Prepare leaders

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Partnering as one national Mennonite Brethren family is important as we… prepare leaders

by Paul Bartel

I believe in our academic institutions. I am a supportive alumnus of Tabor College and MB Biblical Seminary. I have seen dozens of high school students grow in their faith and their commitment to ministry thanks to Ministry Quest. I have watched Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University and MB Biblical Seminary graduates become leaders within communities and local Mennonite Brethren churches.

A meeting I had the other day with four other recent Tabor College graduates serves as an example. One is a Mennonite Brethren youth pastor and another is an MBBS graduate who is one of the youngest lead pastors in the Southern District Conference. The third is a current MBBS student who hopes to fulfill a calling as a pastor of a rural Mennonite Brethren church. The fourth served as a youth pastor for a couple of years and is committed to helping us plant a Mennonite Brethren church in Kansas City. 

And yet, when we think about our denomination as a family and these different institutions as a part of that family, we seem disconnected. Certainly money is exchanging hands—many churches are supporting these schools. And these schools have a keen focus on training leaders—particularly Mennonite Brethren—for the church and the world. Yet we are detached from each other, and it would be good for us to become better connected.

We will forge new connections when Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University, MB Biblical Seminary and the local churches band together in partnerships and communication, developing new methods of teaching and training the leaders that will lead our churches in lay and clergy roles. If we truly are a family—and I believe we are—then we have to openly work together, discovering improved ways to partner those among us who are the most gifted educators with those who want to be trained as leaders in the church.

We can reconnect churches and institutions by rethinking education methodology. Traditional methods of leadership training—primarily on-campus, classroom education—are no longer the choice of many. This is especially true of those pursuing seminary education, although our undergraduate schools are not immune. Mennonite Brethren institutions must change methodologies in the midst of a changing culture.

Leadership development happens in two realms. It happens through the local churches as people volunteer on committees and boards and serve as deacons, elders, musicians, teachers and small group leaders. It happens at a seminary for those who desire a more thorough and in-depth training. Perhaps as a family of churches it is time we begin thinking creatively of ways to merge these two levels of leadership development. Can we find new ways to partner our institutions with the churches in Christian leadership development beyond financial partnerships? These dynamic partnerships are vital to our success with future leadership development.

Ministry Quest is an example of this. This program employs the theological insight of seminary and college professors, the ministry of the local church and the wisdom of lay leaders in local churches to provide a dynamic leadership development program for high school and college students. This program carries enormous potential for leadership development in our churches and illustrates the creative ways our institutions can serve to facilitate that process.

I am completely convinced that as a family of churches, it is vital that we continue to support our educational institutions as they create leaders. I am totally persuaded that as a family of churches, it is essential that we continue to support these institutions as they create leaders and that we support the congregations in their efforts to nurture leaders. However, when we band together as a community of churches, we are able to do much more than we can alone—which is why we are a family.

Paul Bartel and his wife, Amanda, are Mennonite Brethren church planters and have recently moved to Kansas City, Mo., to plant a church there. They have two sons. 

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