Jan. 25, 2022 Clarification: The list of comments and suggestions included in the document presented to the Leadership Board by the CL Review Team were made by individuals on the team and not by the team as a whole. Read Don Morris’ letter of clarification.
The USMB Leadership Board approved six recommendations regarding the Christian Leader that are intended to rebuild trust and confidence in the USMB publication. The recommendations, proposed by the CL Review Team, include that the CL will continue to be published in print and that theological content will be reviewed by district ministers and the USMB national director.
“It was very clear that our MB family sees a lot of value in the magazine as a source of connection, information and inspiration,” says Don Morris, USMB national director, in an email interview. “We think the new ideas and protocols for how each issue of the CL is created will help provide the kind of magazine that consistently accomplishes that going forward.”
“Changes need to occur”
While the CL Review Team report affirmed the CL, the team also concluded that “for some in our constituency, there has been erosion of trust and confidence pertaining to some CL content and editorial perspective.” The Review Team concluded that “definitive changes need to occur” to ensure that the CL effectively serves the USMB family and made six recommendations.
“I believe by implementing the recommendations, there will be a considerable, positive change in the way the CL publishing process occurs,” Morris says. “There will be many more voices involved for providing creativity along with evaluation and even implementation of the magazine’s overall content.”
The first recommendation establishes the purpose of the CL as to draw USMB churches together by connecting, informing, celebrating, telling stories and sharing news; disciple the USMB constituency within the Confession of Faith, inspiring people to action; and direct the USMB family toward a unified vision, focusing on the three USMB core commitments and mission.
Recommendations impact timeline
Three subsequent recommendations are related to the CL publication process and mark a significant change in the production timeline. The next recommendation has two parts. First, it establishes an Editorial Review Board that will “collaborate with the editor and associate editor in selecting themes and topics and isolating timely issues.” The board, which will consist of the CL editors, two district ministers and three or four at-large members, will also help to “discern ‘right voices’ to write specific articles.” The board will meet at least once a year.
In addition to forming an Editorial Review Board, this recommendation states that feature essays, the editorial and “other content that contains theological perspectives” will be reviewed prior to publication by two or three district ministers as well as the USMB national director.
Morris says, “I’m confident that this very intentional integration of more people, who will provide not only valuable input but also will provide watch care to help prevent stumbling blocks and/or issues that have the potential to create mistrust, will help our USMB family in building back trust, even if that develops slowly over time. We’re attempting to do everything we can to provide confidence as well as a high level of connection through the content of the Christian Leader.”
To create sufficient time for the district ministers and national director to review CL content, the Leadership Board’s third recommendation related to the publication process is that the publication schedule be lengthened to allow for “regular and increased communication with writers and reviewers.”
The final recommendation related to the extended production timeline increases the editor’s work week by five hours, beginning in January 2022. The editor has been working 25 hours a week. “With these changes in review and publication processes, it will undoubtedly add to the CL editor’s work time,” says the recommendation.
CL to continue as print magazine
The remaining recommendations deal with CL format and circulation.
The fifth recommendation states that the CL will continue to be provided as a printed magazine with additional articles available online.
“The 2021 readership survey revealed that a large majority of readers continue to desire receiving and reading CL in printed form; many also enjoy the additional content that is availabl–e that CL online provides,” says the recommendation. “This was somewhat of a surprise to us (the CL Review Team.) (We) agree that there is strategic value in continuing the printed form of the magazine.”
The sixth recommendation is that an intentional campaign for growing the number of households receiving the CL be developed and that sign-ups for C-Link, the CL biweekly e-news digest, be increased. The recommendation did not include a plan for how to accomplish the growth.
The recommendations, approved Oct. 29, 2021, by the Leadership Board, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. Due to the recommended changes to the CL production process, the July/August 2022 magazine will be the first issue to reflect the recommendations.
The CL Review Team report affirms CL editors Connie Faber and Janae Rempel and designer Shelley Plett. The report also includes a list of 19 comments and suggestions, including a repeated request that the magazine content reflect the “theological conservatism of the majority of (the) readership.”
The report concludes with a list of six concerns and observations regarding how the magazine can better handle disagreements and critiques. Included in that list is the request that the CL’s statement that writers’ views are not necessarily those of USMB be given more visibility. “We need a better plan going forward to help deal with major critiques and disagreements,” says the report. “We did not arrive at such a plan.”
In addition to affirming the CL Review Team’s recommendations, the Leadership Board requested that national director Don Morris function as the magazine’s editor-in-chief.
Morris says he intends to appoint the Editorial Review Board by January 2022 so that the group can meet in January and set the editorial calendar for the last three issues of 2022.
In addition to Morris, review team members were district ministers Dan Strutz, Central District Conference, and Jordan Ringhofer, Pacific District Conference; Leadership Board members Brianne Shaw, Luke Haidle and Dave Thiessen; district representatives Tom Byford, Southern District Conference, Carrie Foddrell, Eastern District Conference, John Goodell, CDC and Jamie Mack, PDC; and USMB staff member Donna Sullivan.
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and two grandchildren. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.