Meeting explores USMB diversity


NST talks with pastors about inclusivity, unity
From a report by Don Morris

The ethnic diversity of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren family and how leaders can work toward more inclusivity and unity was the focus of the National Strategy Team (NST) meeting April 1, 2017. The one-day meeting followed meetings of the USMB National Leadership Board and Board of Faith and Life and the National Pastors Orientation, all held the last week of March 2017 in San Diego, Calif.

The NST was formed as part of the new vision for USMB ministries that was introduced in July 2016 at the USMB National Convention. The purpose of the NST is to help provide key strategic planning around the three core commitments of church multiplication and evangelism, intentional disciple-making and leadership development. The team is responsible to the USMB Leadership Board.

“We are taking the work of the NST very seriously,” says Don Morris, USMB national director. “This is vitally important as we strive to fulfill the mandates of the new USMB vision.”

The NST currently consists of the five district ministers, the president of MB Foundation, the general director of MB Mission and the USMB national director. At their first meeting, held in December 2016, the NST decided they needed to expand the group.

“In order to broaden the scope and expertise needed to create specific strategies, each meeting of the NST will incorporate additional leaders and resource people to help brainstorm and devise new strategies,” says Morris. “These strategic initiatives are not solely designed for the USMB national office and staff but encompass the broader spectrum of the entire MB family and agencies in the U.S.”

To enhance the most recent discussion about serving an ethnic diverse constituency, three people were invited to participate in the NST meeting: Boris Borisov of Spokane, Washington, Delilah Isaak of Sanger, Califorina, and Daniel Rodriguez of Omaha, Nebraska.

Borisov is a city planner for the city of Spokane, as well as the church planter of Pacific Keep, an MB church plant in Spokane, and a member of the USMB Leadership Board. He is also Slavic in heritage and was born in the Ukraine before moving as a young child with his family to the U.S. Isaak serves in MB churches in Sanger and Dinuba, California, is a member of the USMB Leadership Board and is Hispanic. Rodriguez is pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva in Omaha and is also of Hispanic heritage.

Morris says the conversation covered a variety of topics and provided helpful insight as the NST works to move forward the USMB strategy and vision for ministry.

The group discussed the importance of using language graciously and accurately and using words that are affirming and inclusive.

“We are brothers and sisters who happen to have Slavic heritage,” said Borisov. “The term ‘Slavic’ is appropriate for older churches because even they describe themselves as that. But young (Slavic) people are American so they don’t relate to that term.”

Rodriguez noted, “When we have a good relationship with each other, there is less offense taken (when referring to ethnicity differences).”

The group acknowledged problems that arise when larger groups are identified as representing only one ethnic group. For example, it is not accurate to refer to the North Carolina District Conference as being a conference of black congregations and the Latin America MB Conference as the Hispanic district.

The group deliberated about tangible strategies for enhancing connection and involvement from all people groups within USMB.

They discussed ways to improve the diversity among pastors and church leaders at district and national events.

“We will need to free up resources if we want people from other groups to travel to our conventions,” said Isaak. “Many of our Hispanic pastors cannot afford to attend either on their own or as part of their church’s budget. We also have to have resourcing for them in their first language or provide simultaneous headset translation.”

Specific action steps emerging from the meeting included:

  • providing training in various languages, including LEAD One one-day intensive leadership training events. For instance, Rodriguez will be presenting in Spanish a LEAD One event scheduled for July 1, 2017, in Omaha, Neb. The plan is to then take this LEAD One presentation on the road to other locations in the U.S. this fall or next spring.
  • translating publications and resources into other languages, including pastoral and church covenants and other documents as well as news items.
  • including representatives of ethnic groups on planning teams.

The group reminded itself to “think big or we’ll be disappointed” and to be willing to learn from past mistakes.

The NST will next meet August 30, 2017, to discuss leadership development. Some 20 to 25 people have been invited to this one-day summit that will be hosted by MB Foundation at their new office building in Hillsboro, Kansas.

“We’ve invited people from across the nation to attend this event to help us dig deep into how we can improve leadership development within our conference of churches,” says Morris. “This is not only for development of more professional leaders, but for leadership development within the local church. This is a huge issue and one we must improve upon.”

In addition to Morris, other NST members serving by virtue of their office are Rick Eshbaugh, Central District Conference minister; Randy Friesen, MB Mission general director; Aaron Hernandez, Latin America (LAMB) District Conference minister; Terry Hunt, North Carolina District Conference minister; Tim Sullivan, Southern District Conference minister; Gary Wall, Pacific District Conference minister; and Jon Wiebe, MB Foundation CEO and president.

Photo: Delilah Isaak, Boris Borisov, Don Morris and Rick Eshbaugh were among participants at the April meeting of the National Strategy Team. USMB photo


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