Leadership Board continues discussing future of USMB ministries


Board expands membership, will host network gathering

By Connie Faber

The future of Mennonite Brethren ministries in the United States was the primary topic of conversation when the Leadership Board met Oct. 12-14 in Wichita, Kan. The Leadership Board also discussed partnering with the Canadian Conference of MB Churches in church planting, broadened membership of the Leadership Board and heard various reports.

“We talked for hours and hours,” says Leadership Board chair Steve Schroeder regarding ongoing discussions surrounding a structural and vision review of the U.S. Conference of MB Churches (USMB) initiated by the Leadership Board two years ago. “The vision is clearer, but this is still in process.”

The vision the Leadership Board is embracing focuses on “intentionally linking arms with our MB churches, districts, fellowships, agencies and partners for synergy and strength, reducing our layers of structure and fostering a system of networks that promote nimble and timely collaboration between multiple ministry partners,” writes Schroeder in a statement following the October board meeting.

The Leadership Board has identified three priorities around which it will align USMB resources and efforts: local, national and global church multiplication, intentional disciple making and developing leaders.    

The Leadership Board has been guided in the process of discerning a new vision and ministry strategy by consultant George Bullard, who completed his contract with the October meeting. Bullard used a process that began with two working retreats of about 40 participants and then relied on smaller strategizing and writing teams to move the process from thinking and dreaming at 30,000 feet down to 10,000 feet, said Schroeder in an interview following the board meeting.

The next step in this process is assigned to the five USMB district ministers, Don Morris, interim USMB executive director, and Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation and the chair of the writing team that produced a strategy document that the Leadership Board reviewed during the October meeting. 

Because the document reviewed by the Leadership Board in October is part of a “work in progress,” Schroeder says the document remains confidential. But the  Leadership Board did take action on several matters that reflect the new priorities and strategies.

  • The Leadership Board voted to add USMB district ministers as ex officio, non-voting members of the board. The current district ministers are Rick Eshbaugh, Central District Conference; Aaron Hernandez, Latin America District Conference; Terry Hunt, North Carolina District Conference, Gary Wall, Pacific District Conference; and Tim Sullivan, Southern District Conference. Schroeder says this change will help bridge a disconnect between decisions made at the national level and the district conferences and local churches that at times led to mistrust and resentment.
  • For similar reasons, the Leadership Board also voted to add the president and CEO of MB Foundation as an ex officio, non-voting member of the board.
  • The Leadership Board will no longer hold an annual Leadership Summit that brings together representatives of the national Board of Faith and Life, all five district conferences, MB Foundation, Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and MB Mission. In what later became its last gathering, this group of leaders met with the Leadership Board during the day Oct. 12 to discuss the USMB “Future Story,” as the current state of the review and vision process is called. 
  • The Leadership Board will host a network gathering Feb. 22-23 in Phoenix, Ariz., on the topic of leadership development to test the concept of such meetings as a way to foster grassroots collaboration. Denominational loyalty is not a value among younger leaders who are using a variety of resources for ministry and are involved in local networks that cross denominational lines. “We believe God is leading us to embrace this (change in the culture),” says Schroeder.


Exploring new church planting partnerships

The Leadership Board also met with Gord Fleming, national director of church planting with C2C Network, a Mennonite Brethren-based, interdenominational ministry that exists to catalyze church planting throughout Canada. The purpose of the discussion was to explore expanding the relationship between C2C and Mission USA, the USMB church planting ministry.

“God seems to be granting favor with this church planting movement,” says Schroeder of C2C, which began as the British Columbia MB church planting ministry and now works nationally with 15 other denominations in Canada to offer support and services related to church planting.

Schroeder cites the staffing differences between C2C and Mission USA as one reason the Leadership Board is considering a new level of partnership with the Canadian ministry. The C2C Network website lists seven national staff members and 11 provincial staff while USMB employees one church planting staff member, Mission USA director Don Morris who in turn works with volunteer district church planting boards.

“Could partnering more completely help us become even more effective in church planting on the U.S. side with just one staff member working across the nation,” says Schroeder.  

Morris already uses the C2C assessment program and other services and is interested in testing further cooperation with C2C by identifying a USMB church plant to use as a pilot partnership. One question that has emerged in discussions regarding C2C’s involvement with church planting in the United States is whether its Canadian charter could limit C2C’s ability to assist with ministry in the U.S.

Randy Friesen, MB Mission general director, joined Fleming and the Leadership Board to discuss MB Mission’s desire to expand its mandate beyond global church planting to include local and national church multiplication. This shift could include in some way merging C2C with MB Mission, the North American MB global mission agency.

Schroeder says that for now, USMB will wait to see what type of partnership C2C and the Canadian Conference of MB Churches (CCMBC) will form with MB Mission. New partnerships in North American church planting was one topic discussed at the Oct. 22 CCMBC Annual General Meeting. (http://mbherald.com/hand-in-hand-across-borders/).


Other business

The Leadership Board took a break from “Future Story” and church planting partnership discussions that began Monday morning and continued through early afternoon Tuesday to consider other agenda items.

The board heard from Larry Nikkel, chair of the USMB Board of Faith and Life, regarding the board’s ongoing work on the status of resolutions and recommendations passed at General Conference conventions. The General Conference, comprised of the U.S. and Canadian national conferences, was dissolved in 2000. Both USMB and CCMBC are seeking clarity on the issue.

Kyle Goings, representing the National Youth Conference (NYC) planning team, reported on Named 2015, the most recent conference held April 9-12 in Denver, Colo. He reported that the planning team is considering holding the 2019 conference at a retreat center.

The Leadership Board approved a budget of $867,740, which includes a USMB staff wage increase of 3 percent and a total of $10,000 to replenish the NYC account. A request from Kindred Productions to increase the USMB contribution toward the cost of maintaining a U.S. office from $5,000 to $10,000 was not approved. The board also discussed the current retirement fund offered to USMB pastors and conference staff members.

USMB staff members did not attend the October Leadership Board meeting but did submit written reports that the Leadership Board reviewed.

The Leadership Board “Future Story” discussions resumed Wednesday morning and the board meeting concluded at noon.


BFL discusses resolutions, following up Article 13

The national Board of Faith and Life (BFL) met Wednesday afternoon through Thursday noon. In addition to discussing how to treat the formal resolutions adopted by the General Conference, the BFL continued to consider strategies for following up on the revision of Article 13 of the USMB Confession of Faith. Due to a lack of funding for the development of Bible studies and other materials for use in churches, the board is looking at smaller projects of lesser cost but potentially long-range impact, says BFL chair Larry Nikkel.

“Some of these initiatives will be aimed at the younger generation who have demonstrated a keen sense of commitment to the Mennonite Brethren doctrinal approach of integrating evangelical and Anabaptist principles,” says Nikkel in an email to the CL after the board meeting.

BFL met in Hillsboro, Kan., so that the board could more conveniently meet with Tabor College Bible and philosophy department faculty members. The board had a similar meeting several years ago with faculty members of the Fresno Pacific University Bible department and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. The purpose of meeting with the two Mennonite Brethren college faculty members is for the board and faculty members to become better acquainted and to more fully understand the work each does.

Photo: District ministers, including Gary Wall, second from left, representing the Pacific District Conference, and Rick Eshbaugh, third from left, representing the Central District Conference, are now non-voting, ex officio members of the USMB Leadership Board. Other board members included in this photo taken at the March 2015 meeting are David Hardt, far left, Lud Hohm, far right, and Aaron Hernandez, second from right who is also serves as the Latin America District Conference representatives. CL file photo.

This article was revised 10/31/2015.


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