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Keynote speaker embraces Future Story

Matt Heard encourages USMB to work together

By Connie Faber

Matt Heard, a former pastor who is now a speaker, teacher, writer and consultant, was the keynote speaker for the 2016 National Convention as well as the Pastors’ Conference that preceded the convention. 

Heard (pictured left with Steve Schroeder, right) came to the National Convention having done his homework. He had studied the Scripture passage chosen as the convention theme, visited the USMB website, researched the Future Story and reviewed Anabaptist history in an effort to challenge and inspire those present to embrace the proposed vision and strategy for ministry over the next 10 years.

His preparation paid off, according to Steve Schroeder, USMB Leadership Board chair.

“You were the right man for us,” said Schroeder Saturday morning when he thanked Heard for his sermons. “God spoke to you in powerful ways, and you listened.”

Heard’s two addresses focused on the Future Story. “God is about to take you on an amazing ride,” Heard told his audience Friday evening, inviting them to roll up their sleeves and prepare for “setting a new course.”

In addition to an abundance of Scripture passages, Heard’s sermons included a variety of stories, photos and experiences from his family life, song lyrics, numerous literary quotes and an object lesson.

Heard characterized his Friday evening message as an “exhortation from a brother” and his second message the next morning as one of encouragement.


Avoiding four pitfalls will bring success

“Our culture is fraying at its core,” said Heard.  “It’s for such a time as this that communities like yours must rise to the occasion. With your feet firm in the Word of God and the wind of the Spirit at your back, what would hinder you?” asked Heard in his first message.

Referring to Philippians 3:12-14, the theme verses for the convention, Heard encouraged his audience to look at the Future Story through the lens of each of four pitfalls. “Anyone of these could derail some fruitfulness in this next generation,” he cautioned, often using the words “we” and “us” as he spoke.  

The first pitfall to avoid is thinking too highly of your present position (vv. 12a, 13a), which can result in complacency. “Too often we settle and things get real, real dangerous,” said Heard.

 A second pitfall is to think too lowly of your present purposes that can lead us to say we’re fine the way we are (v. 12b). “I urge you to guard against thinking too lowly of your present purpose,” said Heard. “You’ve been called into this community. This is a vibrant group of people who are wanting to move ahead…. May God ignite your imaginations with the significance of what can happen.”  

Thinking too much about the past (v. 13b) is the third obstacle. USMB’s Anabaptist heritage is an “amazing torch,” said Heard. “That’s beautiful ground, but it’s also dangerous. The temptation is to make the rear view mirror as big as the windshield.”

Thinking too little about the future reward (v. 14) was Heard’s final point. Saying that, “those who understand the goal are the most powerful,” Heard encouraged the audience to keep both the immediate prize and the distant heavenly reward in mind. “If we think to little about the present, we will, for example, miss out on seeing a new generation called out as leaders,” he said.

Closing in prayer, Heard affirmed the historical roots of U.S. Mennonite Brethren and prayed that USMB would “have the courage to respond to the opportunity before us.”

Photo right: Heard’s interest in serving USMB while attending the National Convention is evidenced by his desire to seek out and then pray for new MB Mission workers that will be serving in Thailand.


Pressing on together as a body

Heard’s second convention message encouraged his audience to learn to depend on one another. “God summoned us not as individuals,” he said. “We are called corporately.”

Referencing a variety of Scripture passages, Heard combined the National Convention theme of “Press On” with the story (told in a series of photos from that climb projected on the screen) of his oldest son’s recent climb of Alaska’s Mt. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, to encourage USMB to work together in order to accomplish the goals of the Future Story.  

“Something glorious is awaiting USMB,” said Heard, “but it will be done together. It will involve pressing on, but pressing on together. This is not going to happen unless the whole body is working together.”

Heard described six essentials involved in “pressing on together.” Indicating a backpack laying on the table beside him, Heard said, “We’re talking about our backpacks for this journey. We need to pack well and work together.”

As Heard took out of the backpack each item necessary in mountain climbing, he asked a question related to achieving the Future Story.

  • Compass: Where are we going? “What happens when we have a compass is that we gain vision,” said Heard. “When we’re aligned we are all going in the same direction and we’re moving efficiently.”
  • Map: How are we going to get there? The compass provides general direction, but a map gets more specific, said Heard. “We need a strategy and goals to move the three core commitments forward,” he said, referring to the Future Story.
  • Multi-tool: Do we understand our roles? Heard encouraged his audience to be aware of and appreciative of each other’s gifts and roles. “When was the last time you said thank you to someone for anything?” asked Heard. “Let God be in charge of their humility; we need affirmation.”
  • Rope: Are we cooperating? Heard explained that because his son, Andrew, and his three teammates were roped together during their entire climb the four men are “bonded for life,” according to Andrew. While being roped together was at first cumbersome for the Mt. Denali team, Heard emphasized that it was essential. “We collaborate when we’re roped together,” he said. “This rope is not optional.”  
  • First aid kit: Can we fix what’s holding us back? The Future Story journey will be difficult at times and unexpected things will happen, Heard said. The Bible’s exhortations to love and admonish one another, bear one another’s burdens, live in peace and serve each other are the kinds of things found in a first aid kit. Heard emphasized the importance of encouraging one another as a key response when the journey is challenging.
  • Cake: Are we celebrating our progress? As an illustration of the importance of celebrating progress, Matt presented Donna Sullivan, USMB event coordinator, with a small cake in recognition of her good work in coordinating the National Convention (photo left). He encouraged his listeners to ask: “Whose spirit have I refreshed today? That’s a great question to ask each day,” said Heard.

“May God enable you in 2025 to be able to say, I can’t believe we did that,” said Heard as he concluded his final keynote address, “And to say we couldn’t have done it without one another.”

He finished by praying Ephesians 3:14-21 for his listeners as USMB prepares for embarking on the Future Story. 


Sessions feature singing, testimonies

Worship sessions at the National Convention included congregational singing led by nine musicians from The Rock of Southwest, a USMB congregation in Littleton, Colo. The team was led by Danny Erbaugh, worship arts pastor.

Testimonies from pastors were sprinkled throughout the worship and business sessions.

Paul Robie, pastor of South Mountain Community Church (SMCC), the first USMB congregation planted in Draper, Utah, shared the story of a woman in the congregation that recently left the Mormon church. “More people are leaving Mormonism than in any other time in history,” said Robie.

Eric Nelson, pastor of SMCC’s Lehi campus, said that he has baptized 19 people in the past nine or 10 months. Nelson illustrated the benefits of a multi-site approach to ministry with the story of Scott, a young man who came to the Lehi campus because it was closer to his home after attending two other SMCC campuses. Because Scott trusted people at each of the three campuses where he worshiped, he eventually was able to trust in Jesus as his Savior, said Nelson.

Terry Hunt, North Carolina District Conference minister and pastor of The Life Center in Lenoir, NC, talked about racism and the tension he experiences personally as an African American pastor and chaplain to local police officers who is often “caught between” those groups. He reminded his audience to follow Jesus first and to speak up when they see people treated unfairly. “I’ve signed on to Jesus Christ, and that’s the only flag I’ll fly,” he said.  

Photos by Pam Rasmussen


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