USMB ministries in the future will focus on local church, networking
By Connie Faber with files provided by USMB Leadership Board chair Steve Schroeder
When USMB leaders met March 12-15 in San Diego, Calif., they affirmed a recommendation from the Denominational Review Task Force to concentrate denominational efforts on serving local churches in new ways. The recommendation, by design, came with no details. Determining how best to structure USMB to assist and network local churches will be assigned to a “strategic team” that is currently being formed.
The Leadership Summit and Leadership Board meeting, at which the future of denominational ministries was discussed, concluded a week of activities that began with the National Pastors Orientation followed by a Board of Faith and Life meeting.
Denominational Review Task Force reports
Processing the recommendation regarding the future of U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB) ministries was the next step in a structural and vision review that the Leadership Board initiated in the fall of 2013 when the board appointed a Denominational Review Task Force. Task force members are Steve Schroeder and Marv Schellenberg, chair and vice chair of the Leadership Board, Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation, and Larry Nikkel, chair of the Board of Faith and Life.
In the spring of 2014, the task force hired consultant George Bullard to guide the review. Bullard attended the March 2015 back-to-back Leadership Summit and Leadership Board meeting to answer questions and to help the two groups understand the process he uses when consulting with a denomination and the recommendation that emerged from his work with USMB.
“With George’s help, it has become clear to us that one of the current trends among effective denominational families is a greater focus on serving local churches rather than on traditional corporate programs and initiatives,” writes Schroeder in a March 17 statement summarizing the board meeting. “This was confirmed as we met together in retreats and listened to the wisdom of those gathered, calling us to a greater focus on serving the local church.”
Schroeder goes on to say that growing and thriving denominations also tend to have an “organic networking capacity that has emerged between churches and leaders rather than a centralized structure.”
Schroeder writes, “As a Leadership Board, we take this counsel seriously. While we want to be responsive and move the process forward, we do not yet have clarity about what that will mean for us.”
Board affirms distinctives, partnering together
Schroeder continues by highlighting several commitments affirmed by the Leadership Board during their discussions.
“First, we remain firmly committed to our evangelical and Anabaptist distinctives which help to shape both our central identity and our ministry priorities. Second, we continue to affirm the value of partnering together as a national conference of MB churches,” writes Schroeder.
“While we are still early in our evaluation process, we have come to consensus about a vision of empowering each church to reach their ministry potential,” says Schroeder. “We believe God is calling us to do this through three areas of focus: church multiplication (local, national and global), intentional disciple making and developing leaders. While these are not new for us, they are reflective of our identity as Mennonite Brethren and, we believe, they are the areas of core commitment that God is calling us to prioritize.”
Schroeder says the Leadership Board is in the process of identifying a group of “strategic thinkers among us who can help us reflect critically and creatively about how we as a denomination can best align our resources and structures to serve and network local churches for ministry.”
This “strategic team” will do the detail work of identifying where current USMB structures and systems help or hinder the denomination from serving and networking the ministry of local churches. Schroeder says the current plan is that this group will share their recommendations for change with the Leadership Summit and the Leadership Board when the two groups meet in October 2015.
Leadership Summit participants were members of the Denominational Review Task Force and the lead staff member and board chair of the five district conferences, MB Foundation, MB Mission, Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. This same representative group will come together in October to review the strategic team’s report.
“How this will all play out in the coming months and years is not clear to us yet,” says Schroeder in his written statement. “But I’m convinced that coming together around a compelling vision and identifying key strategies will only help to strengthen our churches and enable us to become even more healthy and effective as a denomination. We are asking you to continue to remember the Leadership Board in your prayers as we seek God’s will during the next steps of this important process.”
While the Leadership Board spent a significant portion of their meeting in executive session processing the recommendation as well as documents presented by Bullard and the Denominational Review Task Force, the Board heard briefly from USMB staff members.
New budget approved
In other business, the board approved a revised 2015 budget. Thanks to a total distribution of $182,021.93 from MB Foundation, the Leadership Board allocated an additional $42,000 to various budget line items. In several cases the reinstated funds had been cut when the budget was initially approved in October 2014. The MB Foundation distribution for the 2014 fiscal year was budgeted at $65,000, making the 2015 distribution a significant increase.
“It is with deep gratitude to God that we receive such an overwhelmingly generous gift from the MB Foundation this year,” says Schroeder in an email interview following the board meeting. “Once again they are modeling generosity for the rest of us.”
Schroeder says, “In response to their gift, the Leadership Board has decided to ‘tithe’ from what the Foundation has given us into a special account we are calling a ‘first fruits generosity fund.’ Since our real purpose is to empower each church to reach their full potential, we are making this fund available to all the district minsters to help their pastors in any way they see fit.”
BFL discusses next steps
Board of Faith and Life (BFL) members were busy the first half of the week hosting the National Pastors Orientation Monday morning through Wednesday noon and then meeting as a board Wednesday noon through Thursday noon.
In an email interview BFL chair Larry Nikkel says a survey conducted at the completion of the National Pastors Orientation gave the event high marks and provided good suggestions as BFL plans for the 2017 orientation.
The board also reviewed a document compiled by Larry Martens, Jill Schellenberg and Jim Gaede that suggests procedures for how to process situations in which there has been sexual misconduct by pastors or members of a church staff. While the 26-page document is not a policy and procedure manual, Nikkel says it offers guidance that churches or individuals will find helpful when confronting instances of sexual misconduct. The document will be distributed to district faith and life boards and churches.
Nikkel also reports that over the last 18 months the board has considered various strategies for how best to assist pastors, teachers and others in fleshing out the revised Article 13 “in a way that helps us be faithful to God’s call on our lives to be promoters of peace.”
At their March meeting, BFL agreed to pursue a “multidimensional curriculum that can be used to engage and guide the constituency toward a holistic approach to living in peace with God, ourselves, families, congregations, communities, the nation and the world,” says Nikkel. BFL hopes to have the material completed for the 2016 biennial convention.
NPO connects new pastors
Twenty-eight new pastors and 14 spouses attended the 2015 National Pastors Orientation (NPO) held March 9-11 at Best Western Island Palms Hotel and Marina on San Diego’s Shelter Island and hosted by the Board of Faith and Life (BFL). BFL members and presenters brought the total attendees to 59 people.
“In broad strokes, the goals of the NPO are to introduce these new pastors to this family of churches (Mennonite Brethren) that they have chosen to join in such a way that they will have a greater appreciation for our values and spiritual heritage and that they will have an opportunity to connect spiritually, personally and professionally with others who are also new to the Mennonite Brethren family,” says Larry Nikkel, BFL chair. “It was encouraging for the BFL to meet these new, young, passionate and energetic pastors. It bodes well for the future of our churches.”
The opening session Monday morning focused on helping attendees connect with one another. These new friendships were given the opportunity to grow during extended break times, free time and an off-site dinner at San Diego’s Seaport Village.
The orientation included a crash course in Anabaptist and Mennonite Brethren history by Valerie Rempel, associate professor and J.B. Toews Chair of History and Theology at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, and a presentation on “The church in God’s mission” by Tim Geddert, BFL member and professor of New Testament at FPBS. Geddert also addressed the topic of “How we read the Bible.”
A variety of presenters introduced the new pastors to various USMB ministries and addressed practical matters such as tax laws related to pastoral staff.
Morning sessions began with times of singing led by Andre Hudson and Steve Antt, worship leaders at Rock Church. Miles McPherson, a former National Football League player and a 1991 graduate of Azusa Pacific University’s School of Theology, began Rock Church in 2000. Currently over 16,000 people attend Rock Church every weekend either online or in person at one of the eight worship services offered on three campuses in the San Diego area.
USMB district ministers Terry Hunt, North Carolina District, Rick Eshbaugh, Central District, and Gary Wall, Pacific District Conference, gave morning devotionals.
The orientation concluded with a prayer of blessing led by USMB interim executive director Don Morris. Pastoral staff members and their spouses gathered in the back of the meeting room and were surrounded by BFL members, presenters, district ministers and USMB staff who laid hands on them while several individuals prayed for the new pastors.
PHOTOS by Christian Leader
Photo 1: District ministers Gary Wall, Pacific District, and Rick Eshbaugh, Central District, and Leadership Board members Aaron Hernandez, Lud Hohm and Marv Schellenberg listen as consultant George Bullard answers a question.
Photo 2: New USMB pastors and their spouses took advantage of the beautiful weather and setting to meet outside as they interviewed one another during the first session of the National Pastors Orientation.
Photo 3: Steve Schroeder, Leadership Board chair, and George Bullard, consultant, interact during the Leadership Board meeting.