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Teaching That Transforms: Why Anabaptist-Mennonite Education Matters book cover

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Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Publishing Network joint release
February 4, 2011
-Ron Rempel

WATERLOO, Ont. and SCOTTDALE, Pa. — Affordability, a declining pool of prospective students due to smaller family sizes, and, for colleges, declining alumni loyalty when it comes to where their children go to school—these are some of the challenges facing Mennonite schools today.

Add to that list something John Roth calls “mission focus.” Roth is the author of a new book, Teaching That Transforms: Why Anabaptist-Mennonite Education Matters published by Herald Press.

Today, he says, “most of our schools have a significant percentage of students who don’t come from Mennonite backgrounds . . . how do schools balance their Anabaptist-Mennonite identity with being open and welcoming to those who may not share those values?”

According to Roth, a professor at Goshen College, there’s been a paradigm shift in almost every level of Mennonite education.

“Mennonites started their own schools to protect youth from the influences of the world,” he says. “Today, schools exist to engage the world. The focus now has shifted to a more missional role. Now we have an opportunity to share the good news of our understanding of the gospel with others, and offer our view of education to a wider cross section of people.”

To deal with these challenges, schools need to be open to change. And that, he says, starts with good leadership.

“We need to attract the best and brightest to positions of leadership at our schools and on the boards,” he says. “We need people who have deep Christian convictions, but who are also nimble, adroit, flexible and adaptable.”

At the same time, he notes, schools “need to be open to making changes. This is a challenge, since schools are notoriously resistant to change. It’s not a matter of putting our fingers into the wind and following whatever new current comes along. But schools have to be willing to make changes if they are going to be successful in the future.”

Schools also need to do a better job of communicating with potential students, parents, supporters and alumni, he says.

“There was a time when schools could assume that Mennonite students would go to Mennonite schools; those days are over. Today schools need to make a clear, convincing and cogent case for why students should choose them over other options—why they are worthy of the additional cost.”

All of this will require an “an open, lively, vigorous and honest conversation about the nature of our Christian witness to the world and our assumptions about the future of the church,” Roth says.

For him, this means being “honest about the challenges facing our church. We are an aging denomination. Membership is declining, as is denominational loyalty. Sunday school attendance is falling. And enrolment at Mennonite schools, colleges and seminaries is not where it could be.”

The Mennonite Church needs to “honestly name these issues, in a public and confessional way—not by scolding or blaming, but by acknowledging that things are not as good as we would like them to be,” he adds.

Despite the challenges, Roth is hopeful—he believes that Mennonite schools have a future.

“We have much to offer, and there are growing numbers of people looking for exactly what we have to offer—a tradition of peace, service, justice, community and deep faith in God,” he says, adding that “we can openly, confidently and graciously proclaim our distinct approach to education, a way shaped by a Christ-centered way of reading Scripture, a Christ-centered understanding of relationships with other people, and a Christ-centered view of the church as the visible form of the resurrected Jesus in the world today.”

Teaching That Transforms is available Feb. 1, 2011. Click here www.mpn.net/teachingthattransforms to order your copy.

Herald Press is the book imprint of Mennonite Publishing Network, the publishing ministry of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.