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Funding ministry and mission: New realities

   
 


Mennonite Church Canada’s General Board led delegates through a discussion on how best to fund national church ministries. (l-r): Marlene Janzen, Esther Peters, Henry Krause, Dan Nighswander.

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July 6, 2005
-by Dan Dyck


Charlotte, N.C. — How should decisions be made to spend money on ministry projects that are beyond Mennonite Church Canada’s budget? Should we focus on short-term or long term ministry, local or international mission? These are the questions delegates wrestled with today at the Mennonite Church Canada discernment sessions.

Responses contrasted yesterday’s financial report when finance committee representative Ingrid Peters-Fransen noted the committee is in the unfortunate position of saying “No” to requests for ministry projects because of limited resources. Instead, delegates today were challenged to say “Yes” – and then flesh out the implications of such affirmative action.

General secretary Dan Nighswander prefaced the discussion: “We want to talk about how we together make decisions about our financial investments in the multitude of ministry options between which we must make choices.” (see sidebar, Dan Nighswander’s introduction, and pages 62 - 63 of the report book)

Delegate responses noted several tensions: there is passion at the local congregational level that can dissipate when project decisions are processed at higher levels; there are perceptual differences of accountability between the local level and the national level; letting only passion lead can result in congregations flitting from one short-term project to another, never developing a sustainable ministry; nationally driven projects can become entrenched by tradition, when the life of a particular ministry should end; local ministry generates immediate passion and immediate funds, versus a time and enthusiasm lag for national projects.

Several table groups pointed out that the strengths of every level of church must be married for the strongest possible result: While local congregations bring passion, they lack the expertise, experience, and discernment of the wider, national church; congregational engagement with non-Anabaptist mission agencies is continually growing; we need the national church to select ministries that best represent Anabaptist Christians. For many, it boils down to personal relationships. Those close to us are often most successful at engaging passions and generating funds.

MC USA is already on a road that builds on this relational familiarity through MSTs – Mission Support Teams. MSTs are made up of friends, family, and fellow parishioners who support an individual or family with a passion for a particular ministry.

Sometimes called “relational funding”, this model uses the strengths and passions of smaller, closely connected networking groups to generate enthusiasm and funds. But this model can also be fragile, since it can place the onus on one or two key local leaders. When local leaders are lost, the support can diminish quickly, with little or no back-up. A unified, national approach helps provide back-up and sustainability where locally driven ministry may be more fragile.

Each model on its own has strengths and weaknesses. MC Canada leaders say that with delegate input, they hope to find a way that builds on the strengths of both unified and relational funding models.