Valuing and supporting what we have in common
by Ed Boschman, Executive Director
Three times in recent weeks, in three different states, a pastor has shared with me a new or renewed commitment to our U.S. Mennonite Brethren Conference. This comes from a growing understanding that community and partnership matter and that collaborating as a national family of churches provides us with the opportunity to have greater life transforming kingdom impact.
This is a huge encouragement to me. It means that the mission statement that we endorsed four years ago to clarify our reason for being is understandable, practical, doable and increasingly affirmed. When our USMB Leadership Board and staff were prayerfully discerning clarity for our national mission, we gathered and compared the mission statements from all our districts and partner agencies. We discovered a common theme—the desire to see people invited into a faith-follow relationship with our Lord.
Our mission statement declares: “We partner as one family, serving one Lord, on one mission, for the transformation of individuals, families and communities.” We believe that loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves translates to faithfully living as increasingly obedient followers of Jesus and to making disciples. One accurate measure of our faithfulness to Jesus lies in our individual and collaborative effectiveness in seeing newly transformed lives among us.
Our spiritual family movement was born 150 years ago in the context of what some of today’s writers call “missional.” Now that we live in a post-Christian secular context, it is more important than ever that we live intentionally and relationally on mission in our own neighborhoods and among the pre-Christians we encounter in our lives. The more we develop a self understanding and reputation of being authentic, reproducing followers of Jesus, the better the kingdom of Jesus is served.
With regard to the structures of our family it seems that in a general way we agree that our district and national conferences matter, and that we are on a good and right track. This comes at a time when it is broadly reported that denominations have fallen on hard times (Mark Vincent of Design Group International in “Depth Perception,” May 31, 2011).
If our conference is in part held together by a committed covenantal relationship, it begs the question of how in practical terms we value and support what we hold in common. Are we shoulder to shoulder in our commitment and support to both our colleges and our seminary? To both MB Mission and Mission USA? To both our district and national leadership and service initiatives and to our local church ministries?
Perhaps because I believe that conferences must serve the agencies in their purview, something else Vincent wrote in his article stopped me cold. “Consider any covenant relationship. They disintegrate when one or more of the partners changes their theme song from ‘How may I serve you?’ to ‘What’s in it for me?’ Before long nothing is held in common except selfishness and the other partner is treated as hindering ballast.” Oh my goodness! Our conference reality is that our various partner ministries are rather independent in design and function. So I ask myself if that is what we appear to be to each other? Hindering ballast? Inasmuch as that is true, we need to pursue repentance and healing, and I will be first in line.
There are times when I wonder whether our national conference is considered evenhandedly and also whether we give appropriate deference to our ministry partners. My commitment is to do whatever I can to serve our one family and to lead our national ministry team, for the kingdom’s sake, to do the same. We all have chosen one and the same Lord. Let’s stay on his mission together.