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New servants for the Church


April 11, 2002

Winnipeg, Man.— Two new people are set to begin serving the church in new ways as staff of Mennonite Church Canada. Maurice Martin's assignment as Director of Congregational Leadership Development begins May 1. Gina Loewen began as Executive Assistant [Administrative Assistant to the General Secretary and Denominational Minister] on April 2, stepping into the position occupied by Phyllis Wiebe until her retirement this year.

Gina Loewen

Maurice Martin

"I've got big shoes to fill," said Loewen, "but that will come with time." Wiebe retired this year after decades of faithful service to the church. Loewen will provide administrative support to the work of the General Board and the denominational minister's office. This includes coordinating meetings of the General Board, the Leadership Assembly (formerly Council of Boards), and "all the little details of minutes and agendas and travel expenses."

Loewen says stepping into the position is "Intimidating… I have about a hundred and fifty emotions in me. But it is also exciting, and Loewen looks forward to establishing her own patterns with direction from Henry Paetkau (Denominational Minister) and Dan Nighswander (General Secretary).

"I’m anticipating very good work relations," said Loewen. "The community here has been very supportive."

Maurice Martin's half-time position in Congregational Leadership development is a new one, and focuses on developing the lay leadership of the church. "People may sense a call to ministry, but not a call to "professional" pastoral ministry. We need to find ways to acknowledge this broader call and draw people into the life and work of the church. These are some of my foundational understandings of congregational (lay) leadership development. This work needs to be done alongside the calling and formation of pastoral leaders in the life of the church."

"A central task is to cultivate lay leadership based in a strong sense of Christian Vocation, in the missional church." The first three words of the Vision: Healing and Hope statement declare "God calls us…," said Martin.

"In the life of the missional church, we are called to be aware of what God is doing in the world, and how we can align ourselves with that and be a part of God’s work. This is a different emphasis than serving church structures! It is also different from desiring to have church structures serve us, in this "me" generation. This paradigm shift is essential in the post modern age. How will we create "a new thing" in the church which will engage this generation, inviting them to lead in the life and work of the church?"

Martin has identified six areas to work on:

  1. Articulate an Anabaptist/Mennonite view of lay congregational leadership
  2. Provide resources on lay leadership
  3. Assist in productive congregational reviews, goal-setting, decision-making
  4. Special lay leadership needs
  5. Articulate an Anabaptist/Mennonite view of conflict management/ esolution
  6. Provide resources for intervention/mediation in congregational conflicts.

Martin will work at these objectives half-time from his home in New Hamburg, as one of MC Canada's dispersed staff members. "Clearly mail, email and telephone calls will constitute a significant part of my work, but there is no short-cut around personal presence," said Martin, who expects to travel once monthly to offer resources to churches through preaching, workshops and other approaches.

Martin said he accepted the challenge because he has "always been interested in congregational systems, what makes groups 'tick,' and leadership styles that promote spiritual health and growth in our walk with God and each other in the life of the congregation."

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Sidebar by Maurice Martin:

New directions for congregational leadership

New Hamburg, Ont.— "What goes around, comes around" in terms of congregational leadership.

In the 1960's we adopted a very "low slope" view of pastoral leadership, afraid perhaps of owning too much authority in an age where authority was suspect. So we focused on what we thought was a god Anabaptist concept –"the priesthood of all believers," which in fact is Lutheran.

Still, traditional Mennonites have said that our baptism is a kind of ordination for ministry, should we be so called-out.

My view is that we need to reclaim the New Testament passages about spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4, Romans 12, I Corinthians 12) and apply these to each member, calling out gifts for the ministries of the church.

The pastor's role? To lead a gifted people, to make sure that gifts are used to build the body of Christ. Not so sharp a distinction between pastor and laity, but a continuum of gifted people, gifted by the spirit

So today, when there is a shortage of pastoral leaders, we return to the possibility of "lay ministers" in congregational life and work.

Let's not do this by default, but by design – each of us living out our Christian vocation (calling) in our walk with God and each other.