Delegates ask for further discussion on consultant’s prophetic word
By Laura Kalmar, MB Herald editor
Two weeks prior to the USMB biennial delegate convention, Canadian Mennonite Brethren met July 11-14 in Winnipeg, Man., for Gathering 2012. Like their southern neighbors, the Canadian delegates were asked to increase the national budget, with significant funds going towards church planting.
Although the 2012 annual general meeting of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (CCMBC) lasted an hour longer than planned, most delegates stayed to the end. Many wanted a chance to voice their opinion about the ambitious budget recommendation, brought to the floor by the executive board (pictured left).
Saturday morning, delegates approved a $5.5 million expenditure budget for 2012–2013, up from last year’s $4.4 million. A significant portion of the increased funding will come from thegradual withdrawal of operating reserve funds over the next two years ($1.3 million in the first year, and $700,000 the following year), as well as increased stewardship earnings from investment income.Longer term funding will come from increased church support, fund raising and program adjustments.
“Our stewardship reserves are like a rainy day fund,” says CFO John Wiebe. “The board decided it was time to use some of that money. This isn’t a period of desperation – we believe we’re in a season of incredible opportunity.”
The budget reflects a renewed focus on church planting—as Canadian MBs “dare to hope for the salvation of all Canadians in the next two to three decades.” C2C Network’s church planting budget now stands at $2.2 million.
A sense of urgency to reach Canadians for Christ was evident throughout Gathering 2012. According to consultant Terry Mochar, churches may see growth in their own numbers, but “the reality is that 31–33 million Canadians, at present rates, will be going into a Christ-less eternity.”
C2C church planting director Gordon Fleming echoed the urgency, saying Canadian churches experience relatively few conversions, “not because we lack programs or staff,but because we don’t love people as we ought. Could we ask for the miracle of grief over the lost?”
Fleming offered a breakdown of how the money will be spent. He said that 54 percent will go directly to church plants for start-up costs, pastoral wages, etc.; 34 percent will be earmarked for national staff salaries; 7 percent will go to training church planters; and 5 percent will be used for administrative costs.
With additional monies coming in through fundraising, as well as provincial church planting budgets, the total amount for church planting across Canada is nearly double the $2.2 million allocated in CCMBC’s budget.
During the discussion session, several questions were raised from the floor. Is this year’s budget sustainable into the future? What happens after the one-time transfer of funds from stewardship reserves?
Executive board member Harold Froese believes that when members and churches catch the vision for evangelism in their hearts, it will transfer to their wallets. He also said the executive board will look for places to reduce expenditures—though, for 2012–13, most other CCMBC ministries will remain status quo.
Some delegates voiced questions about the C2C ministry, wondering if the church planting network reflects holistic MB theology as laid out in the Confession of Faith.
“There’s no resistance [in this room] to evangelism,” said Ken Peters of Saanich (B.C.) Community Church. “Indeed, it’s part of our historical DNA. However, while I’m in favor of mission and church planting, I’d like to see C2C securely embedded in our Confession of Faith—that training and coaching wouldn’t be disassociated from our structures, such as MB Biblical Seminary.”
At the end of the day, despite concerns, delegates registered strong approval for the executive board’s bold budget. They also voted in favor of moving the Canadian conference’s financial yearend to December 31.
“We are blessed with resources,” said executive board member Len Penner. “[We have] people with compelling visions who have created, with the help of the Holy Spirit, tremendous results.”
A call to work together
Delegates at Gather 2012 also considered consultant Terry Mochar’s report to the executive board and his “four messages from the heart of God to the churches in the CCMBC,” a piece that served as a framework for much of the information presented by the executive board. Delegates expressed a wide variety of responses—some embracing and some critical—to Mochar’s message.
“As a result of consultant Terry Mochar’s work, we heard clearly that CCMBC should be a voice calling us to do together what no church can do alone,” said executive director Willy Reimer in his report. “(Terry) also provided the executive board with numerous recommendations to move us toward becoming a missional movement of Canadian churches.”
Two distinct pieces were in play. The first was Mochar’s 139-page national ministry review, which was an assessment of the national office, not of individual churches, and his subsequent recommendations, intended solely for the executive board and not made available to the general public. The second was Mochar’s prophetic word, published in the July 2012 Herald and in Gathering 2012 report booklets.
A large number of delegates expressed dismay at not having access to the full 139-page national ministry review, or opportunity to speak into the process.
More information needed
“I’m asking for access to the data,” said James Toews of Neighbourhood Church, Namaimo, B.C., “so we can do a methodological examination.”
“We have a helpful precedent,” said Walter Unger of Bakerview MB Church, Abbotsford, B.C. “In 2004, when the Board of Faith and Life was dealing with the issue of women in ministry, we went across every province. We had listening sessions for lay people and leaders. That kind of process would have been helpful here. I know there’s urgency, but we want to involve laity.”
“Let me share a memory of strength,” said Mary Anne Isaak of River East MB Church, Winnipeg. “In 1999, we did a revision of our Confession of Faith. Every congregation was asked to study it and give feedback. Forces were pulling in different directions. But, through meetings and study conferences, we heard God’s voice. God’s Spirit speaks when God’s people speak with one another.”
Moderator Paul Loewen responded with a word of repentance on behalf of the executive board. “We have, from time to time, missed the mark and created mistrust. We confess that to you. We’re not sure where we’re going with all of this, but we can’t stay where we are. Please pray with us and dialogue with us. We’ll do our best to listen.”
“We’re not recommending changes to who we are as a denomination, to our mission or Confession of Faith,” said Loewen. “There are no changes to board structures, schools, camps, MB Mission, etc. There are no new initiatives or structural plans at this time. We need continued dialogue and discernment. The board will come up with a communication strategy to bring this conversation more into the frontline.”
“A word from the Lord”
Mochar’s prophetic word received a wider variety of responses. “This is one of those times when I felt the Lord was asking me to share this word publicly,” said Mochar. “I’ll submit it respectfully.”
According to B.C. moderator Ron Van Akker, there was “a resounding sense this is what God is speaking to our churches…. I want to commend the national executive. Stick-handling this has been nothing less than a supernatural task.”
Former B.C. moderator Rob Thiessen of North Langley (B.C.) Community Church agreed. “Our response as an executive board [to Terry’s prophetic word] was prayer, tears—we got on our knees. We wanted to humble ourselves, to speak some of the disunity between us. That’s the fruit of the gift of prophecy. It’s a word to encourage, comfort and exhort—a little freebie from God’s Spirit to us.”
“Let’s not treat this word with contempt,” saidd BFL vice chair Terrance Froese. “It came in a very holy way.”
However, the prophetic word left several delegates with a sense of unease.
“I’m personally uncomfortable when our leaders use the words “The Lord has led me…,” or “The Spirit spoke to me…,” said Ken Peters of Saanich (B.C.) Community Church. “It makes it difficult for us to ask any questions because we might be challenging the very voice of God himself.”
“The (national ministry) report was written primarily to the national office,” said J Janzen of Highland Community Church, Abbotsford, B.C., “but it came with a prophetic overlay.”
Motion to involve the BFL
Janzen then made a motion, asking the Board of Faith and Life (BFL) to take leadership in discerning the prophetic word in the Mochar report. Janzen’s concern was to determine which parts of the prophecy—if any—should be properly taken on by local churches and which were solely for national and provincial bodies.
“We need to pay attention to the unique role of the BFL,” affirmed Gerry Ediger of McIvor Church, Winnipeg, speaking in favor of the motion. “[According to our governance model], it’s the board that stands in independence. We’re asking the BFL to take a look at the report in its larger context.”
“This isn’t motivated by fear,” said Janzen. “We’ve heard we need to take this seriously—to test it. This is a way to bring integrity and transparency—to know [the prophetic word] has been discerned well, and to work in collaboration.”
Delegates voted in favor of the motion, and Terry Mochar’s prophetic word is now in the hands of the BFL.“We are going to take a closer look at the national office strategic review,” says BFL chair Brian Cooper, “and will likely spend some time dialoguing with Terry Mochar about it.Our goal is to help address the observations and conclusions in the report in a way that is consistent with who we are as Mennonite Brethren.”
In addition to business sessions and evening worship gatherings, the CCMBC 2012 general meeting also included equipping workshops on a variety of topics and Experience Winnipeg, a journey around the city’s core area, interpreted through the activities of Mennonite Brethren. It was an afternoon of prayer and was intended to inspire participant’s to be involved in creative ways in their own communities.