation will carry them forward. People forget that values are carried forward generationally by traditions. Not artificial traditions, but traditions that are actually integrated into the values they represent. I’m not sure that the new conservatives are building that kind of sustainability.

Is new conservatism just a transition from Amish or Mennonite into mainstream Christianity? I’m optimistic that it is not. New Conservatism is not necessarily following or rejecting any particular ideology. The summary statement from my article reads, “I personally have a deep respect for the contributions of the ‘Old Conservative’ positions during the 20th century and have no desire to devalue that contribution by suggesting there is a ‘new’ way that we must follow. The path that leads to God is an old path that many saints have trod before us. We are brethren with them.” 1

I don’t see new conservatism as being a path to liberalism. On the contrary,I see it as being more aligned with conservative ideals and having a better chance of carrying forward those ideals versus the extreme conservatives or the liberals. Of course it has some serious flaws, but I think that the new conservative path has the best chance of carrying forward the best from the old conservative and actually providing a new perspective, but not one so different that it’s totally unrecognizable. There is the possibility of the new conservative shifting into liberalism. However, if it can stay on course, honestly grappling with the issues, sorting through some of the debris, and pulling in some of the framework we’ve talked about, I’m hopeful that it could be the path forward for next hundred years.

New conservatism isn’t unique to our time. In James Juhnke’s book Vision, Doctrine, War,2 he records some conversations and movements from the 1870’s-1930’s that are similar to new conservative ideals. People back then were asking the same questions that we are asking today. This current generation has a unique chance to carry forward these ideas. We have the opportunity, and we have some perspective and vision for it. Let’s be hopeful that we can actually plow ground, particularly in our generation, that hasn’t been plowed.

_________________

 

I Started an Anabaptist Women’s Magazine

I Started an Anabaptist Women’s Magazine

Anabaptist Perspectives

 

The following is taken from an interview with Rachel Schrock conducted by Reagan Schrock.
“Rae” is Founder and Chief Editor of Daughters of Promise Magazine. With a strong cup of coffee in hand, she loves exploring new and out of the way places, heartfelt talks with a friend, and doing anything creative and handmade. She lives in Virginia where she enjoys a quiet home in the country surrounded by fields and woods.
***

Daughters of Promise began in 2010. That was a really tough year for me personally. I was going through a lot of upheaval and tremendous loss in my life. I went to Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for a term which helped me find healing for some of the things I was struggling with. It was not only a time of breaking, but also a time of going deeper with God.

During that time I started talking with other women, began to hear their stories, and realized that we shared common struggles—that we had all been touched by pain. Many times our pain was centered around similar things such as relationships and identity. The women I met had questions about who they were and how they fit into the world. I began to really pray about how God wanted to use my story and the things I had learned to encourage other women. That was the heart behind why I began reaching out to women through the magazine.

Names have always been important to me, and the name “Daughters of Promise” just clicked. Initially it started out as an email newsletter to some of my friends from church and Bible school. But surprisingly, over the next year, the list of subscribers grew tremendously. Through a long series of events, my small team and I decided to make to make it a magazine format which was then published online digitally. Over time more women joined our team and in 2014 we began printing hard copies. Currently our staff numbers 26 women, including all of the writers, artists, and editors.

Daughters of Promise (DOP) has gone through a lot of changes. It is now produced quarterly and, at 112 pages, each issue resembles a book more so than a regular magazine. Despite the changes, our vision has remained the same. We want to encourage other women towards finding freedom and wholeness through an understanding of who we are in Christ. Outside of a relationship with Him, we are broken, lost, and destitute.

I think that women from conservative Anabaptist communities in particular have often struggled to know how to find their voice and to share with others. DOP provides a platform for women to share about the things that God has led them through personally, which then encourages other women who have had similar experiences. Readers will often say of an article they read in DOP, “I really connected with that.” We strive to feature content that is relevant to our Anabaptist culture and yet is relatable to a broad range of women. We don’t necessarily want to just offer answers, but to encourage readers to think about what is presented. Freedom in Christ often comes when we wrestle through the things we are experiencing, rather than simply being spoon fed answers.

Since turning DOP into a quarterly magazine, the response has been phenomenal. The magazine features more content such as stories, art, and the inclusion of interactive elements such as tear-out artwork, journaling space, and coloring pages. We have had the privilege of featuring some wonderful writers, including at least one article written by a man in each issue.

Daughters of Promise is available online at Daughters of Promise. We are also on Facebook and Instagram (@daughtersofpromise). DOP is a ministry, and our desire is to share with Anabaptist women that they can live in freedom through Christ.

________________

 

Local Church Evangelism

Local Church Evangelism

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Elijah Yoder conducted by Reagan Schrock. Elijah is a pastor and has been a full time teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Harrisonville, Pennsylvania.

***

Before we can talk about evangelism, we have to understand the biblical role of the church. The first time I taught the course on local church evangelism, I took the word “church” and traced it through the New Testament, expecting to find “church” used in relation to evangelism. What I actually found was that the word “church” is very seldom, if ever, used in direct reference to evangelism. Scripture doesn’t say that the church went out and evangelized. It was always individuals who were doing evangelism. The role of the church is discipleship and to be a place for the people to gather together and find fellowship. Then, as the church gathers, fellowships, and disciples together, the individual members go out and do evangelism. The key is not the programs that the church is using. The key is the people in the church.

In my Local Church Evangelism class, I’ll often ask my students about people from their local community that their churches have brought in. Almost always the story is that an individual from the church reached out and discipled that person. We’re not bringing people into fellowship through summer bible schools, kids clubs, and passing out tracts. Some of those relationships may come through vacation bible schools and kids clubs, but invariably it’s because someone in the church reached out and developed a relationship with that person.

The key to evangelism in the local church is not what the church as a whole is doing. Evangelism is not a sudden foray out into the world at an appointed time in which you accomplish the task of evangelism and then retreat back into normal life. Evangelism needs to be a lifestyle of caring for others and sharing with your neighbors on a daily basis. It takes commitment. Often we are too busy to engage with others or assume that it is someone else’s responsibility such as the minister or the church, but evangelism is the responsibility of each of us. Passing out tracts in the neighborhood can be effective, but follow-up through building relationships must follow. In kids club ministries, children often move on as they enter the teen years. The biblical foundation laid in clubs may draw them back to Christ, but usually these teens need a dedicated individual to disciple them in a long term relationship.

Sometimes sharing Christ on an everyday basis is difficult. Most of us have close relationships with non-believers, but too often we don’t share the Gospel with them. Neighbors, co-workers, or relatives are prime relationships for us to pursue and people with whom we can share Christ. The highest percentage of people from non-Mennonite backgrounds who are joining Mennonite churches are coming from these types of relationships.

Discipleship and living for Christ on a daily basis right where you are is the key. Our lives get busy so we ease our conscience by hosting a vacation bible school or tent meetings. Again, those methods aren’t wrong, but it’s not about the methods; it’s about the believer’s heart of love for the community. If a heart of love is missing, you can do all the activities you want and it won’t change anything.

I often have students at SMBI who become excited about evangelism, but upon returning home, realize that many believers are inactive in pursuing evangelism. My question is:

“What about you? What are you doing?”

I encourage those who want to start evangelizing to not do it alone; take someone else with you. There are a lot of people in our churches who want to do better in evangelism and outreach. Involve others; which often leads to more people getting involved.

The responsibility of evangelism is not on the pastor or the Sunday school superintendent, it belongs to each one of us. Bringing people into the fellowship of our churches will depend on you and I and our relationships with those around us. That is how real evangelism will happen.

__________________

Why Are There Mennonite Bible Schools?

Why Are There Mennonite Bible Schools?

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Clifford Schrock conducted by Reagan Schrock. Cliff is administrator and teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute where he has served for over ten years. He is best known for his classes on the topics of nonresistance, apologetics, and separation from the world. Cliff lives with his family in Harrisonville, Pennsylvania.

***

Bible schools began around the early‒mid 1900’s in our Mennonite circles because, as Anabaptist people, we place a high value on Scripture and knowing Scripture. Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute (SMBI) was started with the vision to provide a place of study for conservative Anabaptist young people in the eastern United States. There were other schools, but they were not as close to Lancaster, the hub of the Mennonite community in the east. There have been other Mennonite schools such as Hesston College and Goshen College, which also go back to the early 1900’s. However, colleges such as Hesston and Goshen moved away from their formerly held conservatism, becoming more liberal and conforming to mainstream culture. In contrast, SMBI has remained relatively unchanged in doctrine and practice for 40 years.

I think that SMBI’s lack of accreditation has helped it to maintain its conservative position. The qualifications for our instructors are not solely based on educational background or degrees; an area where schools are sometimes forced to compromise on character or theological position to maintain an academic accreditation. Our primary qualifications at SMBI are the spiritual life and character of our faculty.

The reason students attend Bible school is because they seek personal growth and enrichment. More of our young people are pursuing accredited degrees, but people don’t come to SMBI to get a degree for economic or career advancement. They are not looking to invest in a two-year degree or a four-year degree. SMBI doesn’t require a 2 year commitment; a student can come for anywhere from 6 to 24 weeks. We have five, six‒week sessions per year and students can come for any one or a combination of those five sessions.

I first came to SMBI as a student in 1997 for a six‒week session. Then I came again in the fall of 1998 for another six‒week session. I started teaching here in the spring of 2000, taught for three years, and then became assistant administrator for three years. Later I became administrator and have remained so for the past 11 years. I decided to go to Bible school after hearing testimonies from other students who had gone, and I also knew a few of the faculty for whom I had a great deal of respect. What inspired me as a student was the interaction with other young people and the encouragement and spiritual depth of the student body. Students were there to think seriously and to study. Along with that was the variety of students that were represented from many different backgrounds and places. Within that diversity, the common goal and bonding together was what encouraged me the most.

______________________

Why Do Mennonites Have So Many Choirs?

Why Do Mennonites Have So Many Choirs?

Anabaptist Perspectives

 

The following is taken from an interview with Benjamin Good, conducted by Reagan Schrock. Benjamin is a teacher and choir director at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute and has been regularly involved in various Mennonite choirs and conservative singing groups. He lives with his wife and children in Harrisonville, PA.

**

I have been teaching full-time at SMBI (Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute) since 2012. I grew up in a family that sang together quite a lot, so I’ve been singing all my life. I had my first experience in conducting here at SMBI, and I took a conducting class here. Besides directing the choir I also teach classes in music theory and music theology, as well as some Bible classes.

One reason that Mennonites have so many choirs is simply because singing is fun! People enjoy singing and listening to choirs. One reason we have so many choirs is because of the demand for them. While at a border crossing during an SMBI choir tour in Canada, one of the officials asked a student, “What are you doing on this tour?”

“It’s a singing tour.” the student replied.

“How much do they pay you to be a part of this tour?”

“Oh no,” the student said “I pay to be a part of the tour.”

“Strange,” the official replied.

Singing has always been important to the Christian church. The first century of Christians sang a great deal. They believed in the power of congregational singing. We see this in the Bible and in extra-biblical sources. Singing is worship, but there’s a lot more entailed in it than that. It teaches the truth and is a way of witnessing and joining people together. There is a great deal of power in music—specifically in singing—that we as a church understand and want to tap into. God asks us to sing. We praise Him through both congregational singing as well as in performance; praise flows out of our hearts. We sing to glorify our God.

Anabaptists in general strongly prefer and uphold a capella (without instruments) singing in our worship. People learn to sing in four-part harmony from childhood, and choirs have become a natural extension of that ability. Youth choirs are a way of involving young people in a healthy activity, giving them opportunity to interact with other young people, and when they go on tour they are able to see what God is doing in other churches.

Choirs have not always been a part of the church. In the first century, singing was a big part of the church. When the church became a state entity, choirs produced all the music in the church. For hundreds of years, congregants would go, sit in the pews, and not make a sound. Then the Reformation came along and many reformers, including some of the leading Anabaptists, said, “We want to get the congregation involved in singing again.” They pushed hard for everyone to be actively involved in worship, and for congregational singing. There’s little record of choirs in Anabaptist circles until soon before the 20th century. Then in late 20th century, choirs in our circles began to flourish. Prior to this, Sunday evening youth singings were common, and choirs formed out of these gatherings.

I believe we may currently have the strongest balance of choirs and congregational music the church has ever had: strong congregational singing, with choirs (sometimes touring) to supplement that.

We are concerned that our choirs do not take the place of congregational singing. Some are concerned that we’re heading that direction. But those of us involved in choirs care very much about our typical, local worship service, with congregational singing playing a major part in corporate worship. We don’t want that to ever go away.

The positive outcome of choirs in our circles is that it fosters congregational participation. In the pre-Reformation eras, the church leaders led worship, the choir sang, and the lay people (the congregation) merely observed worship. Congregational involvement is key to what we do. It’s what we believe. A capella singing depends on everyone knowing how to sing and desiring to sing along. Choirs also train people to sing well in a congregation, and they inspire the congregation to sing.

Another value in a capella singing (which is somewhat undermined when instrumental music is included in worship) is the focus on the truth of the lyrics. The Gospel message needs the clarity of the text. So, while we enjoy the beautiful music that helps draw our hearts and minds towards God, the lyrics are what drives the message home.

I believe choirs strengthen congregational singing by teaching people how to sing. They teach congregations new songs and promote the joy of singing. Having choirs helps to strengthen congregational music, and, through touring, helps to spiritually strengthen the church as well.
_________________________________

How Should We Live?

How Should We Live?

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Elijah Yoder conducted by Reagan Schrock. Elijah is a pastor and has been a full time teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Harrisonville, Pennsylvania.

***

In my growing up years, the importance of the principles of Scriptures in our lives, not just the practice, was stressed. In other words, you don’t just want to teach the next generation to wear a head covering. They need to understand the biblical principle and reasoning behind it. We have the practice (how we live); we have the principle (the scriptural mandate); then we have the Person of Christ.

Some have accused the Mennonites of making the Bible the fourth person of the trinity, which obviously is a very wrong concept. We have the practice, beyond the practice we have the principle, but then we need to go beyond the principle to the Person of Jesus Christ. When you have the focus on the Person and who He is, then the principles and practices will come as a result.

The Protestant Fundamentalist tradition in the United States has put a lot of emphasis on Paul and his epistles, and much less on the Gospels and Life of Christ. Another tradition of Protestant Fundamentalists has been for people to “get saved”. The apostle Paul affirmed that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). I don’t want to minimize that at all, but Jesus said, “follow Me” (Matthew 4:19). Christ’s emphasis while with His disciples was that they should be with Him (Mark 3:14). Jesus taught the twelve by His life, which is what we will have to do as well if we are going make disciples. We must follow Christ in life, not in doing “the right things” in order to look good to people around us. We need to take hold of the person of Christ, what He has done for us, and from there we can go to The Sermon on the Mount. All of the things in Matthew 5 that Jesus wants us to live out today have to come out of a relationship with Christ and wanting to follow Him in life.

Protestant Fundamentalism has made the doctrine of believing in Christ the key thing. If you
believe in Christ and His death and resurrection, then everything is okay and you go to heaven. While believing is important, it is only because of Christ, because of what He has done. The key isn’t “belief”, but Jesus Christ. If you believe in an intellectual fact of what Christ has done for you, then you get saved and it doesn’t really matter how you live; but if you focus on the person of Christ you are going to want to find His principles. Out of those principles the practices will follow.

When applying Scripture, we can’t just take for granted how the previous generation applied it to their life and times. For example, in my growing up years, one of the big issues was that you shouldn’t go to certain places. As a result, my generation established some practices that they decided was best for the group. If my generation simply tries to give the next generation our standards, it’s not going to work. Today’s generation is growing up with very different dynamics. The world is quite different than it was for my generation or the generation before that. We have the person of Christ and the principles of Scripture, but the way we practice those principles may change.

Some groups, like the Amish, have pretty much taken their practices and stopped at about 1920. They’re still trying to live the way they did in 1920. What we don’t want to do as conservative Mennonites is to remain in 2018 and say, “Here is where we stop.” If we don’t adjust our practices to the times we are going to wind up decades down the road and be viewed as the Amish are today. We’ve got to focus on the person of Christ, followed by Scriptural principles, that will tell us how to live in our culture and time. How the principles are practiced might change from one generation to the next, but the underlying principles of Scripture are going to be the same. Each generation must wrestle with issues of practice themselves and evaluate those issues by the light of the principles in the Person of Jesus.

Some people think that if you have the Person of Christ in the principles, then living out the Christian life will come automatically. If that was the case, Paul would never have had to write Ephesians 4, 5, and 6. He spent chapters 1, 2, and 3 on relationship with Christ. Even once the relationship is established, we still need instruction on how to live out the principles. Paul gives very specific instructions and encouragement, but it comes after our relationship with Christ. If our focus is just on the practice, it will become like a dead, dry flower that’s not going to do anything for anybody. But if it’s coming out of well-watered soil, it will be something that’s beautiful and attractive to the world around us. This is the result of a relationship with Christ.

_____________________