Attendees respond to reports with prayer, approve five recommendations
By Myra Holmes
While “business and reports” might not sound like exciting agenda, much of the inspiration of Conection 2012, held July 27-28 in Omaha, Neb., came from the morning sessions, during which delegates heard from USMB staff and ministry partner representatives.
“We have a vision”
USMB executive director Ed Boschman set the tone in his passionate Friday morning address. He began by noting the Scripture on which the convention theme was based: John 17:20-21. Christ calls us to unity, said Boschman and USMB expresses that unity in a specific way.
Boschman outlined six USMB distinctives—We are Bible believing, Christ centered, Spirit led, in relationship with Jesus, committed to church community rather than a private faith and agents of reconciliation. Boschman acknowledged challenges but emphasized a vision for national family ministry that the Leadership Board and staff have been developing.
“I want you to know that we have a vision,” said Boschman. “We are asking God for a whatever-it-takes commitment to getting it done.”
Lynn Jost, dean of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, continued that line of encouragement in his devotional Saturday morning. Using Joshua 1 as the text, he talked about the source of strength to accomplish such a mission. “We are a Jesus-centered people,” Jost said. “It is Jesus our Savior who gives us courage.”
“God is at work”
In his Saturday report, Don Morris, director of Mission USA, reminded delegates of the USMB vision “to have an integral part in planting six new MB churches each year over the next 10 years and for the resources to get it done.”
The report from Mission USA, USMB’s church planting and renewal arm, is always a highlight, and the one Saturday morning did not disappoint. Conection 2012 delegates and guests regularly burst into applause and “Amens” as church planters told stories of God at work through Mission USA projects in Littleton, Colo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Denver, Colo.; La Grulla, Texas; Boone, NC; and Clovis, Calif.
“God is at work when we’re on mission for him,” said Mark Groutas, church planter for The Stone, Denver.
At the conclusion of his report, Morris invited delegates to join him in praying for the church planters. Some gathered around the planters while others extended their arms toward the stage.
“Planning for miracles”
USMB staff members Aleks Borisov, USMB’s Slavic ministries director, Connie Faber, editor of Christian Leader, and Myra Holmes, CL assistant editor and USMB social media coordinator, gave optimistic reports of progress and dreams, despite challenges in their ministries.
Borisov, charged with building bridges with the 34 USMB Slavic congregations, said, “We’re not just praying for a miracle; we are planning for miracles. Our unity will become real.”
Faber and Holmes shared how USMB communications efforts are adjusting to changes not only in print but also online and through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.
Time to talk
As part of his report from the Board of Faith and Life (BFL), chair Larry Nikkel set an encouraging tone for the upcoming Study Conference, planned for Jan 24-26, 2013, which will address USMB Confession of Faith articles 12 (Society and State) and 13 (Love and Nonresistance). Sometimes, he said, “family needs to step aside and talk.”
Nikkel said that the conference will be marked by fair representation of all sides, listening and prayer, after which the BFL will continue to process the issue.
“This may be the most important gathering of (USMB) leaders that we’ve had in 50 years,” he said, and asked for prayer for the event.
Partner agencies report
While reports from USMB partners and ministries were realistic about difficulties, a sense of optimism ruled. The National Youth Committee, for example, talked about the exciting changes they see in high school youth at the National Youth Conferences, while noting declining attendance at these every-four-year events.
John Unger, board chair of MB Biblical Seminary (MBBS), noted both grief and “great dividends” as the 35-year seminary partnership of the US and Canadian Mennonite Brethren comes to an end. Among the positives: Monies have been set aside for Tabor College to develop graduate theological education and for the development and online delivery of eight core seminary courses. A booklet commemorating the history of MBBS as well as packages of chocolate-covered raisons from Fresno, Calif., were given to each one present as a thank you from MBBS Inc.
Passing the baton
MB Mission outlined eight shifts in mission and announced how they are addressing one—mobilizing young adults—with re:TURN, a two-day gathering for young adults, ages 18-35, planned for Dec. 31-Jan. 1 in Abbotsford, BC.
“We want to call young people back to relationship with Jesus and walking passionately on mission with him,” said Randy Friesen, general director.
As with the Mission USA report, convention attendees prayed for “front lines” workers.
Fresno Pacific University had the unique opportunity to mark a presidential transition at the national gathering of its supporting churches. Retiring President D. Merrill Ewert literally passed the baton to incoming President Pete Menjares during the university’s Saturday morning report. The baton was an FPU Sunbirds baton inscribed with Hebrews 12:1: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Once again, this highlight was marked with prayer as representatives from a wide variety of FPU partners and USMB ministries gathered around Menjares and his wife, Virginia.
Thankfulness and generosity
Wendell Loewen, who spoke about Ministry Quest, the leadership development program for high school students that is now owned by Tabor College, and President Jules Glanzer gave the Tabor College reports. Glanzer said, “It’s a beautiful thing to watch as Tabor students belong and then become. Thank you for helping make it happen.”
The MB Foundation report by Jon Wiebe highlighted the ways in which congregations and individuals have benefited from the generosity of men and women who use the services of the foundation. Since this year MBF is encouraging congregations and individuals to practice generosity, everyone at the convention received a copy of Chip Ingram’s book, The Genius of Generosity.
Kindred Productions and the Historical Commission, two ministries supported jointly by USMB and the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, reported on how they continue their ministries of resourcing and storytelling.
In addition to hearing updates, delegates considered five recommendations and passed all five with few questions and limited comment.
Delegates unanimously approved a new budget for fiscal year 2012-2013 in the amount of $1,018,524. This represents a 20 percent increase over the previous year, primarily for church planting, added national staff, promotion and marketing and the upcoming BFL Study Conference.
This marks the first time delegates have approved a million-dollar budget. While much of the projected income remains the same as previous years, it is anticipated that fundraising by the USMB director of development, a new position currently not filled, will significantly aid in balancing the budget.
Delegates approved a new, proportional funding model for financial support of USMB ministries by its constituency of churches. The new model replaces the previous attendance-based model for giving and asks each church to forward a 2.5 percent tithe to USMB. Conference leaders hope this new strategy will increase the number of churches contributing to the budget—currently at only 30 percent—and the total amount contributed, currently budgeted at $420,000.
Delegates approved revised bylaws. The revisions include some simplifications and clarifications as well as changes that refine the process by which the Leadership Board affirms nominees to various committees, redefines a quorum and allows the Board to appoint two additional members. “We feel these changes will free us to serve you better,” said Leadership Board chair Steve Schroeder.
Delegates approved a Memo of Understanding that allows the Canadian Conference of MB Churches and the USMB to independently form their own Confessions of Faith and outlines how the leadership of the two national bodies will relate to one another.
Delegates affirmed nominees to the Leadership Board, Board of Faith and Life, National Youth Committee, Historical Commission and the boards of MB Mission and MB Foundation. In most cases incumbents agreed to continue serving, with the exception of Stephen Humber, Omaha, who is a new MB Mission board member.
The National Youth Committee is comprised of all new members who will serve through 2016: Chris Eidse, Boone, NC; Joanna Chap, Rio Grande City, Texas; Kyle Goings, Rapid City, SD; Jeral Gross, Mitchell, SD; Jarod Richardson, Owasso, Okla.; Keith Warkentin, Blaine, Wash.; and Russ Claassen, Newton, Kan.
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