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Leadership, money and discernment key topics at Leadership Assembly


Dave Bergen, Executive Secretary of MC Canada’s Christian Formation, contributes to a discussion as part of a consensus decision making process.

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December 12, 2008
- Deborah Froese

CALGARY, Alberta — Pastoral leadership development, fiscal concerns in times of economic crisis, and a conversation about being a faithful church were the major topics of discussion at Mennonite Church Canada’s Fall Leadership Assembly in Calgary from November 12-15.

In the spring and fall of each year, Mennonite Church Canada holds Leadership Assemblies to allow the General Board, the Faith and Life Committee and representatives from Area Churches to gather to discuss matters of importance to the church. This year college presidents Henry Paetkau of Conrad Grebel University College (CGUC), Gerald Gerbrandt of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) and Nelson Kraybill of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) also attended a portion of the fall meeting to discuss a collaborative approach to developing pastoral leadership. Ron Penner, the president of Columbia Bible College (CBC) attended an earlier meeting with the other college presidents. His input was reflected in a task force proposal presented to the Moderators, Secretaries, and Area Church Ministers gathering.

Task force proposal on pastoral leadership development

After an in-depth discussion about leadership challenges on November 13, 2008, the college presidents offered a proposal to appoint a task force to determine how congregations, schools, area churches and the national church can collaborate for the development of pastoral leadership.

The development of such a task force would be yet another step toward addressing the issue of encouraging pastoral leadership in an era where fewer people are entering ministry. A 2007 Pastoral Trends survey clearly identified a need for ongoing education for existing pastors and indicated a rising number of retiring pastors.

Leadership agreed that there is a genuine need for and a desire to present pastoral leadership training as a collaborative effort, but how that collaboration will take shape remains to be seen.

“We’ve done brainstorming for a number of years with a lot of good ideas,” Gerald Gerbrandt stated. “[But] We haven’t been able to develop a concrete structure.”

This year Gerbrandt attended both the MC Canada Assembly in Winnipeg and the Mennonite Brethren convention in Montreal. “We should also consider collaboration with the Mennonite Brethren church as they have also identified pastoral leadership training as a priority – especially since two of our four schools [CMU and CBC]are already collaborating with the MB church.”

Nelson Kraybill pointed out that all of the school presidents were eager and ready to move ahead with collaboration, but the creation of a task force would facilitate a more effective development process.

The presidents anticipate a task force would have three primary objectives:

  • To complete a process of identifying pastoral competencies.
  • Consideration of delivery modes (location, distance education, technology, etc.)
  • To determine the outcomes of collaboration

“One of the challenges of a task force [if appointed] will be the temptation to go back and redo everything that has already been done,” said Robert J. Suderman, General Secretary of MC Canada. “We need to write up the mandate in such a way that the task force will build on what has already been done and move forward on what still remains to be done.”

The proposal to develop a task force exploring leadership development will be discussed at the Formation Council meeting in March 2009.

Budgeting in economically challenging times

MC Canada’s Finance Policy and Audit Committee (FPAC) recommended proceeding with a “flat budget” for 2009 – neither increasing nor decreasing donation projections.

The General Board and staff leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach to the volatile economy. Donation income numbers reported from one month to the next can change dramatically.

Randy Wiebe, MC Canada Director of Finance reported that the income to October 31 was positive. Total donations were slightly ahead of projections ($64,000). But he also issued a word of caution: total October donations showed a decline at a time of year when donations tend to trend upwards. Leaders are watching the numbers closely and are working at some contingency scenarios.

A wise and discerning nation

The General Board determined that there is a deep and broad need to nurture our capacity to discern the mind of God in order to be a faithful church..

Discernment, grounded in the study of scripture, equips God’s people to address difficult challenges in the life of the church. These challenges include, but are not limited to being a peace church, human sexuality in the church, and understanding our witness to Jesus Christ in a pluralistic religious world.

The call to strengthen skills of discernment arose from discussions surrounding a statement approved at the Board’s July/08 meeting:

The General Board encourages the Executive Committee and the General Secretary to provide their best thinking at the November/08 General Board meeting on a long-term plan to address the second part of the 1986 resolution on human sexuality.

The covenant statements of the 1986 Resolution on Human Sexuality continue to be relevant and can be applied to the variety of challenges we face as a church that strives to be faithful. Especially helpful are statements of covenant in the 1986 Resolution that indicate our commitments to:

  • Study the Bible together and expand our insight into biblical teachings;
  • Remain in loving dialogue with each other in the Body of Christ, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that the Holy Spirit may lead us to further truth and repentance;
  • Take part in the ongoing search for discernment and for openness to each other.

General Secretary Robert J. Suderman noted that one of the key issues in any conversation is remembering that within the church, we find different perspectives on the same scripture from a diverse group of people who are all guided by the same Holy Spirit.

In preparation for the 2009 Delegate Assembly leadership will prepare a document to guide delegates in a discussion of the biblical and theological understandings and processes that reflect the response of a faithful church to the challenges of contemporary society.