Nestled in the Salt Lake Valley between the Wasatch Mountains to the east and the Oquirrh mountains to the west lies the University of Utah. The site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, the university rests in the gently sloping foothills, where, in summer, temperatures soar in the dry desert air.
This summer, the university welcomed 108 USMB pastors and their wives for the 2018 USMB Pastors’ Conference, July 24-26. The gathering focused on the theme of “Celebrating our diversity and unity.” Whether gathered in sessions, workshops or affinity groups, attendees had opportunity to learn, fellowship and recharge in the shadow of the mountains.
Welcoming people “not like us”
Terry Hunt, North Carolina district minister and pastor of The Life Center in Lenoir, N.C., was the first of three pastors to share from God’s Word.
Hunt challenged attendees to grow multicultural churches that reflect the ethnic makeup of their communities and ultimately, the makeup of heaven.
The church is the most segregated institution in America, Hunt said, adding the church must take the lead on combating racism, doing so by welcoming people “not like us.”
In heaven, there will be only believers in Jesus, Hunt said, referring to Revelation 7:9-10. Yet less than 6 percent of churches in the United States are multicultural—churches in which no one people group accounts for 80 percent or more of membership, he said.
To engage the problem, Hunt listed strategies based on The Life Center’s efforts to become more multicultural. The church made mistakes in the process, Hunt said, including expecting one team member to reach every one of his or her ethnicity; believing one’s ethnic identity makes him or her an expert on that ethnic group; believing reconciliation is easy; and believing if you don’t talk about racism, it’ll go away.
“I believe our number one problem in our nation is racism,” Hunt said. “If that was solved—if every man, woman, boy and girl was treated equal—we wouldn’t have the issues we’re having today. The church needs to lead the way.”
Becoming “walk-worthy” Christians
Brent Warkentin, pastor of First MB Church in Wichita, Kan., spoke about unity—what it is and how it can be measured—using Ephesians 4:1-3 as his text.
Warkentin unpacked each verse, beginning in verse 1 with Paul urging the Ephesians to live lives worthy of their calling. In verses 2 and 3, Paul describes “walk-worthy” Christians as people who are humble, gentle, patient and loving and who put effort into keeping unity.
While Christians should be zealous about keeping unity, Warkentin said God will only hold us accountable for our efforts to keep churches unified, not in guaranteeing unity happens.
Warkentin discussed ways churches can measure unity, saying unity is more likely to exist among humble, gentle, patient and loving Christians who are making every effort at unity.
“There’s zero chance of unity if all you have is proud, harsh, low-tolerance, unloving people who throw effort into a fight instead of into unity,” he said
When dealing with conflict, Warkentin said he reminds people that hard conversations generally go better when people exhibit the qualities in Ephesians 4:1-3. “Unity is more about the kind of people we are than a list of issues that we agree on,” he said.
Two kinds of division
Henock Tsegaye, pastor of Ethiopian Christian Fellowship in Olathe, Kan., also spoke about unity, referencing passages in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians.
Tsegaye said there are two kinds of divisions in the world: God-made and man-made. Focusing on the former, Tsegaye said with the call of Abraham, God created a division between Jews and Gentiles, a division that only God could dissolve.
That barrier was broken through Jesus’ death on the cross, Tsegaye said, referring to Ephesians 2:11-22. The tearing of the temple veil illustrates the two are now one, he said.
In Ephesians 3, Paul wrote about a great mystery—the oneness between Jews and Gentiles, then in chapter four, he spoke of smaller divisions in the local church, Tsegaye said, touching on each of the five elements Paul lists to avoid division in the church: humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace.
Tsegaye referred to 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and the unity communion encourages, then ended with a call to preserve unity in the church.
“Brothers and sisters, we have to keep our unity,” Tsegaye said. “Where there is unity, there is always victory. We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Even the weak become strong when they are united.”
Attendees share testimonies, lead workshops
Throughout the conference, three individuals shared testimonies. Chandelle Claassen, a member of the USMB LEAD coaching team, shared her journey with bladder cancer. Brad Burkholder, pastor of Hesston (Kan.) MB Church, listed three blessings of grace from God in his life. Michelle Hamilton, pastors’ wife at Valleyview Bible Church, Cimarron, Kan., shared her experience with a brain tumor.
Attendees could participate in one of five workshops Wednesday morning: “Stewardship Grab Bag” by MB Foundation president Jon Wiebe; “Intentional Disciple-making” by Daniel Rodriguez; “Living and Serving in Diversity” by a panel of pastors’ wives; “Technology and the Future” by Rick Bartlett, Kyle Goings and Dave Buller; and “Youth Ministry Live” by Russ Claassen.
Affinity groups for lead pastors, associate pastors, youth pastors and pastors’ wives provided fellowship time Thursday morning.
The concluding session for the Pastors’ Conference was a forum in which discussion centered around the merger between MB Mission and C2C Network into a new entity, Multiply. Randy Friesen, MB Mission general director, listed four commitments that will guide this new church planting agency that emphasizes local, national and global mission: planting of Mennonite Brethren churches, governance by the current MB Mission board, funds used as designated and working together with the local church and regional conferences.
Twenty-three children and youth participated in kids’ activities during the Pastors’ Conference.
All photos by Janae Rempel