Future Story details revealed during National Convention
By Connie Faber
Steve Schroeder, USMB Leadership Board chair, moderates a business session during the 2014 National Convention. In response to feedback from 2012 and 2014 convention goers, business sessions this year have been streamlined.
Don Morris, USMB interim executive director, describes the 2016 National Convention as an historic event. Why? Because this occasion will initiate a fresh season of ministry—a new future—for U.S. Mennonite Brethren congregations and the national conference.
“The 2016 National Convention will mark the starting point of this new Future Story,” says Morris. “I believe we can be completely confident that God has placed his blessing on this new vision. This new vision is designed to give us a new focus for the next 10 years or so. There are significant changes involved in this compared to how we have been doing things. I think it reflects what our churches are wanting and needing.”
The details of this new national ministry strategy have not been made public—that will happen July 29-30 during the National Convention held in Denver, Colorado. But each local USMB church will have received a one-page summary of the national ministry strategy by July 1, 2016.
New strategy empowers churches
The summary emphasizes that the purpose of all national ministry strategies is to empower each local congregation to reach their full ministry potential. The document highlights three core commitments:
- local, national and global church multiplication/church planting/evangelism,
- intentional disciple-making and
- developing leaders.
The Future Story also envisions a shift to a networking structure in which churches will engage in “collaborative efforts” around one or more of the core commitments. This will involve aligning national resources and structures to “serve, equip and network local churches for ministry.” The expression of these core commitments will be guided by “our evangelical and Anabaptist distinctives,” according to the summary.
When asked why he is excited about the Future Story, Leadership Board vice chair Marv Schellenberg says it’s the togetherness that will come with this strategy.
“Everyone will be working together,” says Schellenberg. “The local churches and our agencies will be working with our three core commitments. We’ll be more focused, and when you are focused there is synergy and synergy brings collaboration. That’s what working together is all about.”
Steve Schroeder, Leadership Board chair, agrees and adds that the Leadership Board will have better clarity as to their role.
“We won’t be providing services to churches but rather brokering resources,” says Schroeder. “That will help the Leadership Board streamline the decisions we make and focuses our vision.”
Schroeder goes on to say he is excited that the new strategy will encourage and enable pastors to network with USMB pastors across the country. “Pastors will collaborate beyond their districts,” he says. “The current structure isn’t designed for this.”
Schroeder adds, “The theory is—and I think that it will work—that when we eliminate layers of organizational bureaucracy, people will be free to dream and implement things we aren’t currently seeing in our districts. It will free up grassroot movements around shared ministries.”
Convention format changes
The Future Story will be introduced during the first of two business sessions Saturday, and time will be given during both of the workshop sessions that afternoon for delegates to discuss the new vision for ministry with Leadership Board executive members.
The full eight-page Future Story will be available at the convention. Morris emphasizes that this document represents a “fluid” picture that will involve transitional steps.
The abbreviated 2016 business sessions—two 90-minute sessions in 2016 compared to three in 2014—and expanded workshop times are two changes made to the 2016 convention format based on feedback from delegates.
“After each convention we ask participants to provides us with feedback about the content and atmosphere of the convention,” says Morris. “The past two times (2012 and 2014) we had a lot of somewhat negative feedback about all the stage reports.”
Morris says, “Many people didn’t think spending all the time on oral reports was valuable. They said they would prefer to read written reports from agencies and to give more stage time to hearing good stories about what is happening with other churches.
“It’s clear that people realize we need to do business, but sometimes it just seems to draw out too long,” Morris continues. “So we’ll see if we can shorten the time and still get done what we need to get done without compromising adequate processing.”
Although delegates won’t be hearing from representatives of various U.S. and binational MB ministries and inter-Mennonite agencies, they will receive printed reports in the delegate booklet. Convention planners are also offering ministry partners other options for sharing.
Morris says the convention format will include short informative videos provided by partner ministries. Most ministry partners will provide display tables in the foyer, and their representatives will be available to answer questions and provide information.
In addition to introducing the Future Story, the business sessions will include an announcement regarding the USMB National Director. The Board of Faith and Life will report on the status of U.S. and binational resolutions made from 1957 to the present. Delegates will review the USMB budget and elect new members of the USMB Leadership Board, Board of Faith and Life and various partner ministry boards.
Other convention highlights
The new convention format also allows for slightly longer workshop sessions.
“People have indicated that good workshops help make a convention worth their time,” says Morris. “We spent considerable time choosing meaningful and relevant workshops for this convention. We have several workshops that will delve into some of today’s hot topics.”
One such topic is the current global refugee crisis, a subject that speakers from Mennonite Central Committee and MB Mission will be addressing in workshops. “The refugee situation is something we will encounter more and more, and it has a lot of political implications right now,” says Morris. “How do we as Mennonite Brethren respond to refugees?”
While the 2014 convention format included one keynote address, this year speaker Matt Heard will address the delegates twice.
“As we spoke with representatives of Outreach magazine’s speaker bureau, Matt Heard’s name kept coming up,” says Morris. “The content we were seeking—upbeat, meaningful and useful—was something they felt Matt would provide. He is fast becoming one of their top speakers, and they have many to choose from.”
Morris says Heard will be speaking from his book, Life with a Capital L, in which Heard explores 10 ways to transform everyday life into the extraordinary life God intended. “Matt wants to help us rediscover joy and connection with Jesus.”
The first events on the agenda for the 2016 National Convention are informal receptions Friday afternoon. Convention planners looked for ways to enhance opportunities for delegates to connect with one another, and the opening reception for all delegates was added for that purpose. An early afternoon reception is also planned for anyone working with children’s ministries.
To register or learn more, visit www.usmb.org. Registration remains open but the cutoff date for hotel registration is July 11, 2016.