A futurist writes what-if scenarios, narrative descriptions of future conditions that might exist in a society, an economy, an industry, a movement, an organization or even a family or a church based on whether certain combinations of selected trends and events would converge. What if certain things are true and what if we all do certain things? The exercise tries to make a particular future seem real enough that people can take wise action now to obtain a particular positive future condition that they want or avoid a negative one.
Planning connects important points to make a certain story happen. A strategic plan identifies certain actions or strategies that are intended to make the desired future conditions become reality. By contrast, a future scenario describes the process and the outcomes as a narrative, a story.
This past July I attended two church conferences that were both very future oriented. One convention was EVANA, the Evangelical Anabaptist Network. It was the first such gathering in the organization’s brief history. The other gathering was the USMB, or United States Mennonite Brethren, national convention. EVANA is a young and growing fellowship of existing local churches and conferences that actually has a long history leading to their recent redefinition. Thus, it is still creating basic policies, patterns, plans and covenants for the movement. In comparison, USMB is a mature denomination (not even a church group wants to be called old), that is reviewing and building on a long and complicated history as it plants new churches and clarifies the way forward.
These two associations of churches both describe themselves as evangelical Anabaptist. They sang the same songs with similar (interchangeable) praise bands and were led in similar patterns of prayer and preaching. Delegates considered issues, including how best to encourage local churches to reach and minister to people who need a relationship with Jesus and who need fellowship in understanding and applying God’s word wisely in their daily living. Both groups sense the reality of sin and the need for salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Both groups are responding to rapid changes in the moral, spiritual, religious and legal context of the American society in which they seek to faithfully serve the Lord.
EVANA is a network of churches and has no institutions or “parachurch” organizations that they control or sponsor, so the organization is intentionally building relationships with such agencies. Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, the MB institutions of higher education, were actively present and engaged in both church conventions, though with very different roles and relationships in each context.
Both USMB and EVANA eagerly seek to understand and experience God’s future for them. Interestingly, the USMB agreed to move forward together toward a future story as a network of churches and partner organizations, with language, concepts and vision that are similar to the EVANA network. Both groups are demonstrating their understanding that we now live in a post-Christian and post-denominational world that is actually increasingly anti-Christian and anti-denominational. The legal recognition, rights and benefits that have allowed religious groups to prosper and live out their faith in service to humanity are steadily being restricted or totally eliminated.
The model of horizontally connected voluntary networks of shared interests and resources fits the emerging social and legal environment much better than the traditional top-down denominational model. However, one important feature of legal reality still exists that affects religious organizations in America, such as schools and health care agencies as well as humanitarian aid, relief, community building and addiction rehabilitation programs. Religious ministries like Fresno Pacific often have more clearly established legal protection to exercise their faith if they are controlled by a church or a religious organization.
Because this historic, faith-based right-to-differ is being directly challenged in California, much attention was given to these issues at the USMB convention. The various ministries like FPU that exist under the church to serve the church and the world as an expression of our shared religious convictions and commitments are threatened. The removal of our equal standing and freedom to serve people’s real needs in the name of Christ and according to our deeply held religious beliefs and values would drastically reduce or totally eliminate our ability to pursue our distinctive mission.
We need wisdom and courage. We ask you to pray and to support us during these challenging times.