Studying the Word of God

Studying the Word of God

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Frank Reed

The Bible waits to be mined for its treasure. God intentionally hid some of these treasures so that they are only obtained by those who really desire Him and seek  His truth. Those who seek, find; to those who knock, the door to the Scriptures will be opened. Frank’s method of Bible study can be adapted and used by any diligent seeker of God’s truth. Get started; try your own hand. Discover what can be found.


“Study to show yourself approved unto God…”

Bible study is one of the most intriguing experiences of the life of a believer. The Bible is the written Word of God. When we read and study the Bible, we experience the voice and Spirit of God that gives life to us.

Bible study can be a chore but does not have to be a chore. It can be the most amazing joy of your life.


Some terms may be helpful to begin:

Revelation – God disclosing Himself in Scripture and in nature.

Inspiration – God’s moving in persons to write Scripture.

Illumination – God opening the human heart to understand Scripture.

Exegesis – the process of discovering and extracting the content of Scripture.

Eisegesis – to impose one’s own beliefs upon the text (this is very wrong).

Graphe – The written text of the Scripture – All Graphe is given …

Logos – The Word spoken by God – Jesus is the Logos of God.

Rhema – The Sword of the Spirit is the Rhema of God.

Guidelines for interpretation of the Scripture

  1. Determine the natural, actual, intended divisions of the text of Scripture.
    • Note repeated concepts, words, and themes.
    • Deal with the text in those groupings.
  2. Derive the outline from the text.
    • Take care not to impose an artificial outline on the text.
    • Message is frequently found in the structure.
  3. Perceive the text as God speaking to you.
    • Receive the message with a sense of awe.
    • Lay aside preconceived notions and presuppositions.
    • Use a Bible that contains text only; do not use “study Bibles”.
  4. Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.
  5. Pray for the direction of the Holy Spirit in this study – I Cor. 2:9-16.

Study in small groups of people who have been reading and meditating on the passage for a week.

Use a white board or paper to outline the passage and make a chart or diagram of the verses.

Read the passage in several different versions of the Scripture.

The Tools

  1. The Scripture text
  2. A concordance
  3. Note paper and pencil 
  4. Vine’s book of Bible words

The Process

  1. Observation – What does it say? 
    • Read very carefully, and read often.
    • Give full attention – turn off distractions, be quiet…
    • Ask questions: who, what, where, why, when, how,…?
    • Is the passage teaching, exhortation, prophecy, prayer, …?
    • Make a list of observations; those expressed and those implied.
    • Organize observations into an outline or diagram showing relationships between the ideas in the passage.
  2. Correlation – What other Scripture passages relate to this one?
    • Use a concordance or references to find related passages.
      • This will give a balanced picture of the passage studied and (hopefully) prevent “proof texting” and errant (wrong) interpretations.
    • Record the cross references in your notes or in Bible margin for future use.
  3. Interpretation – What does it mean?
    • Ask – “Why is this passage in the Bible?”
      • “What does God want us to learn from this passage?”
    • Summarize the passage in one sentence – include all key elements.
  4. Application – What does it mean to my life/What impact should it have on my life?
    • Write the application(s) in form of exhortation, commitment, prayer, Psalm, doctrine, instruction, etc…

Notes

  • Give adequate time to observation before attempting other steps
  • Begin to listen to lessons and sermons with an ear for what step of the process the teacher is emphasizing (without being judgmental).
  • Be careful in your personal study to give appropriate time and attention to the parts of the process.
  • Realize that the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture and can open your heart to truth. He wrote the Bible and now He lives in each believer.
  • Do not jump to interpretation without having completed observations, 
  • Do not hasten to application without having thoroughly studied interpretation.
  • When presenting a lesson do not woodenly move from step to step.
  • Organize the presentation into a smoothly flowing message.
  • Do not force “pet illustrations” into passages where they do not serve to explain the text. Do not “proof text.”
  • Do not force artificial outlines on the text.
  • Allow the text to produce its own outline.
  • Look for structure in the text. 
  • Do not bring your own structure to the text. Outlines are useful – BUT…resist the urge to always have a three-point alliterated outline
  • Use a “text and concept” approach to presenting the message – What it says and how it applies.
  • See Methodical Bible Study by Robert A. Traina  1952/1980 
  • ISBN 0-9601396-1-3

Personal note:

Bible study has been the greatest joy of my Christian life.  The knowledge that the Holy Spirit, the author of the Word, lives in me and speaks truth and love to me through the Word, gives unspeakable joy and blessings that cannot be taken by any circumstance of life.  It is also a steadying influence of daily life and in times of difficulty.

I have seen people of all ages enjoy and easily grasp Bible Study. In fact, sometimes the least experienced persons see the most profound concepts and truths in the Scripture. God’s Spirit can and does reveal truths to His children according to His will.

The Anabaptist beginnings were based on the study of the Scriptures. Their study directed them to the beliefs that they adopted that differed from the Catholic and Protestant teachings and understandings. For us to continue today as faithful Anabaptist believers means diligent Bible study for all of our lives and especially in our Church gatherings.

Bible study fills your mind with wonderful information which provides content on which to meditate throughout the day. During times of lesser stimulation, your mind can recall the scripture and enjoy the rumination on truth instead of being focused on the problems of the day. This process of truth brings health to mind and body. 

Jesus said in John 6:63 that the words He speaks are Spirit and Life. Scripture is such a huge treasure and untapped source of blessing. It will change your life to invest time in God’s Word. God bless you as you include diligent Bible Study in your life as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.  

Business as Stewardship

Business as Stewardship

Anabaptist Perspectives

Part Two: Entrepreneurs as Servant-Managers

Written by: Marlin Sommers

A business person should steward his business abilities and roles. Stewardship is not limited to managing profits that may be gained through business. In Part 1 of this blog I sketched an overall vision for acting as a servant-manager in business. This second part reflects in a bit more detail on some aspects of the stewardly role of business. I reflect on job creation, on business investment in general, and conclude with a few words about the steward mindset in business.

Job Creators as Servant-Managers 

Some entrepreneurial types are tempted to think that everyone could or should be an entrepreneur. According to this line of thinking no one should need to depend on someone else creating a job for them, because opportunities for profit abound. Anybody prepared to put in the effort should be able to start their own business. But this line of thought, if taken to its natural extent, obscures the fact that job creation is a needed service in society. There are a variety of reasons why it is often good for one person to create a job and another person to work that job. Thus, the entrepreneur stewards his job creating ability for the sake of people who work for him. 

One way to define a job would be as a position that allows one to work for pay. In the big picture, work provides the link between the resources that God provides us and specific human needs. For example, God made cows, while humans tend and milk them. The general principle of compensation for work is that the workers should get a share of the good produced by their work. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul unpacks this with a variety of examples. One who is plowing should have hope of a share of the crop. One who tends cattle should get some of the milk. The worker must get a portion. Of course, we don’t always want a literal portion of what we produce; most people building pallets don’t want their wages paid in pallets. Someone laying block can hardly carry home a portion of the wall as his reward. Generally, we do such jobs with the expectation of payment in money.

The smallest scale of business is the solopreneur—the entrepreneur who works by himself and creates his own opportunities to work for payment. But businesses of size rely on entrepreneurs creating jobs for others. Perhaps an electrician hires an assistant to help him complete the work he has contracted to do, or at a larger scale, a business person engages a dozen people to build pallets. In all these cases it is business skills and business roles that ensure the venture is able to provide a “share of the crop” for the business person and all other workers.

Creating jobs for others is a needed role because not everyone should be a solopreneur. Some things in life cannot be done without larger scale businesses. No one working by himself will successfully manufacture cars, for example. Even with simpler tasks, a larger business with a division of roles is often advantageous. Further, some people need jobs they can simply plug into. Perhaps resources are limited, or there is a short time frame and starting a business is not a good option. Others need the freedom that comes with being able to leave work and spend the rest of their life energy on non-business pursuits. Finally, business and entrepreneurial abilities are unevenly distributed, and those especially gifted in those areas, should steward them for the sake of all. Not every business person needs to have employees, much less a large number of employees, but for some this is a calling. Seeing people that need jobs is a motivator to start or expand a business, though acting from pity without a good sense of the business situation is a recipe for trouble.

Investment as Stewardship

Active business investment requires access to resources as well as business connections and entrepreneurial savvy. Creating jobs often means significant investment in machinery and infrastructure. Successful businesses will generate a return on this investment, but the path to the return is much more involved and hands on than passive investments like buying publicly traded stock. Business investment means putting money on the line to put people to work utilizing available resources to produce something of value. The stewardship-minded investor has an eye for the concrete good that will be accomplished through the investment, not just for the abstract ideas of “compounding returns” derived from mutual funds.

Just as an entrepreneur with sufficient business wisdom can be motivated by other people’s need for jobs, so also business investment can be motivated by the needs of the community. Perhaps there is a need for a mechanic shop, a grocery store, or a sawmill. The investor may rightly act out of this sense of need, but again acting out of pity without a good sense of the business situation is a recipe for trouble. The wise investor who is called to invest in a community or place will discern what sorts of investments are viable and helpful. He will also be open to the possibility that some needs should be met through avenues other than business.

Some businesspeople are called to break ground for other businesses. Many industries work best with networks or businesses. For example, to make good use of forest resources, there will likely be businesses specializing in logging, transport, sawing lumber, or making paper, building furniture etc. as well as businesses dedicated to selling and servicing equipment used in the various parts of the timber industry. A business person with a strong vision may see untapped potential for new industries in the resources available in a given region and be able to break ground that opens the door for a network of businesses to spring up. We might think of this as one of the most advanced business roles, one suited only for a few, but one with great potential to benefit many people.

It’s a Mindset

What does this look like in specific business practices and arrangements? I won’t say much about details here because this is not a business textbook, nor am I qualified to write a business textbook. But there is a mindset that goes with thinking like a steward about your business roles and opportunities. Certain goals and aspirations fit naturally with a servant-manager mindset. 

For one thing, many businesses should aim to create multiple positions within the company that allow employees to exercise significant skills and to earn compensation that can amply sustain a family. This is not a criticism of tiny or one person businesses, but an aspiration for those called to be servant-managers of job creation. They are not motivated simply by carving out a good income for themselves, but also care deeply about creating good jobs for other people. Similarly with business investment, the steward investor cares about his own returns, but he also cares about other people’s opportunities to invest and own capital. His goal is that his investment does good and not harm for the community. 

The business steward has a keen eye for risk and profit potential and develops his skills in the various aspects of business management. However, his motivation is not to find the easiest path to the most lucrative returns. A small town business person might  gain more wealth easier if he took a well-paying corporate job and invested heavily in the stock market, but his town would be poorer for his absence. If his true calling is that of an entrepreneur, he will aspire to actively use that capital to create good jobs and utilize available resources.

A COVID-19 Economy and Stewardship.

A COVID-19 Economy and Stewardship.

Anabaptist Perspectives

Note: This is a bonus post Marlin Sommers wrote in response to current events. The second part of the “Business as Stewardship” post will be released next week.

Factories, Gardens, Giving, Guns: A COVID-19 economy and Stewardship.

Jobs have been lost, hours have been cut, and businesses have closed. So far, the economic impact of COVID-19 is enormous. The scale and duration of the slowdown remain to be seen. It hangs not only on the course of the virus, but on the course our various governments take to fight the virus. 

Like any economic difficulty, a COVID-19 economy highlights the need to steward our resources, whether those resources be meager or vast. Hard times can actually clarify our understanding of basic Christian economics. Let’s consider four themes:

  1. Prepare to Share
  2. As Public Health Allows, Maintain Fundamental Productivity and Invest for Good
  3. Lend Righteously
  4. The One who Takes the Sword Will Perish by the Sword.
Pictures used with permission by: Anabaptist Covid-19 Response

1. Prepare to Share

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,” we are instructed; “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). Sharing resources with others should be the most obvious stewardship response. It is both a constant biblical theme and an obvious response to seeing people forced to leave their jobs and stay home.

Social distancing requires unemployment to be effective. After all, the goal is to minimize physical proximity and not all jobs can be done remotely. Governments attempt the tricky task of dividing work into essential and non-essential categories so they can keep some people home while others maintain food production and other essentials. Thus some people work feverishly while others can’t work their job. 

Trimming “non-essential” work is not all bad. For the most part, it’s a good thing if people cook more at home and buy less at restaurants. The trouble is that instantly shutting down restaurants deprives many of a means of paying for essential goods and services. We who still have our jobs, or who have significant assets, need to help shoulder the burden they face, whether through organizations or through direct giving. After all, their job loss is for our sakes.

Government action helps distribute the burden of COVID-19 unemployment across society, by providing unemployment compensation, welfare programs, and “stimulus.” We should not resent such government actions, or what they might cost us in taxes. On the other hand, we should not expect the government to eliminate the need for us to share.


2. As Public Health Allows, Maintain Fundamental Productivity and Invest for Good

The ability to share depends on the availability of resources and resources depend on work. Gifts of money will not feed the world if agriculture ceases. Planting, tending, and harvesting must go on. Neither will giving money feed people if supply chains and distribution networks are out of commission. (COVID-19 is unlikely to harm our supply chain, but the possibility is worth reflecting on.) Sustaining food, medical care, and communication requires a vast network of businesses—everything from manufacturing tractor parts, to driving fuel trucks, to IT and accounting. These can temporarily be shut down in strategic areas, but by and large they must go on.

We need to creatively sustain fundamental infrastructure and production capacity in our sphere of influence. Factory and shop owners should proactively think about how to safely keep up key production and about possibilities for repurposing their setup to meet urgent needs that may arise. The same holds true at the household level. Gardens deserve extra energy in a time when production and supply chain disruption are possible. If we can’t go about our normal work, we would do well to use opportunities to increase household production of various sorts and to scrounge and repair items that we would otherwise replace. Such work provides a little margin against possible economic shutdowns and can reduce, at least a little bit, dependence on the generosity of others.

Creative employment should be sought. While those with wealth must be willing to simply give to those in need, hiring them, when possible, has obvious advantages. The trick is putting people to work without subverting public health regulations. This is easiest to do if you can address actual shortages and essential needs. Otherwise creative thinking is in order. Can you hire somebody to revamp a website or software system remotely? Can you hire a neighbor with a chainsaw to cut firewood on your land or to do a bit of culling and thinning for “timber stand improvement”? Can you have a tenant maintain or improve the rental property they occupy? Think outside the box, but don’t expect creative employment to eliminate all need for giving.

A forced pause from daily activity is a good time to think long term. What can you do, or have someone do that will pay off in the future? Can you do proactive maintenance with materials already on hand? Can you learn new skills or study new topics? Can you invest in a project with a future payoff? It might be a good time to put up the fencing that has been sitting in the barn for years.


3. Lend Righteously

Strikingly, the Mosaic law commands lending and forbids interest. While we are not under Torah, and some forms of interest can be godly, we should attend to the principle behind the command. The principle is intensified in the New Covenant, with constant exhortations to share our possessions and the instruction to lend expecting nothing in return. The gospel puts our principle and assets at risk, to say nothing of interest. Lending things, whether vehicles, tools, or money is a stewardship principle for hard times.

Why is interest so abominable in the Old Testament? Largely, because interest and collateral enabled those with money (or grain) to acquire others’ productive assets. Creditors could claim fields, houses, vineyards, and even the people themselves as slaves. In difficult times, the righteous wealthy will help others keep their dwellings and means of livelihood. The unrighteous wealthy will see an opportunity to buy homes and businesses for cheap, turning homeowners into tenants and business owners into employees. Far from seeing need as an opportunity to force others to sell cheap, Christians are willing to liquidate some of their own assets. Of course, no such urgency applies to helping someone keep a vacation home, pleasure boat, or sole ownership in a business empire.


4. The One who Takes the Sword Will Perish by the Sword.

Recent events have spiked sales of guns and ammo. People want to protect themselves and their stuff. This is, of course, a fundamentally non-Christian response. We would rather give away our last food than shoot someone trying to steal it. 

COVID-19 is unlikely to plunge America into a worst-case economic scenario. Those usually result from war or (very) bad governance.  But perhaps the little bit of panic we see with a COVID-19 economy can get us to think about how we would respond. Wars, famines, and economic devastation happen regularly, even if they are far from current American experience.

So, what would happen if the American food system and distribution channels fell apart? If true disruption lasted very long people with stashes of supplies could quickly face bands of men with guns, and cattle would often be stolen out of fields. In many parts of America gun fights would become frequent. Engaging in a gun fight to protect your stuff is not only anti-Christian, it is also likely to get you killed by a gun. Proactive Christians would instead work to establish alternative market channels for food, give as needed, and seek to peacefully maintain breeding stock and productive capacity. But, where that is unsuccessful, they will accept joyfully the plundering of their property (Hebrews 10:34).

Business as Stewardship

Business as Stewardship

Anabaptist Perspectives

Part One: Business People among God’s “Servant-Managers”

Note: Part 2 of this blog will be posted the middle of April.

Written by: Marlin Sommers


This is not a post about how to handle profits that may be gained through business. Of course, if you do own a business that generates large profits, that does result in responsibilities to use that money well, but that is not the subject under discussion. Rather, the question is what does it mean to be a steward of business giftings and abilities, and of business roles and opportunities?

In my January post on this blog, I examined the New Testament concept of being a steward (household manager, servant-manager) in more detail. This month’s post has two parts. In this first part, I will recap some of that biblical discussion, focusing on business applications, and encouraging business people to recognize themselves as servant-managers of both a set of giftings and abilities and of certain roles and opportunities. In part two I will reflect a bit more specifically on stewardship in relation to job creation and business investment, as well as on the general mindset of the business steward.

The Greek term oikonomos refers most directly to a slave who played a managerial role within his master’s household. The New Testament makes frequent reference to the oikonomos (steward, household-manager, servant-manager) to show Christians how to live. The parable of the faithful and wise manager in Luke 12:42-45 shows the structure of stewardship. As a steward one has:

  1. Someone they are responsible to (human master, God)
  2. Something they are a steward of (wealth, abilities, leadership positions, etc.)
  3. Those they are responsible for (fellow servants, fellow believers, etc.)

One strand of being a servant-manager is using the skill, abilities, and possessions God has given us to benefit others, as indicated in 1 Peter 4:10-11.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—

God gives different skills and abilities to different people for the sake of all. So, the first strand of business as stewardship is the recognition that God provides for human needs by distributing different sets of skills and abilities to different people. The skills that make one good at running a business are among those, and if those are the skills you have received from God, they were not given for yourself alone.

Another strand of being a servant-manager is faithfulness in positions of authority and leadership; the servant-manager in Jesus’s parable had a certain amount of control over his fellow servants. Elders and overseers can be called God’s stewards because of their leadership and managerial role in the church, the household of God (Titus 1:7).  Business too, especially in large and well-established businesses, creates positions and roles that exert considerable power over others, and that must be stewarded to benefit those under one’s charge.

When we think of good stewardship, we might think of things like, generosity, frugality, miserliness, carefulness, or shrewdness. Some of these form part of the biblical picture; others distort it. Fundamentally, stewardship is not just about giving or saving money, but about using our abilities and our roles to benefit those whom God intends for those abilities and roles to bless.

Business as Gifting and Ability 

What do we mean when we speak of distinctive business skills and opportunities? After all, businesses engage in very different tasks. Some clear land, some build houses, some raise cattle, some service computers, some build cars, some distribute risk through insurance, some help other businesses with marketing. What do these businesses have in common that makes them businesses? And what is the difference between being a businessperson in one of these entities and working in one of them as a dozer driver, electrician, cattle hand, robot programmer, graphic designer etc.? 

One way to approach the distinctive focus of business skills is to think about the nested skills and abilities needed to create a house. I will use building a house as an example. Imagine several eager workers standing beside pallets of blocks near a prepared footer. They have the ability to move these blocks, but moving these blocks will do no good unless someone is there with the skill to assemble these blocks into a wall around the crawlspace. The simple action of moving blocks does not accomplish its goal without the coordinating skill of a mason to produce a wall. In the same way the work of laying a block wall can only accomplish its goal if it is directed by a builder who has a plan to build an entire house on that foundation. The coordinating skill of the builder determines the kind of wall and the location of the wall that can contribute to a well-built house. Otherwise, moving and laying block would be wasted effort rather than profitable work. 

Business skills provide another essential level of coordination. If a builder creates a fine house, but it is not valued highly enough to pay for materials, pay all the various workers, and, at a minimum, sustain capital, the result will be a degree of wasted effort and unprofitable labor. Producing a house does no good if a house is not needed, and it does but limited good if a house is not needed as badly as other things workers could have produced. One of the primary functions of the business person is to direct work and the use of resources toward products and services that people value. More specifically the business person finds and takes opportunities where people are willing to pay enough for the goods or services provided that a profit remains for the business after paying all expenses.

Not all matters or decisions should be left to business criteria. Some profitable ventures should be avoided, because the “good” or “service”that people would gladly pay for is actually harmful or evil. And some needs in life are better provided through non-profit organizations or taxes and governments. However, for large swathes of life, business people with a keen eye for profits and losses do a great job hiring people for good and beneficial work to supply human needs. The stewardship-minded business person sees what he does as one skill and one role among the many that God has provided for the flourishing of humanity.

Business as Opportunities and Roles

While we have emphasized business as a skill, it is also a societal role. When an entrepreneur has been successful, a business structure is developed that shapes work and commerce. Those managing this structure may not have the same insight and abilities as the founder, but they have similar responsibilities. A business can shape life for a number of people purely because it exists and manages to survive. Running a business involves choices that affect customers, employees, and even outside parties to various degrees. A businessperson may be quite literally one who gives fellow servants their portion of food at the proper time (Luke 12:43). Being an owner and manager of a reasonably successful business also opens opportunities that may not be available to others. One may have access to capital, familiarity with the community, business infrastructure, etc. that allow him to pursue new ventures or address problems. The stewardship minded business person will feel a certain weight to these opportunities and roles and a desire to perform them well for the sake of various stakeholders.

To be continued…

Following a Homeless Lord

Following a Homeless Lord

Anabaptist Perspectives, Guest Blogger

Dwight Gingrich is a former pastor and high school teacher who currently lives in Atlanta, Ga with his wife and three daughters where they are helping to establish a church plant. Dwight says that he is passionate about “exegesis and ecclesiology–that is, faithful interpretation of the Bible and good theological understandings and practices regarding the Church of Jesus Christ.” You can read more of Dwight’s writings and Scripture studies here.

(Thank you to Daughters of Promise magazine for granting us permission to reprint this article from their Winter 2017 issue.)

***

Since 1973, the year before I was born, the average living space per person in newly built United States homes has nearly doubled from 551 to 1,058 square feet.1 My adult experience distantly follows this same trend. As a single during college, I had personal space of maybe 375 square feet in the basement of my landlord’s home. Now (eighteen years, four dwellings, and four additional family members later) I am a first-time home owner of a house in Atlanta, Georgia, with 2,200 square feet plus an unfinished basement.

“But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Speaking of somewhere to lay your head, my bed size since moving to the U.S. in 2003 has also grown—from a single bed in the Bronx, to a full-sized sofa bed (newly-weds!), to several more full-sized beds, to, now, a luxurious queen-sized bed.

“But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Rich Mullins sang it well:

There were places You visited frequently
Took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet
‘Cause You knew that the whole world belonged to the meek
But You did not have a home…
Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man. 2

What does it mean, in our McMansion world, to be followers of a homeless Lord?

We must begin by taking Jesus’ call to homelessness seriously. “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go,” an overconfident scribe assured Jesus (Matt. 8:19). Jesus’ response was a harsh reality check: Foxes have holes, and birds have roosts, but the One we profess to follow had no place to rest. Perhaps significantly, Luke says this conversation happened “along the road” (9:57). Matthew says it happened right before Jesus’ disciples “followed him” into a boat, where the travel-weary Jesus slept, tossed by a great storm (8:23-24).

Jesus, who lived during childhood with His parents in “their own town” of Nazareth (Luke 2:39), spent His adult ministry years as a travelling rabbi, never long in one place, always following His Father’s call. In Luke’s account, it was “after this” teaching about homelessness that Jesus sent out the seventy-two, instructing them to rely on others who would open their houses (Luke 10:1, 5-8). Anyone who wanted to follow Jesus had to travel with Him, leaving nets and tables and homes behind. Anyone who wants to follow Him today must likewise be willing to abandon home without hesitation.

Many of the first Christians voluntarily sold their houses, giving to those in need (Acts 4:34-35). More were driven from home against their will by persecution (Acts 8:1). Obedience to the two great commandments and the Great Commission will lead many Christians to pluck up roots and move where the Spirit blows. Do not imagine a homeless Messiah will never ask His followers to be homeless. Do not imagine you will know the joy of following if you cling tenaciously to your present—or your dream—square footage of personal living space. (And do not imagine, I suggest from experience, that the hassles of home ownership can compete with the joys of following Jesus.)

And yet, receive Jesus’ statement about homelessness as a proverb, not a law. Receive it as a candle exposing the loyalties of your heart, not a cookie-cutter to enforce conformity. No spiritual law lets you mechanically measure the discipleship of anyone, yourself included, simply by calculating the square footage of a house, large or small.

Like the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and the rabbis of His day, Jesus used stark images, black-and-white contrasts, and hyperbole. When He told us to gouge out our eye if it causes us to stumble (Matt. 5:29), His exaggerated demand was a command commonly used by teachers of His day. Jesus aimed to expose hearts and stir minds, inviting listeners to solve moral riddles by a heart renovation of repentance. Applying Jesus’ teaching requires an exegesis of not only His words, but also our lives and cultures, so we can rightly apply the right words for the right circumstances.

Jesus said you cannot be His disciple unless you “hate” your own family (Luke 14:26), yet one of His last acts was to ensure His mother had a “son” to care for her (John 19:26-27). He said you should “give to everyone who begs from you” (Luke 6:30), yet He rebuked the crowd who wanted to crown Him king so they could always eat His miraculous provision of food (John 6:15, 26-27). And Jesus’ call to homelessness came, according to Matthew, right after He had been hosted in “Peter’s house” (8:14-17)!

This leads to my final point: if you have a home, use it as a place to host Jesus and those He loves. Peter, who had reportedly “left everything” to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28), had not, apparently, actually sold his house. Some scholars speculate it became a base for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, being perhaps the “home” that Jesus is said to have had in Capernaum (Mark 1:29-34; 2:1, 15; 3:20; etc.). Something similar happened with the rich tax collector Levi. “Leaving everything, he rose and followed” Jesus. After that statement, the next sentence may surprise us: “And Levi made [Jesus] a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them” (Luke 5:28-29). Notice the pattern: following Jesus does not always mean selling one’s house, but it does mean devoting our resources entirely and lavishly to His service.

Here is the call to one of the most difficult and underrated of Christian virtues: hospitality. Hospitality was so central to the early church that if you would have asked anyone for directions to the local church, they would have pointed you to someone’s home. Hosting God’s household is a wonderful reversal of God’s charge against Israel: “My house… lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house” (Hag. 1:9). Jesus said that when we serve those who belong to Him, we serve Jesus Himself (Matt. 10:40-42; 18:5). What an opportunity!

As we can, our hospitality should extend beyond the family of God to people such as international students and the homeless living in our own neighborhoods—both adventures that we have tasted here in Atlanta. Despite our ballooning houses, over 500,000 homeless live in the U.S., nearly a third of those without shelter.3 As Shane Claiborne likes to ask, “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?”4 Practically speaking, such hospitality will indeed mean we lose personal space, whether through selling or sharing.

This, then, is what it means to follow our homeless Lord. If the Son of Man, the One Who fully shares the glory and kingdom of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13-14), willingly left home to serve His Father, how can we do less? If He wants to renovate the loyalties of our heart, who are we to cling to our square footage of home? And if the Son of Man needs somewhere to lay His head, how can we resist the honor of hosting Him?

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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