Leaders hope to foster networks
By Steve Schroeder
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Eccles 3:1).
As I glance across the landscape of our Mennonite Brethren churches in the United States, I’m noticing several changes. Some are switching out pews for chairs, some pastors now preach with an iPad. Many churches have dropped their Sunday night services while others have Sunday services only in the evening. Some are serving their community one Sunday a month instead of gathering for worship. I don’t think that in and of themselves any of these are innately bad or good changes. But they are changes nonetheless—likely in response to shifts in our culture and shifts in how individual churches are seeking to be more effective in ministry.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it has become increasingly clear to those of us serving our national family of churches that our current structures and ministries do not seem to be helping us become a thriving, healthy denomination. This is no reflection on any of our current staff or their work. It has more to do with a shift in culture, changes in how churches connect with their denomination, the resources that are now easily available to all of our churches and a movement of networking in our culture that moves quickly and often without regard for their regional or national structures.
No longer are churches looking as readily to the national entity for particular services or resources. They can often find what they need within their church, online, in their community or from their district office. In many communities churches are joining hands across denominational lines to collaborate in service projects, vacation Bible school or even church planting efforts. Nationally, new networks of groups and churches, regardless of their denominational stripe, are emerging along the lines of particular ministry interests, for example Willow Creek Association of Member Churches or Converge Church Planting Network.
We believe that God has been leading us to re-think how Mennonite Brethren do ministry together on a national scale. In the past 15 months, with the help of our consultant, George Bullard, we have gathered and listened to many key MB leaders from across the nation. Overall they are supportive of our denomination but many would like to see us make some changes in the way we do ministry together. It is a mixture of voices with various viewpoints and differing visions being expressed simultaneously about the right way forward during times of uncertainty.
As a result of many hours of prayer, listening, sharing, dreaming and strategizing, we see a new vision emerging for our USMB family that will involve some changes which we believe will help guide us forward onto a road toward healthiness and vitality as a denomination. Rest assured that none of these changes have to do with our doctrines or our Confession of Faith. Clearly, our confession and our relational connectedness are two of the hinge pins that hold us together as a family.
Rather, the changes we envision have more to do with intentionally linking arms with our MB churches, districts, fellowships, agencies and partners for synergy and strength and fostering a system of networks that promotes nimble and timely collaboration between multiple ministry partners.
Together we’ve decided to align our resources and collective efforts around the following: local, national and global church multiplication, intentional disciple making and developing leaders. The measurement standard for all we do is whether or not we help local churches reach their full ministry potential. This is the essence of our vision.
Our Leadership Board together with our district ministers is still processing how this will work, and we ask for your prayers. We deeply appreciate those of you who have already been bathing this process in prayer. Our desire is to be in step with where Jesus is leading us as a national family of churches.
Steve Schroeder, chair of the USMB Leadership Board, wrote this update following meetings of the board and the Strategic Review Team Oct. 12-14.