Will USMBs thrive or is that a fantasy?
At our annual U.S. Mennonite Brethren (USMB) Leadership Summit in May, I asked those present to complete a survey recently prepared by George Bullard, a longtime churchman and currently president of The Columbia Partnership, an organization that consults with and resources churches and denominations.
The title of the survey, “Can denominations thrive in the 21st century,” captured my attention. It was a no-brainer. We needed to go through this exercise to see what we might learn. Denominationalism has fallen on hard times.
Thoughtful seekers view it negatively. Many congregants and their pastors wonder about its added value. The drift towards individualism and local self-determination has significant momentum.
In our national family of churches, we have avoided models of connectedness that are hierarchical and regulatory. So our collaborations and partnerships are pretty much viewed as voluntary. In decades past, most all of our pastors and church families chose faithful partnership and collaboration. Our churches and their leaders all pitched in for the sake of our together ministries. Partnering as one family on one mission was working well then. Today it’s not working as well. Is thriving a pipe dream?
Summit attendees include lead staff and board chairs from MB Biblical Seminary, MBMS International, MB Foundation, Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University and our districts. Our USMB board and staff are also present. The total possible survey rating is 200 points, so numbers in the higher 100s suggest a good grasp on present cultural realities, effective current ministries and reason for hope for the future.
A first glance suggests we have some work to do. Representatives from our educational institutions and collaborative ministries averaged 98 in their scoring. Is this disconcerting or a signal that these leaders are realistic and insightful and therefore will inform and educate us well? District and national leaders and staff averaged 115 points, and our USMB board scored an optimistic 135. Is this encouraging, or do these leaders view things too graciously?
Our best average score on a single statement indicates that we believe we are “engaging in missions from a globalocal perspective and empower missionaries, clergy and laity in mission” (7.6 out of 10 points). This is encouraging but leaves me with some questions. If we were getting this right, wouldn’t we be a faster growing family of churches both locally and globally? And since we know that new churches are most effective at winning the lost, wouldn’t we be planting churches by the dozens everywhere?
On the matter of our willingness to affirm emerging denominationalism to the extent that we find “ways to create new denominational forms,” we scored 4.2. This is not as encouraging. While we are not open to renegotiating our commitment to the Scriptures and to keeping Jesus at the center, it is imperative that we recognize that forms and partnership agreements are best when reviewed, renewed and joyfully owned by the current family members. Not to do that is to guarantee irrelevance and further fragmentation.
We are aiming at ramping up our personal and corporate responsibility for evangelism and church planting. Are you and your church family making headway in that direction? We are working at communicating and clarifying USMB added value in collaborative ministry partnerships. We are connecting with and inviting our non-partnering churches to help us design new partnership forms and get on board. Are you and your church family tracking with us on this?
We are laying groundwork to address gaps between our printed faith statements and our real lives. Is this a spiritual journey that you have enthusiasm for? Our USMB board and staff believe that moving ahead in these ways will give us a chance at thriving. What do you think?
There is good reason to be very grateful for faithful Mennonite Brethren followers of Jesus all across our nation. We thankfully celebrate the joyful partnership of loyal and supportive local church families among us. In spite of the difficult economy of last year, we received $422,000 in local church support for our unified budget, a four percent reduction compared to last year’s $440,000. This is an encouraging sign, and we are deeply grateful.
We have room to grow in a lot of ways. There are many lives that crave Jesus’ transformation. Are you in?
A more detailed report of how U.S. Mennonite Brethren leaders attending the 2009 Leadership Summit responded to the survey, “Can denominations thrive in the 21st century?” is also posted.