A large map hangs on the wall of Dan Strutz’s office at Community Bible Church in Mountain Lake, Minn. On the map, Strutz has marked brightly-colored dots across the north central United States, each dot representing a church in the Central District Conference (CDC).
As the CDC’s new part-time district minister, Strutz prays regularly for each church on the map.
The CDC stretches from northeastern Montana on the west to Indiana on the east. In between, the territory spans across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin and south into Nebraska.
The large geographical spread between churches in an expanding district is one of the reasons the CDC needed a second district minister, according to district minister Rick Eshbaugh, who says he travels 25,000 miles visiting churches in an average year, in addition to attending national meetings.
So, at a Sept. 16, 2019, CDC Ministry Council meeting, the Executive Committee voted to hire Strutz to work alongside Eshbaugh while maintaining his pastoral duties at CBC.
An expanding CDC
The CDC had 26 member churches when Eshbaugh started as a part-time district minister in 2013. That number has grown to 38 churches, a statistic Eshbaugh anticipates increasing as Congolese congregations express interest in joining the district.
Eshbaugh is collaborating with EDC district minister Terry Hunt to resource the Congolese churches. The CDC’s eastern-most reach will be Indiana, Eshbaugh says, adding the CDC has contacts in Iowa, Indiana, North Dakota and Minnesota. Meanwhile, the EDC will work with churches in areas stretching from Tennessee to Maine, and possibly Georgia.
The combination of a growing district plus increased responsibilities on a national level left Eshbaugh with little time to visit churches.
“(There) wasn’t enough time to do everything, so the shortfall kind of ended up always being a little bit on the church visitation side,” Eshbaugh says. “The determination was that either I needed to have something cut back or we needed to expand.”
So, the CDC hired Strutz, the former Church Planting and Renewal Board chair, to help ease the load. Strutz and Eshbaugh had already been working together with the CDC’s two church plants.
“Part of my ‘yes’ was to say, ‘If it helps (Rick) and it helps him do his job better, I want to support him,’” Strutz says.
A Wisconsin native, Strutz was introduced to the Mennonite Brethren family by his wife, Susanna. The couple has been married nine years.
Susanna grew up at Bethel MB Church in Yale, S.D., the daughter of current USMB Leadership Board
member Lud Hohm and his wife, Julie. When Dan enrolled at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.—before he says he considered joining the MB family—Bethel MB supported him, no strings attached.
“It’s a fun story of how a church can sow a seed in someone, and it turns out being way more than they imagined,” says Strutz, who celebrated the five-year anniversary of his installation at CBC in August.
Strutz completed his Master of Divinity degree while pastoring in Mountain Lake. As pastor of a rural church in a town of 2,000, but having grown up in churches with thousands, Strutz brings a variety of perspectives to the role.
“I get a real joy out of working with other pastors and encouraging them,” Strutz says. “I have a pretty diverse background of churches that I’ve been in and ministry styles. … I’ve been in a lot of different contexts that can uniquely help me think about things from different perspectives.”
Splitting the role
Strutz anticipates spending about 75 percent of his time in his pastoral role and 25 percent as district minister, although he and Eshbaugh are still finding a balance. Admittedly, the coronavirus pandemic has altered the best-made plans.
With limited weekend time available, the majority of Strutz’s district work will happen during the week as he serves on the CDC BFL Committee and represents the CDC at U.S. Conference meetings, including U.S. Board of Faith and Life, National Strategy Team and Leadership Board; and Tabor College Board meetings. This allows him to be present in his congregation in Mountain Lake on weekends.
Eshbaugh will continue to oversee the overall work of the district ministers but will focus on the CDC Church Planting and Renewal Committee. Most weekends he will travel to visit pastors, leaders and churches—both existing and potential—in the district. He also sits on the task force teams for all CDC church plants and chairs the National Congolese Task Force. Eshbaugh will represent the CDC on all national church plant and renewal efforts and will attend national meetings as required or requested.
Both serve on the CDC Executive Board and Ministry Council to promote communication between the churches and prepare for conventions and pastoral retreats.
Eshbaugh says that Strutz, as a younger district minister and more recent seminary graduate, brings knowledge of current theological streams and authors, as well as social media and technology.
“I do believe that we need to bring in new leaders as we can,” Eshbaugh says.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Strutz was instrumental in orchestrating Zoom meetings for pastors to share insights about online video streaming for Sunday services.
Some CDC pastors continue to meet with Strutz and Eshbaugh weekly for prayer via Zoom.
“We’re talking about how things are going and building relationship and really sharpening each other,” Strutz says.
Goals for the future
Looking ahead, Strutz says he will continue to build relationships with and between the churches represented by the dots on the map in his office.
“I pray and think about the churches that are (on the map),” Strutz says. “I see them every day in my office.”
Strutz and Eshbaugh continue to work together to build relationships, bring churches in and encourage revitalization. Strutz says he is excited to welcome and learn from the ethnic churches partnering with the district, even as he seeks to encourage churches to elevate their eyes to the mission of the kingdom.
“We have a good number of churches that are like my community—a lot of rural communities—and you can think, ‘Oh, everyone knows Jesus,’ but that’s not true,” Strutz says. “So how do we encourage all our churches to stay on mission and move forward? There’re people that are hurting, and there are people that Jesus wants to love on. To encourage pastors in that’s a real joy.”