What Kind of Discipleship is this in the MB Herald?

If you really want to understand what is happening within the Mennonite Brethren denomination as they slide down the slippery road to Rome, read the article on page 8 of the latest MB Herald October 2010 called Discipleship on the Road.

It’s written by Len Hjalmarson, a writer, pastor, blogger and missional leader who recently completed a DMin in Leadership and Spirituality at ACTS Seminary (see: nextreformation.com/wp-admin/resources/Ldrship_NT.pdf ). This Menno-lite posting is certainly not an attack on his character or work, but there is more to Len Hjalmarson’s article than meets the eye, which gives cause for concern as to what is being taught at Seminaries like ACTS (read more about ACTS in MB Priorities).

Len and his wife are doing admirable work serving those outside their comfort zones in Kelowna, B.C.. They call their church a missional community, and say that the most profound lesson they are learning about discipleship is forming community around shared weakness, confirming the words of Catholic philosopher Jean Vanier: “the poor are a gift to us – they call us back to simplicity.” [Vanier founded L’Arche, a faith based organization where people are all bound together in a common humanity.]

Having just finished a doctorate in leadership and spiritual formation from MBBS, Len’s vocabulary is fresh off the post-modern press as he quotes from contemplative Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen (Lifesigns), socialist (and liberal emergent leader) Jim Wallis (Agenda for Biblical People), and James K. A. Smith (Desiring the Kingdom), notable figure in radical orthodoxy, a postmodern Christian movement (who incidentally is fond of reading Thomas Merton lately – see his blog here: jameskasmith.blogspot.com).

Here are some excerpts from this MB Herald article by Len Hjalmarson, who shows how well versed in the typical emerging church language he is, as he uses words like missional, rhythms, silence and contemplation, etc.:

On missional:

Discipleship in a missional community

Becoming missional has to do with where we place boundary markers as we define the church. What is in-bounds? What is out-of-bounds? Who is included and on what basis? The boundary markers for the church should be determined by where the gifts and callings of God’s people take them. In order to impact the world, we need to be in the world. (…)

[Mennolite’s Opinion: These are such grey areas for them because the new missional does not mean Christians sharing the gospel with the unsaved, but Christians sharing community with non-believers in an attempt to have unity with those who do not have the mind of Christ. While it may be true that people are all bound together in a common humanity, this is called our sin nature, and true spiritual unity between Christians and the world can never happen. As there are only two kinds of people in God’s eyes – spiritually alive and spiritually dead – we can only have unity in Christ (John 17). In order to impact the world, we as Christians need to be like Christ, and preach repentance, and Him crucified.]

On discipleship:

7 discipleship practices at Metro

Metro exists in a rhythm of inward and outward life, community and mission, around seven practices: prayer, meals, worship, justice, hospitality, mentoring, and vulnerability. For us, the weakest of these seven is probably prayer. While we practice prayer in many settings and as a gathered community every second week, we need to expand with teaching and practices of silence and contemplation. We are a needy and highly activist group, and many of us are at risk for burnout. (…)

[Mennolite’s Opinion: Are Benedictine rhythms of life (called rules of life), community, the seven practices, contemplative prayer and silence (more commonly known as the new monasticism) becoming a new trend for MB church plants?]

On mentoring, Len quotes from contemplative James Houston’s (The Mentored Life), and adds that at Metro, staff is required to find a personal mentor or soul friend, “A mentor is both a teacher and a guide, and can help us sort through..our emotional and spiritual lives. They can help us guard against burnout…and they can point us to timely resources in our own growth process.” (p 10) [Mennolite’s Opinion: But what if that spiritual director points staff to Roman Catholic mysticism, which is always the goal in contemplative spiritual direction. Have spiritual directors begun to take the place of our ultimate helper, teacher and director, the Holy Spirit?]

Where is this leading and how are these sticky strands being woven together in the growing emergent church web?

As it turns out, Len Hjalmarson is also the author of An Emerging Dictionary for the Gospel and Culture: A Conversation from Augustine to Zizek. AND, he is the Director of Spiritual Formation with Forge Canada (https://www.forgecanada.ca), where we read about Forge Missional Training Network, which equips leaders and churches to become ‘missional’ and ‘transform’ neighbourhoods.

FMTN is also associated with seminaries and bible schools, where leaders are trained to help these churches become more missional. Members of their Spiritual Community commit to principles that include practices, disciplines, and a simple rule of life. The founding director of FMTN is Alan (Hirsch), co-founder of shapevine.com, author of The Shaping of Things to Come and The Forgotten Ways.

This kind of discipleship we read about in the MB Herald is the new kind of missional, the big key word which has nothing to do with traditional missions or reaching the lost with the gospel, and everything to do with new/ancient contemplative practices and community with the world.

To find out more about the new missional, read these:

The Seductive Deception of the Call to be Missional
by Mike Ratliff

Allelon and Missional

Allelon, Missional and The Nazarene Connection


While it’s not mentioned in the MB Herald article, it does sound like this kind of discipleship is very similar to (if not the same as) the new monasticism, a very popular modern day return to the practices of contemplative Roman Catholic monks – and this in a denomination of people who claim to follow an ex-priest who renounced the Roman Catholic church! They might at least stop calling themselves Mennonites, if this is what they want.

Do the MB leaders condone this new missional discipleship?

Recently, the Conference Minister of the BC Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (and board advisor of the contemplative Mark Centre) was a speaker with Cam Roxburgh (National Director of Forge Canada and Church Planting Canada, Vancouver, B.C. who also developed the Forge Canada Missional Training Network where training in contemplative spirituality is taught) at a Willow Creek event called the Skill Strategy and Story Event. [Willow Creek, which many MB churches have memberships with, is also a major promoter of contemplative spiritual formation.]

No matter which way you turn, it looks like this new kind of discipleship is here to stay.


The New Monasticism
A fresh crop of Christian communities is blossoming in blighted urban settings all over America.

Mennonite Central Committee promotes Mustard Seed Associates (Updated)

Joining the Anabaptist conspirators
Activists found in four streams: emerging, missional, mosaic, monastic