Leadership Board discusses BFL, church planting issues

April Leadership Board meeting focuses on discussions more than decision-making

The USMB Leadership Board met in early April in Denver. Pictured are Lianne Nikkel, Jon Wiebe, Boris Borisov, Clyde Ferguson and Delilah Isaak.

Update July 21: The Canadian Conference of MB Church’s executive director remains full-time. From the national perspective, the changes aren’t so much “prioritizing” the provincial conferences as moving the decision-making there, since there is a higher level of engagement at the provincial level. 

When the USMB Leadership Board met April 6-7, 2018, in Denver, Colorado, the agenda focused on topics for conversation more than issues requiring action.

“We had very good conversations,” says Marv Schellenberg, Leadership Board chair, in an interview following the board meeting. “We want all ideas out on the table and then make the best decision we can.”

The Leadership Board had a lengthy discussion during the U.S. Board of Faith and Life report, specifically regarding women in ministry and the atonement. Tim Sullivan, chair and Southern District Conference minister, gave the BFL report.

“I appreciate BFL’s work as they handle the hard stuff,” says Schellenberg. “They have the spiritual gift of understanding, and we have affirmed their request that we be patient as they work through these issues and give due diligence to guarding the Confession of Faith.”

New developments in church planting

The board also discussed new developments in church planting. U.S. Mennonite Brethren church planting is now being done in cooperation with MB Mission, specifically C2C USA, the church planting ministry established by the Canadian Conference of MB Churches. Don Morris, USMB national director, shared plans being developed by MB Mission to establish a new mission agency to be called Multiply as an outgrowth of the merger of MB Mission and C2C Network.

The Leadership Board discussion identified points of support and areas of concern, including plans that Multiply will work as an “MB-based mission agency that serves cross-denominationally.”

“We’ve changed how we do our church planting, and we’re working together with C2C and MB Mission,” says Schellenberg. “Now MB Mission is going through some changes and with church planting they are helping other conferences.”

“Speaking for myself, we are a very small conference and the more we can work with other conferences the healthier we’ll be,” says Schellenberg. “But we need to be careful that we share the same confession of faith, and MB Mission agrees with that…. Once again things are evolving, and we want to move in the right direction. We think it’s a good change, but there needs to be accountability.”

Structural changes being considered by the Canadian Conference of MB Churches (CCMBC) was also a point of extended discussions. Morris reported on a number of shifts being considered by CCMBC at the national level to prioritize the provincial conferences, including budget reductions, shifting the executive director’s position from full-time to part time and the discontinuation of biennial national conventions.

These changes prompted the Leadership Board to revisit the new USMB vision and strategy, adopted two years ago at the National Convention. The board concluded that the current strong focus on the local church is important, Schellenberg says, and that the U.S. national conference remains a priority and is the “glue for us in the U.S.”

“Overall, all conferences are re-evaluating themselves,” says Schellenberg. “This is not unique to us Canadian and U.S. Mennonite Brethren; it’s national. We get together once a year with our Canadian counterparts, and we talk about what’s going on. We have a good relationship and we’re learning from each other and watching and adapting.”  

Decisions made in preparation for convention

The Leadership Board did take action on four items.

  • Following a lengthy discussion, the board appointed the chair of USMB Youth, formerly the National Youth Commission, and the president of Multiply as non-voting participants at all future Leadership Board meetings. “The youth are the future and it’s important to get their input,” says Schellenberg. “Now that we’re working together with Multiply in church planting, it’s good to get everyone at the table.”
  • The board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between USMB, the Canadian Conference and the Historical Commission that provides the commission with an annual grant from each of the national conferences.
  • The board instructed the U.S. Board of Faith and Life to write a letter to Mennonite Central Committee encouraging the agency to “uphold the sanctity of marriage as written in all of the Anabaptist confessions of faith,” according to the minutes.
  • The board approved the slate of nominees to be presented to delegates at the 2018 National Convention to be held July 26-28.
Staff provide reports

The Leadership Board received an extensive report from Morris, who represents USMB on a variety of boards and in numerous endeavors.

Morris reported on the rebranding and restructuring of USMB Youth. The board is focusing on three areas: youth workers (National Youth Worker Network), youth (YouthCon, the national youth convention) and community impact opportunities (Project: Serve).

In his remarks following the board meeting, Schellenberg emphasizes the board’s confidence in USMB Youth.

“Kyle (Goings) and Russ (Claassen) have really grabbed hold of this,” says Schellenberg. “The board affirms the good work that they are doing. We want them to play a bigger role in future board meetings, which is why we added their chair as a non-voting member.”

Morris also reported on the upcoming National Convention, Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) Cohorts and his conversations with EVANA, a ministry community of pastors and churches that share Anabaptist and Mennonite theology.

Leadership Board treasurer David Hardt reviewed the current financial reports, and Morris provided a 2017 fiscal year report.

While the conference is in a good financial position, Schellenberg emphasizes the importance of growing financial support from local churches.

“People and churches need to continue giving (to USMB),” says Schellenberg. “We need their support. We’d like for churches that aren’t giving financially to start and for those who are giving to bring their support up to the requested percentage. We strive to be good stewards of what’s been given to us. We appreciate the first fruits giving from MB Foundation, and we’re giving a tithe from those monies to districts so that they can support pastors in need.”

In other business, the Leadership Board briefly reviewed written reports from USMB staff and heard an update from district representatives and MB Foundation.

Morris also updated the board on the recent National Strategy Team meeting that focused on disciple making. Stephen Humber and Mark Thompson, regional mobilizers with MB Mission, and Sara Jo Waldron, youth pastor at Hillsboro (Kan.) MB Church, attended the NST meeting as resource people.

The Leadership Board meeting was again preceded by a meeting of the U.S. BFL, which met April 4-5. The National Strategy Team did not meet in April, but did meet June 20-22.

Schellenberg reflects on service
Marv Schellenberg, right, has completed eight years of service on the Leadership Board, most recently as the chair. David Hardt, left, will be the new chair.

Asked to summarize the spring board meeting, Schellenberg refers back to the recent evaluation of USMB vision, mission and strategy and the results of that process, initially called the Future Story that was affirmed by delegates to the 2016 National Convention.

“Overall we’re in a good position. We paused to evaluate, which I think is always healthy. I think we’ve come out of (the evaluation) in a better place than where we were. We made quite a few changes, and we’ve adapted. We’re making good strides.”

Schellenberg concludes his service with the Leadership Board this summer, after serving for eight years. Asked what stands out from his years on the board, Schellenberg says, “From a personal perspective, when I was asked to serve I wasn’t sure where my gifts as a businessman could be used. During this pause, it’s been neat to see that my skill set could be an asset.”

He continues, “I didn’t know a lot about the U.S. Conference when I began, and it’s been good to learn how this all fits together. It’s been great to get to know the district ministers and to hear local church stories. We have a very good conference and exceptional leaders.”


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