The USMB Leadership Board acted on several matters during its March 29-30, 2019, meeting. The Leadership Board meeting concluded a week of USMB gatherings that began with the National Pastors Orientation (March 25-27) followed by meetings of the National Board of Faith and Life (March 27-28) and National Strategy Team (March 28-29).
The Leadership Board voted to begin inviting a representative of the Pacific District Conference Hispanic Council to attend the two annual Leadership Board meetings as part of the board’s effort to strengthen connections between itself and Hispanic congregations. Xavier Pena, current Pacific District Conference (PDC) Hispanic Council chair, attended the March Leadership Board meeting and talked with the board about strategies for forming cohesion and connection within the USMB family of churches.
“It continues to be our goal to have a board that represents the diversity of geography and cultural aspects of our conference,” says David Hardt, Leadership Board chair, in an email interview. “We will continue to seek wisdom in our leadership from both our current board members and leaders from groups within our constituency. Adding an ongoing voice to our Leadership Board from the PDC Hispanic Council will add an additional perspective as we seek to lead in a way that serves our churches as they seek to serve their members.”
In a related report, Don Morris, USMB national director, said that the National Strategy Team met with Henock Tsegaye, pastor of Ethiopian Christian Fellowship Church, Olathe, Kansas, and Henri Ngolo, who has connections as director and founder of Diaspora Global Resources Ministries to Congolese congregations in the U.S. who have their origin in MB churches in DR Congo, to hear from them about ways that USMB can engage with and serve the 11 Ethiopian and one Congolese churches (with more Congolese congregations looking to join) that are part of the U.S. Conference.
The Leadership Board voted to no longer print letters to the editor in the Christian Leader and to instead post letters on the Christian Leader website (www.christianleadermag.org.) They also directed the national director to review and respond to letters.
Adding an ongoing voice to our Leadership Board from the PDC Hispanic Council will add an additional perspective as we seek to lead in a way that serves our churches as they seek to serve their members.
The Leadership Board heard from Board of Faith and Life chair Tim Sullivan regarding the issues the board discussed at their meeting earlier in the week. In addition to updates on the board’s work adding a footnote to Article 5 (Salvation) of the Confession of Faith, updating the memorandum of understanding with Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and two publication projects, Sullivan asked for counsel on the process going forward following the recent study conference on women in pastoral ministry. The Leadership Board asked BFL to do additional work on a statement on women in ministry that Sullivan circulated; once the statement has been thoroughly reviewed and approved, it will be vetted with district BFLs before being communicated to churches.
“We, along with the BFL, are working toward discerning wisdom from our women in ministry study conference and what/if any changes that might be considered going forward,” Hardt says.
Hardt cites two conversations as significant discussions.
“We spent a great deal of time discussing how we can support our USMB Youth: The Network,” Hardt says. “We heard from Kyle Goings (chair of USMB Youth) on the effort that he and his team have been making toward connecting with our youth pastors and leaders throughout our USMB family. We encouraged Kyle and his team to come up with ways that we can continue to support this effort and to invest in our youth.
In his report, Goings presented statistics regarding a decline in attendance at national youth conferences, including YouthCon 2019 that was held April 3-7 in Glorieta, New Mexico. The Leadership Board voted to “empower” USMB Youth to explore other ways to resource USMB teens.
The Leadership Board also discussed the Pastor’s Generosity Fund, which is used to meet financial needs of pastors, and a new Everence program funded by a Lilly Endowment grant that is designed to help pastors reduce their debt. The Leadership Board approved using funds from the Pastor’s Generosity Fund to help pastors meet the matching portion of the grant requirements of the debt reduction program.
“We discussed the various way that we can support our pastors that have financial needs,” Hardt says. “There are programs we directly offer and programs that we can point our pastors to that can be of help. Staff will communicate with churches to make them aware of what’s available.”
The next Leadership Board meeting is planned for Nov. 8-9, 2019, in Omaha, Nebraska.
U.S. Board of Faith and Life
The U.S. Board of Faith and Life (BFL) met March 27-28, 2019, spending significant time discussing its next steps with regard to women in pastoral ministry. The discussion concluded with the formation of a statement that would be tested with the Leadership Board and then with district boards of faith and life.
The board began its discussion by reviewing written responses and overall feedback to the study conference on women in vocational ministry that BFL hosted Jan. 14-16, 2019, in Phoenix, Arizona. The conversation moved to a review of how the five districts have processed the issue since January and what additional conversations within the district are being planned.
Board members then had a lengthy conversation about the 1999 resolution which resulted in the current policy on credentialing. The resolution states that women will be “encouraged to minister in the church in every function other than the lead pastorate” and be called to minister in other pastoral staff positions and to exercise leadership on conference boards and in institutions and agencies.
BFL wrestled with how best to move forward in unity when there is not consensus on the question of women serving as lead pastors and when the basis for both positions (complementarian and egalitarian) is found in Scripture.
BFL wrestled with how best to move forward in unity when there is not consensus on the question of women serving as lead pastors and when the basis for both positions (complementarian and egalitarian) is found in Scripture. The board discussed the value of having a process for churches to follow when their view varies from the policy.
After an extended time of prayer following the dinner break, the board reviewed and discussed an initial draft of a statement. The board also debated how best to process the statement, along with any changes to the current policy. BFL concluded that it would consult with the Leadership Board, which would be meeting in two days, about the details of how best to process the statement. The statement itself will not be made public until it has been fully processed, including vetting the statement with district boards of faith and life.
In other business, BFL reviewed the most recent draft of a footnote to be added to Article 5 (Salvation) of the Confession of Faith and will be forwarding to each district BFL a letter of explanation regarding the foot note. This discussion prompted a related discussion about future U.S. study conference topics and plans for U.S. BFL members to attend the Canadian Conference of MB Churches upcoming study conference on interpreting Scripture.
The board also reviewed a draft of the new memorandum of understanding between the U.S. BFL and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and discussed two publication projects: a pamphlet on racial reconciliation and a revision of the book, Family Matters.
National Strategy Team
When the National Strategy Team met March 28-29, it focused on the ministry and needs of U.S. congregations comprised of African immigrants—specifically Ethiopian and Congolese churches. Two guests—Henock Tsegaya, pastor of Ethiopian Christian Fellowship Church, Olathe, Kansas, and Henri Ngolo, director and founder of Diaspora Global Resources Ministries, Dayton, Ohio—shared their personal stories and observations about ministry in the United States.
Tsegaya grew up in Ethiopia and was raised by Christian parents. He attended Bible college and comes from the same church in Ethiopia as Tamirat Haile Weshebo, the pastor of Bethel Evangelical Church, a USMB congregation in Sacramento, California.
Ngolo was born in D.R. Congo, grew up in the Mennonite Brethren church and was mentored by Nzuzi Makawa. Ngolo was a pastor and teacher in Congo and in 1994 was asked by Mennonite Central Committee to oversee work with refugees of the Rwandan genocide who were settling in the northern region of DR Congo. He has master’s degrees in missiology and marketing and business administration. Ngolo came to the U.S. in 2004 and now works as a Costco marketing supervisor.
Ngolo established Diaspora Global Resources Ministries (DGRM) to aid immigrants who arrive in the U.S. to plant churches. The ministry trains and resources immigrant pastors and church planters and also helps with the physical and transitional needs of immigrants. DGRM is working with a network of 34 churches, many of which are being planted by immigrants from MB congregations in DR Congo. These congregations stretch from South Dakota to Maine. Ngolo and Central District Conference minister Rick Eshbaugh, also an NST member, have been exploring ways the CDC and DGRM can work together.
The two guests talked about the cultures, expectations and needs of Ethiopian and Congolese congregations and church leaders. They spoke of the uniqueness of their ethnic groups and also what they share in common. They told of the complexities of language and translation barriers and of U.S. fellowships and conferences that provide connection with other immigrants from their home countries. Tsegaya talked of the challenges of church planting versus drawing members from existing Ethiopian congregations.
After hearing from their guests, the National Strategy Team members discussed strategies for connecting with, resourcing and serving Ethiopian and/or Congolese leaders and churches. Among the possibilities discussed was partnering with Multiply, working with other USMB ethnic churches, providing training events at the district and national level, partnering with The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) and using resources created by the International Community of Mennonite Brethren. The NST also discussed funding options for these initiatives. It was noted that introducing Congolese and Ethiopian leaders to a variety of resources may be a good way to discover what fits their needs.
The NST also discussed new resources for local churches currently being considered by MB Foundation and encouraged Jon Wiebe, MB Foundation president, to continue pursuing new options for better serving church plants and established congregations.