2016 USMB National Convention overview


Future Story approved, Morris installed, format changed

By Connie Faber

The 2016 U.S. Mennonite Brethren National Convention, held July 29-30 at The Westin Westminster in Westminster, Colo., was all about change.

New strategy: The Future Story, a new national ministry strategy, was unveiled Saturday morning and that afternoon delegates affirmed the plan to focus on three core commitments and to utilize a grassroots approach to ministry, with the local congregation as the focus of national efforts.

New job title: Launching a new vision includes appointing a new lead USMB staff member with a new job title. Don Morris, the Mission USA director who also served for the last two years as the interim USMB executive director, was installed Saturday afternoon as the national director (photo right).

New format: The 2016 National Convention also marked a shift in the priorities of the event itself. Past conventions were built around business sessions at which as many as 18 agencies gave oral updates on their work. That didn’t happen this year. No oral reports meant fewer business sessions, which created more time for worship sessions and workshops.


Taking care of business

While the two Saturday business sessions focused on the Future Story, other business was transacted. Delegates affirmed Marv Schellenberg, a businessman from Wichita, Kan., as the new Leadership Board chair (pictured left with Steve Schroeder who completed his term as chair) and Aaron Box, pastor of North Park Community Church, Eugene, Ore., as the vice chair.

Delegates elected five members to the USMB Leadership Board (incumbent David Hardt, Bakersfield, Calif.; Luke Haidle, Henderson, Neb.; Lianne Nikkel, Littleton, Colo., Boris Borisov, Spokane, Wash.; and Delilah Isaack, Selma, Calif.) and two individuals to the Board of Faith and Life (incumbent Tim Geddert, Fresno, Calif., and David Loewen, Hillsboro, Kan., They affirmed the slate of 11 National Youth Committee members.

They also affirmed the ballot of new members for the MB Mission Board (Archie Eutsler, Wichita, Kan., Kimberlee Jost, Hillsboro, Kan.), MB Foundation (incumbents Randy Hamm, Enid, Okla., Ken Neufeld, Fresno, Calif.) and Historical Commission (incumbents Don Isaac, Hillsboro, Kan., Julia Reimer, Fresno, Calif.)

Delegates gathered around individuals serving on these boards and committees for a time of prayer.  

BFL reports on efforts to promote Article 13

The USMB Board of Faith and Life (BFL) was the only ministry to report during the streamlined business sessions. BFL chair Larry Nikkel (pictured right) began by addressing Article 13 of the Confession of Faith. The article was revised in 2014 and includes a strong emphasis on peacemaking.  When the revision was approved two years ago, a resolution was made from the floor that BFL would report at the 2016 convention what they had done to implement the new article.

Nikkel reported that the board had spent the first year “chasing the idea” of developing new, innovative curriculum focused on Article 13 that they estimated would cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. The board talked with denominations that have published the kind of curriculum BFL was dreaming of creating and quickly learned that the curriculum was not being used. “It was providential that we caught on to this earlier,” said Nikkel.

While the curriculum project was shelved, BFL will be inserting a Bible study in the Christian Leader and is adding a BFL pamphlet on the article. BFL has also provided speakers at Fresno Pacific University and Tabor College, the two MB-owned colleges, that addressed peacemaking and encouraged young adults to participate in the 2016 Global Anabaptist Peace Institute co-sponsored by Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary’s Center for Anabaptist Studies and West Coast Mennonite Central Committee.  The board also developed a blog addressing Article 13 that is managed by Trent Voth.

Nikkel encouraged those present to embrace their Anabaptist/evangelical heritage.

“It’s accurate to say that with the Mennonite Brethren family there has been some ambivalence about our blend of Anabaptist and evangelical theology,” said Nikkel. “Many others across the country are discovering this mix and are saying: That’s what we’ve been looking for. Let’s not abandon this heritage. We need this blend.”

Nikkel said, “The gospel mission we are on is not a Mennonite thing; it’s a Jesus thing. Let’s make the Prince of Peace proud of who we are.”

Nikkel also reported that:

  • BFL circulated a resource guide on how pastors and churches can deal with sexual misconduct.
  • BFL is researching the status of more than 1,100 resolutions adopted by the General Conference, a conference comprised of the U.S. Conference and Canadian Conference of MB Churches that dissolved in 2000.
  • BFL is recommending that term limits be set aside for this specific convention, to allow BFL member Tim Geddert to serve another term. Delegates passed the recommendation.

Ministries provide video updates, mealtime reports

The National Youth Committee reported via two brief videos, one that reviewed the 2015 National Youth Conference and a second that highlighted new activities in the area of service and networking among youth workers that the committee anticipates offering.

Tabor College and the International Community of Mennonite Brethren provided video updates.

Mission USA, the church planting and renewal arm of USMB, reported during the Saturday evening session. MB Mission reported during the Friday evening dinner and MB Foundation gave a presentation during the Saturday lunch. Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary reported at lunch on Friday, which was part of the Pastors’ Conference.

The hotel hallway (pictured right) outside the ballrooms used for meals and sessions were lined with displays provided by a variety of USMB ministries, partner agencies and inter-Mennonite ministries.

In other business, Leadership Board treasurer David Hardt gave a brief summary of the 2016 budget. District ministers paid tribute to the four active USMB pastors who died during the past two years.


Workshop, worship opportunities expanded

The National Convention schedule included two workshop times. Workshop topics included ministry to Muslims, conflict in the church, mentoring, stewardship, immigration issues and current issues in higher education. The Leadership Board also hosted a question-and-answer workshop about the Future Story.

Convention worship sessions featured keynote speaker Matt Heard (pictured right). His messages focused on the Future Story and incorporated the convention theme, “Press On,” as well as the theme Scripture passage, Philippians 3:12-14.

Heard encouraged his listeners to embrace God’s call as expressed in the new national ministry strategy. Quoting T.E. Lawrence—“The dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible”—Heard challenged his listeners to be “dangerous men and women in the New Testament sense of the word.”

Referring to the Future Story, Heard said, “Roll up your sleeves. God is about to take you on an amazing ride. He’s been pursuing you for such a time as this.”

Musicians from The Rock of Southwest served as the convention worship team. Throughout the weekend several pastors shared stories, often highlighting men and women who have come to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of the local church.

The Saturday evening program highlighted church planting and concluded with a communion service.

The opening day of the convention included opportunities for delegates to interact. A children’s ministry workers social was held Friday afternoon. That evening during a dessert reception held for all delegates and guests, Mennonite Central Committee hosted a gathering for alumni and friends.

Sunday delegates and guests were invited to worship in one of the five area MB churches: Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Aurora, Garden Park MB Church in Denver, Lighthouse Church in Lakewood, The Rock of Southwest or Trailhead Church, both in Littleton.


Convention was a family event

The National Convention and the Pastors’ Conference that precedes it are typically intended to be family events, and so activities for children and teens are offered during both events. A total of 50 children and teens were registered, the largest number of children and youth since 2000, the last time the biennial gatherings were held in the Denver area.

Stan and Renee Lawson from Ethiopian Evangelical Church, a USMB congregation in Denver, led the preschool and children’s groups.  Two summer EEC interns, Nathan Bamaw and Lewis Watkins, assisted the Lawsons during the Pastors’ Conference; Joanne and Tena Loewen, from Hillsboro, Kan., assisted during the National Convention.

An average of 30 kids ages 1 to 11 years participated each day.  The children did a VBS curriculum titled Fiesta Fun! that included singing, crafts and activities such as water balloons, searching for “Fluffy,” a dead mackerel, and a Beta fish giveaway. The children also went swimming and visited The Butterfly Pavilion, an invertebrate zoo with 5,000 animals on display located next to the zoo (pictured left).

Activities for kids ages 12-16 were led by Zach Reed, a summer intern with First MB Church, Wichita, Kan. The 12 youth enjoyed morning devotions together followed by activities including games, going to an area park, swimming, visiting the Butterfly Pavilion and playing at Dave and Buster’s, a restaurant and game venue. 

Convention attendance, including children, was 263, of which 120 were delegates. This compares to 216 attendees two years ago when the convention was in Santa Clara, Calif., and 298 in 2012 when the biennial event was held in Omaha, Neb.




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