by Jenae Suderman
Jon Fiester was flooded with relief and gratitude when he heard the news.
He had received a $3,000 scholarship from MB Foundation’s newly created Leadership Generation Fund. Now Jon didn’t need to accept as many side construction jobs to keep his education debt at bay. He could focus more time on studying, working as the associate pastor at Bible Fellowship Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Rapid City, South Dakota and spending time with his wife and two children.
“Help with school is huge,” he says. (Fiester is pictured (far right) distributing Bibles to high school graduates during the owrship service May 21, 2017.) “I think there are a lot of people who would like to further their education, but the reality of being able to do it is hard. It’s great being part of a denomination where there is help available when you need it.”
MB Foundation recently started LeadGen, as the scholarship fund is known, to provide financial aid for individuals considering full-time leadership as a USMB pastor or missionary. The fund will provide up to $50,000 per year to increase the pool of MB trained pastoral leaders.
“It’s touching to know that, in the (MB Foundation) board’s case as volunteer leaders, their decision to make this a priority is well-received with gratitude, and as a staff to know we’re part of what enabled it to happen,” says Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation. “It’s very rewarding.”
The idea behind the fund came from USMB’s new strategy and core commitments revealed at the National Convention in July 2016. The new vision aims to empower local MB churches to reach their full God-given ministry potential by focusing on three areas: church multiplication and evangelism, intentional disciple-making and developing leaders.
“We’ve been looking for new ways to get involved in a variety of things the denomination is doing,” Wiebe says. “Of course, we can talk all day about how our stewardship programs help benefit all those things, but this is another way for us to lean in and get involved in one of those areas, which is leadership development.”
LeadGen offers three progressively increasing scholarship levels, which require increasing levels of commitment. Level one provides up to $500 for high school students to participate in one- to three-month programs such as Faith Front. Level two offers up to $2,000 for students to attend MB institutions or participate in six- to 12-month programs. Level three provides up to $3,000 for seminary or graduate students attending MB institutions. Once awarded, the funds are allocated toward the relevant nonprofit organization.
Fiester recently completed his second of five semesters through Tabor College Wichita, working toward a master’s degree in Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The 34-year-old aims to use these entrepreneurial skills to engage the community with new eyes, evaluate their needs and find ways for the church to fill them.
“Our culture has shifted from a Christian mindset to a post-Christian mindset, and a lot of churches haven’t figured that out yet,” he says. “Our church needs to leave its walls and meet the community where they’re at and build relationships.”
For example, Bible Fellowship Church hosted a trunk-or-treat event for a nearby low-income apartment complex and counted 800 attendees.
“All churches should ask, ‘If we moved, would the neighborhood notice?’ If they don’t, there is probably a problem there,” Fiester says. “The more engaged we get with our community the better results we produce. People want to know if we are going to build relationships and be there for them in their daily lives. Out of those relationships the opportunities to share the gospel arise.”
The Nebraska native knows ministry is where God wants him. Multiple times while deciding whether to stay in construction or step into more ministry, injuries have kept him from the hammer and nail.
“Every time I’ve tried to do anything else, God has eliminated those other options,” Fiester says. “I’ve done a lot of other jobs in my life, but when I’m not doing that I don’t feel fulfilled.”
Don Morris, USMB national director, says initiatives like LeadGen—as well as an upcoming August leadership summit—will enable MB agencies and institutions to work together to enhance leadership development.
“Developing leaders will consistently be a necessary focus,” says Morris. As older leaders retire and as churches and ministries grow, gaining additional good, educated, called and passionate leaders in all capacities will be crucial.
“So, not only do we need to call out and develop leaders for pastoral roles, we must also help our local churches develop qualified leaders for local church ministry,” says Morris “If we aren’t helping to develop leaders, then there will definitely be a deficit in the numbers of needed leaders throughout our church and conference.”
As of June 7, LeadGen has provided 18 individuals with $17,000 worth of scholarships, and funds are still available. Applications and scholarship requirements can be found at www.mbfoundation.com/LeadGen.
“It just seems like it’s exactly what we’re hoping to do,” Wiebe says. “Help leaders that are being called out and trained for ministry. And 10 years from now, who knows what their story will be?”