SDC welcomes new congregations, full-time district youth minister

SDC delegates gather in greater Kansas City area in July for biennial convention

Delegates at the SDC convention pray for pastors Rick Albu (seated, left) and Yohannes Woldemichael, from Agape Evangelical Church in Aurora, Colo. The Ethiopian congregation is one of three new churches delegates voted to welcome into the district pending completion of the vetting process. Photo: Janae Rempel

About 150 people, including 37 registered delegates as well as agency representatives, guests and children, gathered at Community Bible Church in Olathe, Kansas, for the biennial Southern District Conference convention July 26-27, 2019.

Highlights of the convention included the welcoming of three new churches into the district pending completion of the vetting process and the installation of a full-time district youth minister. The two-day event also included business matters pertaining to budget and elected personnel, a variety of speakers and agency representatives and times of worship, prayer and fellowship. 

New churches welcomed

Delegates voted to welcome three new churches into the district pending completion of the vetting process. Two of the three congregations sent representatives to the convention, including pastors, who shared briefly about their churches.

The choir from Christ Salvation Church, a Kansas City, Missouri, congregation that is comprised primarily of immigrants from Congo and Burundi, sang during the SDC convention. The church will be joining the SDC. Photo: Janae Rempel

Christ Salvation Church in Kansas City, Mo., is comprised primarily of immigrants from Congo and Burundi. Led by Pastor Muhizi Serukiza and his wife, Immaculee, the congregation of 150 meets in a Lutheran church in northern Kansas City. Services are held in Swahili and occasionally in English. The congregation brought its choir, led by the pastor’s son, David, to sing at the convention.

Agape Evangelical Church is an Ethiopian church in Aurora, Colo.  In the absence of their lead pastor, who is planting a church in Israel, Yohannes Woldemichael, associate pastor, and Rick Albu, pastor of the English speaking church, attended the convention.

Iglesia la Senda Antigua, a Hispanic congregation pastored by Patrocinio Vicente in Milan, Mo., is also in the vetting process but was unable to send representatives to the convention.

Delegates prayed for the new churches and voted later Friday evening. Once vetted, the three churches will be officially welcomed into membership. Had the vote not taken place, the churches would have had to wait two years until the next convention to be accepted.

Russ Claassen, center, standing with his wife, Chandelle, was commissioned as the full-time SDC youth minister.

District youth minister commissioned

Saturday, Tim Sullivan, SDC minister, commissioned and installed Russ Claassen as full-time district youth minister. Claassen, who was serving in this capacity part-time, began his new assignment July 1.

Members of the Executive Committee and Sean Estes representing the Youth Commission gathered around Claassen and his wife, Chandelle, as Sullivan asked a series of questions. The commissioning ended with a time of affirmation and prayer.

Other business, reports

In other business, Stewardship Commission chair Mel Flaming presented an overview of the budget, noting an increase in district minister costs as a result of adding a full-time district youth minister and a decrease in CEEC expenses. To encourage church giving, Flaming presented net totals for the past five years, all in the negative, without money from investments. Flaming also highlighted SDC support of two churches, City Church in Pueblo, Colo., and Lighthouse Church in Lakewood, Colo., with loans through MB Foundation.

Delegates voted on and approved budgets for the next two years, including a 2020 budget of $368,850, a decrease of $5,000 from the 2019 budget; and a 2021 budget of $394,075.

Delegates also voted on personnel matters, electing to the Executive Committee John Oelze (chair), Brad Burkholder (vice chair) and at large member Brenda Hamm; to the Church Extension and Evangelism Commission Brian Harris and Jeremy Jordan; to the Faith and Life Commission James Suderman and Dave Froese; to the Stewardship Commission Bill Kelton and Bob Ratzlaff; to the Youth Commission Kevin Larson and Dustin Mulkey and to the Tabor College Board of Directors Dennis Penner and Susan Koslowsky. The Executive Committee will fill remaining vacant positions.

A time of prayer for the Executive Committee and commission leaders followed.

In a church-planting report, Jeremy Jordan, CEEC chair, interviewed Mario Trujillo from City Church in Pueblo, Colo., and Dereje Beyenne and Rahel Osaa from Avenue Church in Aurora, Colo.

Trujillo said in the last 11 months, City Church has had 12 baptisms. He expressed a desire to partner with other SDC churches through the sending of interns.

Beyenne expressed a desire for Avenue Church to become more multicultural and a need for unity and love.

Jordan also provided an update on Lighthouse Church in Lakewood, Colo. The congregation is renovating an indoor soccer facility to use as its new church building.

Jordan reported that CEEC desires to help resource existing churches and pastors, not just church plants.

Speakers chosen from agencies

Throughout the convention, delegates heard from a variety of speakers.

Don Morris

USMB National Director Don Morris shared MB tenets of faith as evangelical Anabaptists. As evangelicals, MB believe in being born again; being united with Jesus in death, burial and resurrection; spreading the gospel and that Jesus will return and hold the Bible in high regard.

As Anabaptists, Mennonite Brethren hold core values of Jesus as the center of one’s faith, community as the center of one’s life and reconciliation as the center of one’s work.

Morris also spoke of the tendency to think if a person does enough, Jesus will be pleased.

“We get busy in the church and we have that tendency sometimes to think, ‘Jesus are you pleased with me? Have I done enough?’ Morris said. “I want us to not do that. Our sufficiency is in Christ.”

Morris allowed time for questions, and significant time was spent discussing the recent changes with Multiply and its decision to release C2C, the North American church-planting arm. Multiply board chair Brent Warkentin fielded questions, saying that despite bringing together good leaders with good intentions, there were multiple reasons the merger between C2C and MB Mission did not work.

Multiply remains the local, national and global church-planting arm of Mennonite Brethren, but the staffing backbone has dramatically decreased. C2C is no longer funded by or connected to Multiply. Multiply is taking a step back to regroup, knowing there is a need for transparency and to rebuild trust.

“We’re going to keep moving ahead with great hope,” Warkentin said. “God isn’t surprised by this.”

Addressing a question regarding a strategic plan for church planting moving forward, Warkentin said each district now has a greater responsibility. Morris added that an August meeting is planned for leaders to talk about where to go from here.

Chris Douglas

The second speaker was Chris Douglas, U.S. director of Multiply, who shared about the hope found in Hebrews 12 in the midst of tumultuous times. It may seem the world is being shaken culturally, politically, and in the church, he said. Yet there is reason for hope.

“God is shaking things up so that that which cannot be shaken is all that remains,” Douglas said.

Douglas encouraged attendees to find their identity in Christ, and in an increasingly secular society in which the church is being marginalized, to be encouraged by God’s work in places like:

  • Redemption Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, where church planter Christian Kohs has baptized 18 people in the last 10 months.
  • City Church in Pueblo, Colorado, where planter Mario Trujillo has baptized 12 people in the last year.
  • And Lakeview Church, launched on Easter Sunday by planter Phil Wiebe in Stansbury Park, Utah. This fledgling congregation is already the largest evangelical church in Tooele County.

“In the midst of the shaking, in the midst of the unstable ground that we’re in, there is the promise, ‘I will never leave or abandon you,’” Douglas said. “The Lord is my helper. This is what we hang onto. We hang onto the person of Jesus Christ in the midst of the instability.”

Bruce Jost

Bruce Jost, vice president of MB Foundation, shared practical advice for duplicating the kind of community written about in Acts 2, whose characteristics of fellowship, the sharing of meals and adding numbers reminds him of the SDC, he said. The ideal community involves church tithing—an idea Jost said is more accurately represented by the term, “community first fruits,” or the generous nature of any community to give money beyond its walls. Obstacles to this type of giving include fear, pride and feeling overwhelmed.

Giving should be a priority, a percentage and progressive, Jost said, not spontaneous, sporadic or sparingly.

Referring to a study by church consultant Lyle Schaller, Jost said healthy churches prioritize first fruits, devoting 15 to 50 percent of their budgets to giving outside of the church; 10-25 percent to facilities and programs and 40 to 60 percent to staff.

A result of leading with first fruits giving is greater intimacy with God and others, unity, following the lead of a generous God and an opportunity to see greater generosity on earth as in heaven, Jost said.

“I pray that the Holy Spirit would move among us…. and show us how our communities can be transformed like those we see in Acts 2,” Jost said.

Wendell Loewen

Wendell Loewen, professor of biblical studies at Tabor College, highlighted Faithfront, then presented an overview of the MB story, telling of the believers’ baptism demonstrated by Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and George Blaurock in 1525. He touched on the stories of martyrs like Manz and Dirk Willems, the teaching of Menno Simons, the move to Ukraine to escape persecution in 1763, the “brethren” who broke away from the larger Mennonite church in response to spiritual decline, and the move of more than 10,000 Mennonites to North America between 1874-1884.

Loewen also summarized MB beliefs, including following Jesus, being people of the book, obedience of faith, love of enemies, compassion, the great commission, a personal faith life of discipleship, the authority of scripture interpreted in community, the proclamation of the gospel in words and actions, and mission-mindedness. He noted the influences of Anabaptism and evangelicalism, including parallels between the two.

“We’re family and our MB story reminds us not only of where we’ve been but who we are and where we’re going,” he said.

Agency representatives give updates 

Delegates also heard from a variety of agencies.

Stephen Humber, representing Multiply, reported that three individuals will participate in the 10-month discipleship program known as TREK. He highlighted summer ACTION programs in Africa, the Philippines and Thailand, and the multi-church collaboration to help Greenhouse Community Church in Saratoga Springs, Utah, host a sports camp and vacation Bible school.

Andy Shewey, representing MB Foundation, reported that MB Foundation’s theme this year is strengthening the local church, from Acts 9:31. He shared how God is increasing numbers at MB Foundation, including the addition of two new staff positions. Growth means putting more money into ministry, Shewey said, touching on resources and services MB Foundation offers such as the devotional and sermon outline “The Seven-Day Generosity Challenge” available in English, Spanish and Russian; LeadGen scholarships for pastors and missionaries; a retirement plan for MB pastors; a senior adult gathering, Celebrate 2019; investment certificates and gifts.

Jules Glanzer, president of Tabor College, reported on four new things happening at Tabor, including a renewed commitment to its theological identity as evangelical and Anabaptist; a reshaping of culture to focus on hospitality, excellence, growth and stewardship; a redefined student value proposition where students can expect a decidedly Christian environment and a redesigned curriculum that includes double major possibilities, critical thinking about societal issues and a three-year track to save a year of tuition. The Tabor 20 scholarship is designed to attract 30 students from MB churches to attend Tabor.

Chuck Buller, representing Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, reported that Valerie Rempel has been selected as dean of the seminary and vice president of Fresno Pacific University starting July 1, 2019. The seminary has started a new cohort for MB students.

The CBC worship team, led by pastor Russ Friesen, provided music throughout the event, concluding the convention with a song Friesen said he selected as the theme for the convention, “For the Cause.”

Bruce Eitzen adjourned the meeting, and Sullivan provided a closing from Colossians 3.

Optional activities offered

Friday, before the start of the convention, approximately 20 people went on a “windshield tour” to learn more about Mission Southside, with whom CBC partners to minister to underprivileged neighborhoods. During the bus ride, Mission Southside director Craig Howard shared how Mission Southside is building relationships and starting “site teams” in southern Johnson County to provide help by meeting physical needs, and hope through the gospel.

Saturday night, 26 people attended a Kansas City Royals baseball game.

Pastors’ get-together

Prior to the convention, SDC pastors and spouses gathered July 25-26 for a complimentary pastors’ get-together.

Randy Gariss, director of the Life and Ministry Preparation Center at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo., and his wife, Julie, were guest speakers. Pastors also heard from USMB national director Don Morris, and representatives of MB Foundation, Tabor College and Multiply.

The CBC worship team led pastors in worship.


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