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Growing Young

You may be aware of the bad news about the church in America. The stories and statistics are all over the place for anyone who, in the words of scripture, “has ears to hear.”

While I am aware of the bad news of the church in the United States, I also ponder a quote from a former Mennonite World Conference leader who asked if we still believe that God is changing the world through the church. I want to answer yes, and an article in the current FULLER magazine may help to show the way. It started with the bad news:

  • The number of adults who identify as Christian dropped from 78% to 71% between 2007 and 2014.
  • No major Christian tradition is growing in the United States today.
  • Most churches are aging as fewer persons 18-29 are going to church.

Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the world’s largest and most influential evangelical institutions, spent four years studying 250 churches who are unlocking the potential of teens and young adults. It seems to me these findings may have relevance for our discussion as a school.

The study found that churches that are growing young (as compared to aging congregations) strive to be best neighbors both locally and globally. These churches do not copy the surrounding culture, and they are not so different from it that they lose the ability to relate. The leaders said that their biggest challenge was keeping their church relevant.

Young people said church is relevant when it is generally outward focused. Service in the community matters!

Churches that neighbor well, according to the study, demonstrate a generous spirit in the face of differing opinions. It reminds me that opinions may be wrong but love never is!

When participants in growing younger congregations describe their church they are eight times more likely to mention diversity of beliefs in their church than similarities. In addition they place emphasis on essential beliefs that can be shared.

These churches seek to “make space for safe and honest dialogue so everyone—both young and old—can share their questions, beliefs and experiences.” They found this to be particularly true when discussing same sex questions which the article says is “one of the most fiercely contested topics in US churches today.”

The article ends affirming the assertion of my friend in Mennonite World Conference that God is still changing the world through the church. It quoted Aaron Graham, pastor of The District Church, from a sermon he titled, “Why Church?” In the sermon Graham said that “changing the world is best attempted through the defining, sustainable, Spirit-empowered work of a community of believers.” That sounds like the Bible!

Reading this article in a leading Christian publication affirmed for me the approaches I see us taking at Lancaster Mennonite and shows the strength of having students from diverse theological backgrounds.

We are shaped by our 15 spiritual practices, the shared convictions of Mennonite World Conference and a simple definition of our essential understandings which are:

  • Jesus is the center of our faith.
  • Community is the center of our life.
  • Reconciliation is the center of our work.

Press here for the link to our Faith Practice Statements.

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Why Change Logo and Branding?

Lancaster Mennonite School is in the process of developing a new logo and branding to more effectively communicate our mission of innovative and excellent education as followers of Jesus. Our prayer is that LM educational experiences prepare students for the complex world of the 21st century in a way that adds meaning to life.

During our 75th anniversary celebrations we will be launching a new website that will include new visual identity rather than being tied to the past.  In addition to the anniversary milestone and the new website happening this year, there are five reasons to update brand and visual identity, all of which apply to LM. They are:

  1. Leadership Changes — New Superintendent to be appointed
  2. Mergers and Acquisitions — Hershey Campus added
  3. Changes in customers — An increase in parents from a younger “millennial” generation and a decrease in students coming from Mennonite congregations
  4. Brand evolves — PreK and more college prep classes added
  5. Outdated Imagery – We want to honor our past and embrace our future.

Many persons have completed a survey to give us direction in exploring a new visual identity, which has been very helpful. The company we are working with asked persons to identify their generation from “millennials” to the “silent generation”. It has been interesting to compare the answers of the different age groups.

There was continuity and divergence between the four generations:

  1. An iconic symbol in the logo was more important to older than to younger respondents;
  2. Younger respondents are more likely to say that LM graduates are leaders in their communities;
  3. Younger respondents are less likely to say that LM is progressive and forward-thinking;
  4. More younger respondents think our current branding is outdated;
  5. Younger respondents are less likely to say that LM branding is modern;
  6. About 70% of the “silent generation” considers it important to keep the lamp in the logo while less than 30% of the millennial generation considers keeping the lamp to be important; the youngest generation of graduates are significantly more likely to say that LM is traditional and focused on heritage.

These are interesting and helpful findings as we work on a new logo that communicates who we are. These findings are also helpful and challenging as they confirm the differences in viewpoints among the generations, with the youngest generation of graduates considering LM to be too traditional.

The 75-year history of LM shows a school that was constantly changing as the Church continued to discern the way of Jesus Christ for each new generation. The way we teach has also changed from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom and, more recently, to a project-based curriculum.

Change is constant, and the survey shows that we need to continue to change in both substance and style to be a relevant school for these times. We invite your prayers and suggestions for both kinds of changes necessary for LM to thrive.

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Polarized Times and Our Values

Polarized Times and Our Values

These are challenging times to be a parent or educator seeking to teach our children values of humility, respect and care for one another. Our faith calls us to make decisions for the common good and for the good of all of creation. Further, Jesus prayed that His followers may be one so that the world may know!

The current challenge is significant because the polarization in church and society results in divisions and people not treating others as we seek to teach our children to do. The late Ernest Boyer, a leader in American education said that “language is a sacred act because it creates reality.” The Bible says that the tongue needs to be tamed and teaches that we are to treat others the way we want them to treat us.

In these divisive ways I believe that we need to:

  1. Believe the best rather than the worst about the other person or institution and their convictions.
  2. Live by the maxim my mother taught me that if you don’t have anything good to say about another person it is best to say nothing.
  3. Keep our discussions at the level of ideas realizing that: Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People.
  4. Practice the teaching of Jesus in the 18th chapter of Matthew and to go directly to the right person to check if what one has heard is true rather than passing on what may be false information. Go to the other as the Bible teaches in a spirit of humility and love.
  5. Know that truth makes free and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
  6. Realize as the Bible says that we all see through the glass darkly and this calls all of us to walk humbly with God. In the Old Testament the Bible calls us to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.
  7. Try in the words of the poet to see ourselves as others see us.

The Biblical call to humility seems to be out of style in 2016 in both church and society. If we practiced humility I believe we would treat each other differently and we would seek to stay in conversation rather than to divide into different factions that basically do not talk with each other.

The Bible also teaches that three things remain: faith, hope and love; and that the greatest is love. In essence that love is the supreme value. Do people see humility — do they see love as supreme as they look at us as individuals and as congregations?

Poet Robert Burns wrote – that God would give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us. If we could do that what would we see and what changes would we need to make to walk in love and unity? Recently, along with some friends, Joyce and I spent some time in another country. It was interesting in conversation to hear how others see the United States and our presidential election. I learned again from listening to them and realized how our decisions impact others and how others may see us differently than we see ourselves.

Most of us will vote in the upcoming presidential election. And we are members of congregations and denominations. What values are most important in guiding us in church and as United States citizens? What values will shape our decision on who to vote for? How will our involvement in politics, church and school work for the common good? How do we as parents and educators talk to our children when these core values are not being practiced in our community, our church, our nation?

These are times we need to live with questions rather than to have easy answers, and there are times when equally sincere persons looking at the same question will come to opposite conclusions. What we can be sure of is that three values will remain: faith, hope and love; and the supreme value is love!

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