Ministerial Looks at ‘Questioning Faith’

by Terry M. Smith

TABER, Alta.—The EMC’s ministerial on July 5, 2019, considered how to respond to people questioning their faith, adopted a new process for preparing for ordination, heard the General Board briefly update on the matter of women in leadership, and prayed for the needs of ministerial members and congregations.

Opening

Richard Klassen, chair of the Board of Leadership and Outreach, welcomed ministerial members and led in prayer for La Crete, an area affected by a forest fire. James Crawford, pastor of host Taber EMC, provided a devotional based on David in 1 Samuel 16. May we be people who seek after God’s heart and who love God’s people, he said.

Main Presenter

Richard Klassen said the day’s topic was chosen because pastors encounter faith concerns. Paul Buller, an engineer by training and an “armchair theologian by night” (brochure), led in three sessions and provided notes (drawn upon for the summary). Discussion followed each session.

Apologetics and the Broader Culture

Many people are asking tough questions about the Christian faith and their commitment depends on how well the Church answers. This theme came out in three stories Buller shared and EFC’s study Hemorrhaging Faith, a survey of young people and their relationship to the Church. Apologetics, a defense of the faith, is needed biblically and practically, he said. Some Christians are following culture, forget we are “at war,” and foster anti-intellectualism. Feelings often dominate today, yet it’s powerful when a person obeys despite a loss of feelings (C. S. Lewis).

Buller spoke of the “man syndrome” or “Peter Pan” syndrome (who resists growing up) where men have, overall, a higher rate of suicide, slightly less education than women, drink more heavily, and a higher rate for jail time. He says a “feminization” of the Church has resulted in more women than men choosing to be involved. Asked why more women than men are involved in the Church around the world, Buller said part of the reason is the Industrial Revolution.

An Over-View of the Solution

Buller said there is more to why people leave the Church than their questions and that the most effective apologetics is a package of the intellect, emotions, and morals. To respond, the Church needs to regain a sense of being in a cosmic battle, a battle that involves our intellect, an image with which men will engage. The Church needs to strategically engage with culture, neither demonizing nor glamourizing it.

To engage men, “send them into battle!” he said. Being combative is part of military, politics, business, and athletics. He quoted N. T. Wright, a British bishop and New Testament scholar, who highlighted a contrast: where the apostle Paul went, there was unrest; where Wright goes, they serve tea.

Buller used Matt. 12:28-31, Acts 17:2-4, and Acts 18:24-28 to show our need to love the Lord with our mind, to discuss and explain the Scriptures, to persuade, to correct, to refute, to prove. He said that an atheist is a friend to save, not an enemy.

He provided questions: how might the battle imagery backfire? How might we make the church too difficult for men? How can we avoid the mistakes where a “masculine” church was done poorly? How can we reduce the risk of raising the intellectual bar at church?

When asked in discussion how to find a balance rather than push too far, he said there was a need for compassion. Asked if the Anabaptist peace position plays against teaching we are at war, he said the engagement sought is not physical. When a listener said that war is for women too, he said it was a great comment. Buller said pastors need to preach in a way that leaves people pondering.

The Start of a Game Plan: Prepare for War!

In the session after lunch, Buller said to measure success by people baptized who did not grow up in the church, the male/female ratio, and continued church attendance after a life transition (when young people leave home). He suggested testing attendees through a theological quiz available online.

Buller said Christians need to “learn the fine art of asking questions,” to dialogue rather engage in a monologue. Honestly inquire—others might be right, not you, on some point. Get people to answer their own questions that challenge their assumptions.

He said churches need to provide local theological and apologetics training so people are prepared to give answers. Pastors need to model a culture that fosters the intellectual and prepares for battle by embracing disagreements and teaching healthy dialogue. Research, teach, and preach about current issues. Find and use apologetics resources; raise the bar on your own level. Use in-house people who have a passion; draw upon guest speakers and pastors; and use outside resources, he said.

In the discussion time he encouraged those listening to say, “Paul, I disagree with you about . . . .” Discussion followed.

Business

Layton Friesen, conference pastor, introduced the BLO’s proposals on preparing candidates for ministerial ordination, the treatment of transferring and inactive ministerial members, and how deacons are examined and relate to the ministerial. By vote the ministerial approved the proposal.

On the matter of women in leadership, Barry Plett, EMC moderator, said there is a gap between what the EMC constitution says (male pastors only) and local church practice. To consider a way ahead, a letter was developed and shared with seven churches. Layton Friesen and others met with these churches for feedback. There was no neat conclusion from these meetings. Plett requested prayer to do the right thing. The General Board wants to biblically faithful, he said.

Sharing and Prayer Time

New ministerial members were introduced. Members were asked how they and the churches they serve are doing. There were times of sharing and times of prayer.

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