Participants discuss MB history, theology, distinctives
By Connie Faber
The 2017 National Pastors Orientation (NPO), held March 27-29, 2017, in San Diego, California, provided 15 new U.S. Mennonite Brethren pastoral staff members with information about MB history, theology and USMB structure, ministries and ministry partners. The three-day orientation also highlighted the ministry strategy and priorities affirmed at the 2016 National Convention and provided opportunities for pastors to connect and network with one another and agency representatives.
A total of 49 people attended the NPO, hosted by the USMB Board of Faith and Life (BFL). Twenty-two came as presenters, ministry representatives or BFL members, 15 were pastoral staff members and 12 were spouses.
Presentations Monday morning and early afternoon focused on the USMB vision and core commitments. In the opening session, Don Morris, USMB national director, walked through the two-year process that resulted in the recently adopted vision that emphasizes church planting and evangelism, disciple-making and leadership development as well as networking.
Following Morris’ overview, three speakers addressed each of the core commitments. Using the churches in the Pacific District Conference as an example, PDC minister Gary Wall spoke about church multiplication and church planting. Wendell Loewen, Tabor College faculty member and Faith Front director, spoke about leadership development in young adults, specifically the difference between sensing an inner call from God and being called by an external voice when one’s leadership gifts are identified by others. Central District Conference minister Rick Eshbaugh reviewed several biblical texts in his overview of intentional disciple-making. Showing the group a piece of fruit, Eshbaugh said that the purpose of an apple tree is to produce another apple tree, not simply to bear fruit. Each 30-minute presentation included table discussions around questions provided by the presenters.
NPO participants were introduced to a variety of USMB and inter-Mennonite ministries and their acronyms. Ed Boschman, retired USMB executive director, provided a glimpse of the global Mennonite Brethren family known as the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB). Morris outlined the USMB governance and leadership structure and the four district ministers present gave an overview of their districts.
Presentations on Tuesday focused on MB theology, identity and distinctives and the Confession of Faith. Tim Geddert, BFL member and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary professor of New Testament, addressed a series of topics under the over-arching theme of who are the Mennonite Brethren. He compared and contrasted Anabaptists and evangelicals, emphasizing the importance of keeping a balance between the two and recognizing the strengths of both. “Let’s target that sweet spot where we can learn from one another,” said Geddert. He also talked about viewing the Bible through the lens of Jesus, outlined a community approach to hermeneutics and briefly discussed the USMB position on homosexuality.
Valerie Rempel, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary associate professor, dean of the seminary and historian, traced the history of the Reformation, the emergence of Anabaptists and Mennonites and the birth of the Mennonite Brethren church. She noted the influence of the Pietists led Mennonites to emphasize a sanctified life and discipleship while being tolerant of doctrinal differences.
TC's Loewen reviewed MB distinctives and values, comparing them to those of the broader evangelical community and noted how the Confession of Faith demonstrates Anabaptist convictions and the ways in which the confession serves the church.
Tuesday evening representatives from various USMB ministries reviewed the ways in which their agencies can resource and partner with the local church. Presenters included Jon Wiebe, MB Foundation; Terry Brensinger, Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary; Jules Glanzer and Tom Shaw, Tabor College; Galen Wiest, MB Mission; Scott Thomas, C2C Network; and USMB staff members Morris, who highlighted various LEAD initiatives, and Connie Faber, Christian Leader editor.
Wednesday morning MB Foundation’s Wiebe reviewed a variety of financial-related matters: housing allowances, taxes, insurance, retirement, etc. Following Wiebe’s presentation, NPO participants were given the opportunity to discuss selected topics during two break-out sessions.
Two topics were offered during both sessions. Pastors could continue talking with Geddert about MB faith and practice, and BFL members hosted and question and answer time about current issues. NPO participants could also talk with Thomas about church planting during the first breakout and with Wiest about missions during the second session.
Each morning musicians Brandon Pasion and Bryan Henderson, from Neighborhood Church in Visalia, Calif., led a time of singing. Devotions were shared by district ministers Terry Hunt, North Carolina District Conference, Rick Eshbaugh, Central District Conference, and Gary Wall, Pacific District Conference. Times of prayer during the NPO were led by BFL members Jana Hildebrandt and David Loewen.
USMB event coordinator Donna Sullivan organized a Monday afternoon and evening outing for all NPO participants. The group took a bus tour of La Jolla, a hilly seaside community within San Diego that included stops at Sunny Jim’s Cave, one of seven sea caves in the area and the only one accessible to visitors via a tunnel and staircase, followed by a walk to view seals and sea lions along the shore. The group also walked around the Mount Soledad Easter Cross and war memorial. The outing concluded with a dinner at a hotel restaurant with an ocean view.
NPO participants spent their free time Tuesday afternoon visiting a variety of area attractions and relaxing at the Island Palms Hotel and Marina, the site on Shelter Island of the NPO.
The NPO closed late Wednesday morning with a pastoral commissioning that included communion and foot washing service.
Photos by Connie Faber.
Photo 1: A Monday afternoon bus tour of La Jolla included a walk along the seashore to view seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks.
Photo 2: Historian Valerie Rempel highlights distinctives of the new Mennonite Brethren church following their decision in 1860 to form a new and separate church.
Photo 3: NPO participants were led in times of worship each morning by musicians from Neigborhood Church, a USMB congregation in Visalia, Calif.