The Southern District Conference (SDC) held its biennial convention July 28-29 at First MB Church in Wichita, Kan. The delegates spent most of their time in worship sessions and workshops, with limited time given to business.
Three speakers addressed the convention theme of discipleship. After each message, members of the audience were invited to interact with the speaker by asking questions.
Ermias Amanuel, associate pastor of Ethiopian Evangelical Church, Denver, Colorado, spoke Friday evening and summarized his message in one statement: People are watching us.
One of the characteristics of Americans that Amanuel has noticed since moving to the United States in 2000 is “swagger,” behaving in a very confident way. He encouraged his listeners to balance swagger with humility. Using the story of David and Goliath from I Samuel 17, Amanuel challenged his audience to be confident in God and his promises.
While King Saul promises that the man who will kill Goliath will receive wealth, the king’s daughter as his wife and tax exemption, David is not motivated by these rewards. David’s goal is that “the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.” We also need to be motivated by our desire to bring glory to God, said Amanuel.
Amanuel closed by reminding the audience again that “people are watching you without you noticing it.” He encouraged his listeners to be confident in God and to “swagger for God.”
“Let (God’s) glory be the aim of all our actions and words,” said Amanuel. “Let the Lord be known.”
Trevor Lee, pastor of Trailhead Church, Centennial, Colorado, gave the Saturday morning message, focusing on “discipleship for work, life, play and everything in between.” Speaking from Genesis 17:1-2, Lee said that two Hebrew words in this passage “carry more meaning than can be conveyed in English.” Those words are translated “be blameless” (tamin in Hebrew) and “walk before me faithfully” (halak in Hebrew).
Lee elaborated on the word tamin, which means “complete” or “whole” and the word halak is to “walk in God’s face.” He concluded his word study by emphasizing that being whole and walking in the face of God “is a full-time gig,” said Lee. “It is an intimate and ongoing connection to God. It is about every moment in life.”
Lee concluded by challenging pastors and church leaders to intentionally teach that how people do their jobs and how they rest and pursue recreation and entertainment is part of discipleship. “Do we dive deeply into creating disciples in all areas of life?” he asked.
Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation, spoke Saturday afternoon on the topic, “Stewardship is discipleship.” Money, said Wiebe, is the second most often-mentioned issue in the Bible. Jesus’ parables often focus on money, including Mark 4:18-20 in which the word of God is choked out by worries of life, deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things.
Wiebe highlighted a variety of Scripture passages to reinforce the importance of recognizing money and possessions as a discipleship . Stewardship is more than meeting a budget, said Wiebe. He noted that people in a congregation are at different places in their financial stewardship journey and illustrated this with stories of people who were financially healthy as well as those who were financially unhealthy.
Saturday workshops were provided by Scott Thomas of C2C Network; Garvie Schmidt and Andy Shewey, MB Foundation planned giving advisors; Phil Wagler, a member of the MB Mission lead team who works in the area of training; Russ Claassen and Kyle Goings of the SDC Youth Commission; Jules Glanzer, president of Tabor College; and Don Morris, USMB national director.
Each workshop was offered twice, once before lunch and then again after the meal. The workshops focused on leadership, church planting and stewardship as well as updates from the SDC Youth Commission and U.S. Conference. Those offered by MB Mission and C2C had the highest attendance.
In his workshop, MB Mission’s Wagler introduced attendees to the MB Mission Strategy Map that outlines how individuals and congregations move through a process that sends workers to a new site or culture to plant churches that in turn work together to plant more churches. Participants spent time talking in church groups about where they were individually and as a congregation in the process Wagler outlined.
Thomas, U.S. director of C2C, shared his personal story of working with C2C, the church planting ministry of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, and USMB to plant a church in Pueblo, Colo., and how C2C came to be involved in U.S. Mennonite Brethren church planting. He emphasized C2C’s desire to “help our neighbors,” whether that involves working with USMB district conferences or other denominations in the U.S.
Bruce Eitzen, SDC executive committee chair, led the two business sessions.
Friday evening introduced the decisions to be made.
- Budget: Mel Flaming, Stewardship Commission chair, presented the proposed budgets for 2018 and 2019. The 2018 proposed expense budget is $352,150, and proposed expenses for 2019 is $373,850. The 2019 increase is primarily due to costs involved in holding the biennial SDC convention and producing the yearbook.
- District youth minister: Kyle Goings, representing the Youth Commission, reported that the commission would like to see the half-time SDC youth minister position be increased to full-time. Goings invited delegates to join members of the Youth Commission Saturday for a workshop during which delegates would hear about youth camps and conferences, learn how the Youth Commission hopes to incorporate the three USMB core commitments into their activities, and to discuss the proposal to increase the district youth minister’s position to full-time.
Eitzen reported that the Executive Council is discussing this recommendation from the Youth Commission. Because a decision will likely be made before the 2019 convention, delegates were asked for their feedback, however this request is not reflected in the proposed budgets.
- Bylaw revisions: Eitzen introduced proposed bylaw revisions that would make the Executive Committee the Nominating Committee. Because delegates were not given the required 90-day notice of a proposed bylaw revision, Eitzen explained that the vote on the bylaws would take place at the 2019 convention. However, the Executive Committee is currently serving as the Nominating Committee. On behalf of the Executive Committee, Garvie Schmidt, member at large, presented the slate of nominees.
Delegates were invited to ask questions about the budget, Youth Commission report and bylaw changes. Most were questions of clarification and no concerns were expressed on any of the topics.
During the Saturday morning business session, delegates briefly discussed and then passed the budget, with the understanding that at some point in the next two years the budget may increase if the SDC youth minister position moves from part-time to full-time.
Eitzen informed delegates that SDC bylaws do allow delegates to waive the 90-day notice on making bylaw changes. Delegates approved the recommendation to do so and then approved the bylaw changes.
The remainder of the business session was devoted to questions delegates had for any of the SDC commissions based on their printed reports included in the delegate packets.
The majority of the questions and comments were directed to the Board of Faith and Life (BFL), and BFL chair Glenn Lygrisse and district minister Tim Sullivan responded.
Regarding the role of women in church leadership, Lygrisse said that this is a topic of ongoing discussion in other districts as well as for the national BFL.
When asked if SDC churches are “sticking to the Bible” in terms of same-sex marriage, Lygrisse said they are. Asked by Jerry Willhite, pastor of Lighthouse Community Church in Wichita, about teaching on the atonement, Lyrgrisse said, “My opinion and observation is that we are solid on salvation by grace.”
Lygrisse spoke of his “general concern” that churches are being influenced by
American culture and encouraged families to stand firm under the attacks of Satan.
Sullivan affirmed SDC churches for proclaiming the gospel and recognized there are differences of opinion within the district. “We are challenged as we sit together,” said Sullivan. “We need to listen to each other.”
Retired pastor and former BFL member Paul Klassen also spoke to the importance of listening. “The church is called to speak truth in love. We do this when we listen—not for agreement but to understand each other,” said Klassen. “We do have hard issues to address, but we need to listen to each other—to love each other enough to listen.”
Two questions were raised about funding opportunities related to leadership development. In his response to a question about the Church Extension and Evangelism Commission (CEEC)’s internship fund, CEEC chair Jeremy Jordan invited more churches to apply for a grant for a summer intern. Jon Wiebe of MB Foundation clarified that the leadership development scholarships available through the foundation’s Leadership Generation fund are intended for those called to the pastorate or mission work.
Tim Schellenberg, visitation pastor at Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Kan., asked what the SDC has done to teach on the USMB statement of peacemaking (Article 13 of the Confession of Faith.) Former national BFL chair Larry Nikkel reviewed ways in which education has happened at a national level and Sullivan indicated that developing educational opportunities and resources was a task for the national BFL and not district BFL boards.
Russ Claassen, SDC youth minister, reported that summer camp offerings went to a MB Mission peacebuilding project and that teaching on peacemaking was included in the explanation of the offering project.
Delegates did affirm the slate of nominees.
The closing session, presented by the SDC Church Extension and Evangelism Commission (CEEC) and C2C highlighted church planting.
CEEC chair Jeremy Jordan began by reviewing the three USMB core commitments and how CEEC is involved in resourcing and supporting churches in their intentional disciple-making efforts and leadership development.
CEEC provided financial assistance to pastors attending Exponential East, a church planting conference held annually in Orlando, Fla., in February, and Multiply Conference, an event hosted by C2C Network and MB Mission to encourage church growth and multiplication. CEEC member Brian Harris attended both conferences and he encouraged other pastors to also attend. “Church work is hard,” said Harris. “We need to re-energize.”
With regard to the third core commitment, church multiplication and evangelism, Jordan reported that SDC is currently supporting three church plants: Lighthouse Church in Lakewood, Colo., City Church in Pueblo, Colo., and Avenue Church in Aurora, Colo. Jordan gave a brief update on each church.
Scott Thomas of C2C Network noted that C2C was involved in assessing the three current SDC church planters and he personally affirmed their gifts.
Thomas reminded his listeners that churches plant churches, and he encouraged churches to “find a church plant to pour into.”
While C2C works across denominational lines in Canada and now in the U.S., “our home is in the MB family,” said Thomas, “and we choose to help our neighbors.”
Jordan closed the convention by asking district and national USMB leaders to come to the front of the sanctuary and inviting the audience to gather around them for a time of prayer.
A total of 144 adults, delegates and guests, were registered for the convention. Worship team members, childcare volunteers, the kitchen team and various on-site staff brought the total adult participants to 179. A total of 40 children and youth also attended with their parents.
SDC pastors and their families gathered the evening of July 26 through noon July 28 for a time of fellowship and encouragement. Three retired SDC pastors shared their experiences with the group. Gaylord Goertzen, Hillsboro, Kan., spoke on “Healing for Your Hurt;” Paul Klassen spoke on “Caring for Your Soul;” and Nick Rempel talked about pastors the importance of caring for their families in “Ministry for Your Minions.”
Other presenters included Jon Wiebe of MB Foundation who spoke on stewardship, Don Morris, USMB national director, who gave an update on national conference ministries and SDC minister Tim Sullivan and SDC youth minister Russ Claassen who shared district news.
A total of 81 SDC pastors, their spouses and guests attended the pastors’ gathering. An additional 30 individuals assisted with worship, meals, facility tasks and childcare for the 24 children and teens who were present.