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Don Morris leans into new vision

Morris reflects on his role as USMB national director 

by Myra Holmes

Don Morris

Don Morris isn’t one to make New Year’s resolutions.

“I very seldom keep them,” he admits with a laugh.

Rather, the newly-appointed USMB national director views the start of a new year as a time to recommit himself to those things he thinks are most important, like Bible reading and prayer. Similarly, he views the start of 2017 as a time for U.S. Mennonite Brethren to commit to working together toward a new vision for the future.

For Morris, whether personally or as a national church family, it’s all about reaching people with the gospel. “My heart always will be about reaching the lost,” he says. “As we’re moving into 2017, that’s where my thoughts will go: Are we reaching people who don’t know Jesus yet, and are we helping them to become deep followers of Jesus?”

The USMB Leadership Board announced Morris as the national director at the National Convention in July 2016–the same convention at which they unveiled a new national ministry strategy, outlined in a document called “The Future Story.” The strategy emphasizes resourcing local churches and networking around three core commitments: church multiplication and evangelism, disciple-making and leadership development.

Morris served as interim executive director during the two-year review process that led to that unveiling. He also served as director of Mission USA, the USMB church planting ministry, since 2004. Since Mission USA began, 29 churches have started and survived, and Morris says that seeing the impact of church planting firsthand for the past 12 years has been especially rewarding.

While he will still be involved in church planting as national director, it will be less directly. “There’s a bit of grieving,” Morris admits. “Yet God is reminding me: You’re still involved; it’s just in a different way.”

It helps that both in his work with Mission USA and as interim executive director, he has made connections with people all over the country who are likewise passionate about seeing people come to salvation. The USMB vision for the future, he notes, is ultimately not about denominational survival but about kingdom work: “to see people come to salvation and become deep followers of Jesus.”

He says, “We just have a lot of people who are passionate about that, and it’s very exciting.”

If pressed to name some resolutions or commitments as he heads into 2017 as national director, Morris puts listening at the top of the list. He notes that while the former title of executive director implies a top-down hierarchy, the new title of national director fits with a vision that emphasizes organic networking. Accordingly, he wants to sit down over coffee with as many people as possible to ask how he can serve. “I don’t see this as some lofty position,” Morris says. “It’s a position that hopefully allows me to be a servant.”

Transparency would also be on his list of commitments for 2017. Morris acknowledges that the strategic review that resulted in the Future Story document and vision—a two-year process that took place mostly behind closed doors—left many frustrated. The secrecy in particular “hasn’t felt very good to a lot of people.” But he wants openness to be the hallmark of his ministry as national director. “People will get honest answers from Don Morris,” he says.

Morris also wants to be known for approachability, so that too goes on his list of commitments for 2017. He wants those in the USMB family to know they can approach him at any time, with any issue. If someone has a concern or complaint, he wants to hear that personally. If they have a struggle, he’d like to pray with them. In particular, he wants to hear how he can help local churches as they pursue the three core commitments: “Ah, that’s what I really want to hear!” He can be reached at don@usmb.org.

As for the USMB family, Morris lists these hopes for 2017:

Initiate. While delegates and attendees of the USMB National Convention in July unanimously affirmed the vision outlined in the Future Story, Morris says that nod of approval isn’t enough; now it’s time to put energy into turning the Future Story into the “now” story. “We can’t put it off; we’ve got to do it and do it now,” he says. “Let’s do it! Let’s connect; let’s talk!”

Work together. The vision depends upon individuals and churches working together. He says the new strategy is not a new program or a series of directives coming from USMB leaders to the local churches, but “a whole new way of being a family of churches.” It depends upon churches working together, encouraging each other and sharing ideas. Morris points out that local congregations are already beginning to work together in new ways: “We’re hearing stories of life change because one church got an idea from another church. That’s what this is all about.”

Continue to support USMB. Morris notes that the shift to this more organic model does not negate the need for a national conference. He expects the USMB staff to not only provide vital administrative resources but also to act as a key connecting point for congregations and districts. Communications through a revamped website, Christian Leader magazine and social media will have “tremendous value” in sharing information and resources. “It continues to be crucial that we have a collective conference that is alive and well,” he says, adding that the support of each local congregation is needed now more than ever.

Pray. Just as Morris often uses the start of a new year to refocus his personal prayer life, he hopes that 2017 can mark a new season of prayer for U.S. Mennonite Brethren. Prayer will be an important part of the future, as churches and individuals learn how God is working across state and district lines, in rural and urban areas. Prayer warriors will be praying for things happening miles away. “That’s the beauty of who we are as a family of churches networking together,” Morris says.

By the end of 2017, Morris hopes momentum for the new USMB vision will be building in tangible and obvious ways. Churches will be enjoying the new connections they are building with other churches. New churches will be starting because several congregations banded together to initiate the project and USMB came alongside to help. Agencies and partners will be less “siloed” and brainstorming new ways to partner.

“I hope we would be at a point where we can say, ‘Yes, this is working,’” Morris says. “We’re doing this together.” 

 

 

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