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Missional Church Leadership Course: Participants Respond


January 27, 2003
MC Canada release by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man.—From January 5-7, 52 participants representing 38 congregations from Ontario to BC gathered for session one of the first ever country-wide missional church leadership education series (see companion story by Maurice Martin). A requirement of participation is a commitment to carry forward learning to the congregational level.

Three more modules are scheduled for May, September, and December. The representation breakdown by region is: British Colombia: 6; Alberta: 3; Saskatchewan: 5; Manitoba: 29; Ontario, 8. (Manitoba numbers were bolstered by staff participants.)

Participants were asked to respond to what they heard and learned so far. Here’s what they said.

Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen, pastor, West Abbotsford MC

Heidebrecht Thiessen felt called to participate upon hearing about the opportunity, and then was independently encouraged to represent Mennonite Church BC—a work of God in her, she feels.

She is also interested in knowing more about how missional church thinking might complement her training in Natural Church Development (NCD is a congregational development tool promoted by the Leadership Centre Willow Creek Canada in Winfield, BC).

Heidebrecht Thiessen strongly affirms the missional church direction both personally and for her congregation. “The highlight has been for me to spend some time thinking about how culture needs to shape us. It needs to shape us, but not define us. The post modern values need not be at our core.”

Asked how to move from a personal affirmation to implementation, she reflected on her own congregational experience – a congregation that was in demise. “My congregation would rather change than let (its) community die. Our situation set us up for becoming more missional – to go places where we haven’t gone before because what we were doing wasn’t working… We don’t know where God is leading, but we are willing to follow.”

“I am very excited that MC Canada is moving in this direction.”

Billy Chiew, half-time associate pastor, Vancouver Chinese MC

Chiew came to find out more about how the missional church is theologically reflected in scripture.

“My passion is to really see that this is a possibility in my context (which is) Asian, with Asian parents. I want to help people really see what I see – to help others experience it.”

But he acknowledges that he can expect some resistance in his congregation, and people will say this vision is “not relevant in our culture.”

Pausing a moment he adds, “I’m at a stage where I’m really grappling with it step by step, still trying to digest how this will fit into my culture in a workable, practical way.

“I want my congregation to articulate what Anabaptism and our spiritual heritage is.”

Norman Meade

Norman Meade relates to First Nations Alliance (Winnipeg) and the Manigotagan Community Chapel. He has also had a long time involvement with MC Canada’s Native Ministry.

Norman Meade is getting close to retirement and wants to be involved in the work of the church in his home community of Manigotagan, Manitoba, for the rest of his life.

“The church was placed on my mother’s property fifty years ago,” says Meade. “Now God is telling me I need to be there.”

Meade feels that the missional church leadership training will “really help me to set my footprints down… in the home community.”

A meaningful moment for Meade was the “missional church explained in easy terms through the analogy of the (biblical) bookends”, where Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21 and 22 represent the beginning and end of God’s message to humanity. The stories in between illustrate God’s redemptive activity in the world. The bookends, the garden of Eden (Genesis) and the New Jerusalem (Revelation) highlight God’s purpose in the world and provide a focus for missional church thinking, and help to view the purpose of the biblical message from a ‘big picture’ perspective.

He says most people think of retirement as a well deserved rest in a nice home on the river. But as he is facing a retirement to the ministry, he is asking himself, “Is Norman Meade ready, prepared, to do this?

“I want to finish my life the way God wants it.”

Len Sawatsky, director of mission for Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference

Sawatsky chose to attend the missional leadership course because “Our interest is in moving in the same direction. This will help me in focusing our thinking in some of the things we are doing and want to do.” (too many ‘in’s in paragraph….) – what about “Our interest is moving in the same direction.. .”

While noting that “all of it has been helpful”, a highlight for Sawatsky was the training in facilitating a group discernment process. “I’m leaving for South America next week and will be able to use the practical ideas when I go.”

As for the future of missional church leadership, he says, “We need to hear stories. I’d like to see stories of where this is actually working, not just theory. We have churches and you have churches where… this is working well.”

Ed Olfert, pastor, Grace MC, Prince Albert, SK

Olfert, temporarily on a four month sabbatical, is interested in tools that offer insights into how Christians can live faithfully in light of the challenges of our culture and our place in history.

A highlight for Olfert occurred at one of the worship services when participants were asked to share a "holy moment" from the recent Christmas season. Recalling a respectful and friendly relationship which had developed between a released criminal offender (considered high risk to re-offend) and a community member during the advent season caused Olfert to comment, "I saw that God was at work here, and I asked myself, 'How can I be part of this, how can I help foster these kinds of relationships in others?'"

Olfert's "holy moment" provides a personal interpretation of a broader missional church question: Where is God at work and how can I actively become a part of that work?