Approximately 80 delegates gathered for the 109th Central District Conference (CDC) convention hosted by five Sioux Falls, South Dakota, churches at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Sioux Falls, Oct. 24-26, 2019.
The event, hosted by Bethel Fellowship Church, Christ Community Church, Ethiopian Christian Fellowship, Lincoln Hills Bible Church and New Jerusalem Temple, included worship and business sessions, workshops and a celebration banquet.
Delegates welcomed three new churches, affirmed two Central District Board of Faith and Life statements, passed an amended budget that reflected increased funds for two CDC church plants and announced the addition of a 1/3-time district minister.
CDC welcomes three churches
During District Minister Rick Eshbaugh’s Friday report, delegates welcomed three churches into the CDC family: Butterfield Community Church in Butterfield, Minnesota; Emmanuel Evangelical Church in Sioux City, Iowa; and Rehoboth Church of God in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“It is the privilege of the Board of Faith and life to meet with churches who wish to join the Central District and then make a recommendation to the District Minister’s Counsel or the Annual Convention to accept these churches into membership,” said Coalt Robinson, chair of the CDC Board of Faith and Life and pastor of Bethel MB Church in Yale, South Dakota, in his written report.
Delegates affirm two clarifying BFL statements
Delegates affirmed two Central District Board of Faith and Life statements clarifying the district’s position regarding women in pastoral ministry and the doctrine of the atonement.
During his Friday report, Robinson introduced two items of interest to the BFL in the past year, including credentialing policy and a proposed change to the USMB Confession of Faith regarding the atonement.
“As the Board of Faith and Life continued to discuss the best way to move forward regarding the issues of women in pastoral ministry and the proposed change to the USMB Confession of Faith regarding the atonement, we thought it would be best to issue a statement that clarifies the position of the Central District,” Robinson said in his report.
After a time of questions and discussion, delegates voted on and affirmed both statements, the first clarifying that the CDC desires to uphold the 1999 USMB resolution regarding women in pastoral ministry that limits the role of lead pastor to a qualified male and the second an affirmation clarifying the CDC BFL’s position that the doctrine of the atonement—addressed in Article 5 of the USMB Confession of Faith—be seen through the lens of penal substitution. Both statements will be presented to the U.S. BFL.
Amended budget compensates for loss of subsidy
Following Friday’s budget presentation by treasurer Richard Walter and later discussion, delegates unanimously approved an amended 2019-20 budget of $495,000.
The amendment compensated for a church planting subsidy shortfall, of which Church Planting and Renewal Board chair Dan Strutz spoke during his report. Beginning Dec. 31, 2019, Multiply will be unable to fulfill its financial commitments to the two CDC church plants: Redemption Church in Owatonna, Minnesota and Renewal MB Church in Rapid City, South Dakota.
USMB ended its formal partnership with Multiply for church planting in the U.S. following Multiply’s release of its North American church planting element formerly known as C2C.
This could create a $32,000 shortfall for CDC church planting in fiscal year 2019-2020.
Strutz said the CDC would like to fill the financial gap until the USMB task force—created to brainstorm recommendations for future church planting funding assistance—reaches a long-term plan for church planting. The Church Planting and Renewal Board has discussed how to encourage churches to work toward operating without subsidy payments.
Because of the subsidy shortfall, the CDC Executive Committee recommended replacing the shortfall of $32,000 from CDC reserves, amending the recommendation to add $8,000 to the Redemption Church budget line and $24,000 to the Renewal MB Church budget line. This resulted in an increase in Church Planting and Renewal Board expenses to $310,100. A need for a contingency plan for the remaining three years of subsidy was expressed. The Trustee Board challenged delegates to increase church offerings to help defray extra church planting payments.
Delegates also discussed how to financially and prayerfully support Lakota Gospel Fellowship (LGF), formerly a mission church and now a membership church in the CDC. LGF owns a building—the CDC built a new facility in Porcupine about 15 years ago after a fire. This fiscal year, the CDC is giving $5,000 to the church.
It was noted that Daniel Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva in Omaha, Nebraska, has completed his undergraduate work and, with financial support from the CDC, is now pursuing seminary studies beginning in January 2020.
The budget also included an increase in Youth Committee funds to help finance the annual CDC Summer Youth Camp in Minnesota and the youth conference in the fall.
Prior to the budget vote, delegates also discussed the November sale of property that resulted in approximately $200,000 added to the CDC balance sheet after expenses. It was noted that these funds might be used to cover a budget shortfall, although typically sales of property go directly to an endowment, interest from which could be used to cover the church planting subsidy shortfall.
Delegates unanimously approved an amended budget of $495,000.
In other business
During the Executive Board report, chair John Langer announced the addition of 1/3-time district minister Dan Strutz, pastor of Community Bible Church in Mountain, Lake, Minnesota. At a Sept. 16, 2019, CDC District Ministry Council meeting, the Executive Committee voted to hire Strutz to work alongside district minister Rick Eshbaugh, fulfilling a need as the district continues to expand.
Chair Langer also noted that a Constitutional Review Committee is working to update or revise the Central District Constitution.
“We are not building hospitals and schools as our constitution says we are to be doing, so we need to look to update and vote on those changes at our next year’s Central District conference,” Langer said in his written report.
During Eshbaugh’s district minister’s report, the following pastors were granted licensure in the CDC: Tim Hall, pastor of Butterfield Community Church; Mike Andrews, pastor of Gospel Fellowship Church in Wolf Point, Montana, which will host the 2020 CDC convention; and Kevin Strope, interim pastor of Salem MB Church in Bridgewater, South Dakota.
Eshbaugh recognized two pastors for their work in the Central District: Mike Petts, who resigned from Salem MB Church in Bridgewater, South Dakota, and is now serving as associate pastor at Redemption Church in Owatonna, Minnesota; and Bruce Bogar, who retired after 27 years of ministry at Gospel Fellowship Church in Wolf Point, Montana.
As Church Planting and Renewal Board chair, Strutz provided an update on the Congolese Summit in Cincinnati, Ohio, in August 2019, for which the USMB National Strategy Team brought together leaders of 20 immigrant churches, four Congolese ministries and 13 USMB leaders.
The Congolese Summit was a success and well-attended, Strutz said, adding that several Congolese churches have expressed interest in joining the CDC. Eshbaugh is working with USMB leadership to determine next steps in finding district homes for these churches.
Christians from the Democratic Republic of Congo, including some with roots in the Congolese MB church, have been immigrating to the U.S. for approximately the past 15 years.
In other business, delegates elected conference committee members and Tabor College Board members.
The event also included reports from Don Morris, USMB national director; Jules Glanzer, Tabor College president; and Jon Wiebe, MB Foundation president and CEO.
Following a time of organized prayer for CDC ministries, pastors, churches and leaders led by Langer, Strutz led a ministry panel discussion with various Mennonite Brethren and inter-Mennonite agency representatives, including USMB’s Morris; MB Foundation’s Wiebe; Stephen Humber representing Multiply; Peggy Goertzen representing the Center for MB Studies; Ron Braun representing Tabor College; Chuck Buller representing Fresno Pacific University; Andrew Wright representing Mennonite Central Committee; and Mennonite Disaster Service.
Various missionaries provided prayer and greetings via video recording to open the business sessions, and pastors led devotions.
Banquet celebrates church growth, missions
Friday night’s Celebration Banquet provided a time of sharing in which delegates heard about ethnic ministries, an update from the two CDC church plants and from Multiply.
Hunegnaw Bekele, pastor of Ethiopian Christian Fellowship in Sioux Falls and Samuel Hailemariam, pastor of Grace International Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, spoke about their ministries. Both were encouraged by attending the USMB Ethiopian Summit sponsored by MB Foundation and held in Atlanta, Georgia, in September 2019, and expressed a desire to become more involved in Mennonite Brethren work and ministry. Strutz prayed for the churches.
Mike and Diane Petts shared about their transition to Redemption Church where Mike is serving as associate pastor and together they will start a new children’s ministry beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Providing an update on ministry, the Petts shared that 80 people attended Redemption Church’s one-year anniversary celebration and three were baptized. The church has baptized more than 20 people in its first year, with new visitors each week. Redemption will soon move into its own building, which will allow space for ministry during the week.
Jon and Michele Fiester, pastoral couple at Renewal MB Church in Rapid City, shared two videos highlighting the ministry of the CDC’s newest church plant. The church has drawn in people who are done with religion but ready for a relationship with Jesus. Michele shared a story about a woman with addictions who became a member of Renewal MB. Despite being under spiritual attack, the Fiesters said they see God working through it.
Garry Prieb told the story of Mennonite Brethren from Mountain Lake, Minn., who started the MB ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now, Congolese people are coming to the United States as immigrants and refugees and looking for church affiliation. Prieb has attended two meetings with Congolese believers inquiring about USMB affiliation, including one in fall 2018 and an August 2019 summit in Cincinnati. Claude Tambatamba, from New Jerusalem Temple in Sioux Falls, prayed for the Congolese in the U.S. to find a home, protection and to follow the Spirit of God.
Stephen Humber, mission mobilizer for Multiply, offered an apology on behalf of Multiply for the agency’s inability to deliver on its financial promises to the CDC’s two church plants. Humber also shared stories and photos from Multiply missionaries supported by CDC churches and closed the banquet in prayer.
A church plant and renewal offering a total of $2,637 was collected.
Friday afternoon, attendees could choose between a variety of workshops, divided into three sessions.
Workshops offered included “Worship: More than Music” by Seth Dekkenga of Shift115 Worship Collective in Sioux Falls; “Building a Discipleship Culture” by Daniel Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva in Omaha; “First Fruits” by MB Foundation; “Coming Alongside Unchurched” by Jeff Turner, pastor of Christ Community Church in Sioux Falls; “Women in Ministry Discussion” by Kari Muffs from Strawberry Lake Mennonite Church in Ogema, Minnesota, and Helene Wedel from Bethesda Church in Huron, South Dakota; “Strengthening the Local Church” by MB Foundation; “Hospitality and the Gospel” by Dan Strutz; and “Sharing Your 15-Second Testimony” by Stephen Humber.
The convention theme, “Not Alone,” was based on Hebrews 10:19-25 and reflected God’s promise to never leave his disciples as well as the togetherness of a family of believers. This provides not only a comfort to believers but a declaration to the world that God has not abandoned people.
Music was provided by Seth Dekkenga of Shift115 Worship Collective in Sioux Falls; and two Sioux Falls churches: Community Bible Church and Lincoln Hills Bible Church.
Paul Stevens, pastor of Epikos Church in Milwaukee, Wis., and mentor of Pastor Dan Strutz, was guest speaker. Stevens gave a series of three sermons. His opening sermon Thursday night, “You Are Not Alone!” was based on Ephesians 2:1-10. Highlighting the transition from death in the past to life in the present brings purpose, he said, calling the Gospel a “recovery effort.”
His Friday afternoon sermon, “We are Not Alone—We are Together,” was based on Ephesians 2:11-22 and highlighted nearness to God after past separation, which gives purpose as one household in God. One of the greatest strengths of the CDC is its diversity, Stevens said, adding that proximity leads to empathy.
Stevens’ third sermon, “They are Not Alone,” discussed believers’ mission to the world of letting people know they are not alone, walking toward others in a worthy manner, as one body and within a person’s gifting.
The convention concluded with communion, ministered by pastors Hunegnaw Bekele of Ethiopian Christian Fellowship, Sioux Falls; Samuel Hailemariam of Grace International Church, Indianapolis, Indiana; Wegene Woldegiorgis of Bethel Ethiopian Fellowship Church, Sioux Falls; and Claude Tambatamba of New Jerusalem Temple, Sioux Falls.
With notes from CDC secretary Helene Wedel