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What comes first: vision or leadership?


Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Church Manitoba joint release
April 7, 2003

Winnipeg, Man.— It began with a phone call from a small rural congregation.

The caller wondered if Mennonite Church Manitoba had any funds available to help them hire a pastor. They had functioned with the assistance of interim leadership for the past several years but longed for a permanent pastor to lead them.

Facilitator Norm Voth began a dialogue with congregational leaders. It soon became clear that one reason they wanted to hire a pastor was to give them a vision. Further conversation revealed that leadership was not their only desire. In fact it seemed that clarifying and articulating a vision should precede calling a pastor. Once the congregation had that direction, they could look for a pastor to help them fulfill their goals, rather than hiring a pastor who would develop a vision for the congregation.

Together we developed a plan to help the congregation identify and articulate a vision and set concrete goals for implementation: congregational homework, a weekend retreat, and a follow-up. Several individuals were invited to reflect on various periods of the congregation’s history, including the decision by charter members not to hire a minister, but to function with lay leadership.

As they began to explore their identity through conversation, historical reflection and gift discernment, there emerged a new energy for what Voth calls a “missional purpose.”

“There grew a sense that they were not just recipients but also participants. As they asked the question, where is God at work among us, in the community, and in the wider church, the focus shifted to a sense of expectation and anticipation of how they could participate in God's mission,” said Voth. Instead of calling a pastor to give them the vision, they discerned God's movement and then called leadership to help them participate in that movement.

A second piece of homework was a gift inventory. Everyone in the congregation was invited to identify the gifts of everyone else. The result was that everyone in the congregation ended up with a composite of what gifts people in the congregation saw in them. This was an affirming exercise for individuals and gave the congregation a clear picture of the resources they already had.

A weekend retreat took place in a rented facility where everyone could engage in directed discussion as well as informal fellowship. Child care was provided for those who needed it and everyone was invited to stay for the whole process. The congregation was highly committed to this process and spent significant amounts of time in discernment.

“The calling of a pastor from among their own came as a surprise, and might not have been possible had they not clearly articulated their own sense of calling and place in God's work,” said Voth. The end result was that the Portage la Prairie Mennonite Church identified and articulated their vision and set some specific goals, and in the process affirmed the desired pastoral gifts among them by hiring Karen Schellenberg as part time pastor.

“I really appreciated working with this congregation,” adds Voth enthusiastically. “It was exciting to see how broadly they consulted and how diligently they worked at the process. The level of commitment was very high. It is exciting to see congregations catch a sense of God's call and then respond.

“Probably nothing is more gratifying than seeing individuals and congregations begin to see their role in God's mission. To hear individuals and groups talk about their participation in God's mission encourages me that the missional identity finds root in our congregations and will begin to transform our congregations.”

What could happen in exploring a missional vision in your congregation? Contact Kathy Fast at or 1-866-888-6785 (1-204-888-6781) to find out more or make arrangements for a visit to your congregation.