Council Embraces Change, Grapples With Reality

by Terry M. Smith

Statement of Faith, 2018 budget, conference restructuring supported

STEINBACH, Man.—Conference council delegates on Nov. 25, 2017, affirmed the revised Statement of Faith and provisionally approved the conference’s restructuring, while grappling with current financial realities signified by a 2.6 percent budget decrease, a review of how some EMC missionaries are funded, and the need to plan toward stable funding.

Moderator Abe Bergen welcomed delegates. In the opening, a musical team of Paul Walker, Joel Jolly, Kevin Wiebe, and Kim and Josh Muehling led in singing. Reminding delegates that it is the Lord from whom our help comes, Garry Koop, senior pastor of host Steinbach EMC, led in a poetic, creative monologue based on Psalm 121.

General Board

Abe Bergen: Restructuring addresses needs. Credit: Andrew Walker

Abe Bergen said that the Church Planting Task Force, which formally relates to the BLO, has been invited to send a representative to General Board meetings. Fundraising is changing and there is a need to address this; local church decisions affect what we do together, he said.

A proposal on forming a task force on Women in Leadership has been received, discussed at length at the board level, and tabled. The discussion reflected the varied views within wider conference, he said. [The tabling happened so that input could be sought from women.]

The 2018 convention will be held at Western University, London, Ont. Peter Doerksen (Vanderhoof) will speak on being Rooted in the Gospel. Some congregations have left other conferences; the EMC is willing to talk with them, while seeking neither to be passive nor eager, he said.

The Statement of Faith revision process has involved much input from churches and two motions were made in July 2017: to replace the 1996 statement with the 2017 statement and to move footwashing from the Statement of Faith to that of Church Practices. Both motions were carried at this meeting.


The moderator said a Conference Restructuring Committee (CRC) was struck to address three needs: a fragmented structure with independent boards; little accountability among boards for inter-relationships; and little room to promote a vision together. Members were added to the CRC, boards were consulted, staff members were engaged throughout, consultants were used, and other agencies were consulted.

The CRC proposes changes to the administrative handbook: that an executive team serve all boards, a personnel management team deal with hiring and supervision, and job descriptions be revised for staff members. Boards are being asked to review the job descriptions toward approval over the next two meetings (by March). Conference council is asked to allow these changes subject to approval by the boards.

Q: How large is the Executive Team? (Current staff members.)

Q: Once the boards have approved this, what’s next? (Implementation.)

Q: Are staff levels affected? (Not part of the mandate.)

Comment: There is confidence in those who’ve thought of this. Let’s move on to other matters.

Q: The EMMC went through restructuring that created conflict. How similar is this? (Other groups were consulted. The counsel was to talk, talk, talk. This has happened.)

Q: Does this affect budget and positions? (No.)

Comment: In the EMMC’s case, people at top were excited, but were better at talking than listening. With more power to the Executive Director and the executive team and less to boards, hopefully big things will still come to conference council. (Formed PMC in response to perceptions of power. Not a big redistribution of power, but a clarity of roles.)

The motion carried.

Abundance Canada

Harold Penner, consultant, said it was 35 years since the EMC joined Abundance. $15.5 M has gone to 968 charities, including $500,000 to EMC and EMC-related organs. He is willing to meet people and said that generosity changes everything.

Mennonite World Conference

Layton Friesen, EMC’s representative, outlined the history of MWC and a bit of the EMC’s involvement: Christian Neff founded the MWC in 1913, convinced of strength in unity and a need for loyalty to one another. P. J. B. Reimer, of the EMC, attended and reported on the 1968 general assembly in Amsterdam.

In the first global assembly in 1925 in Switzerland, some delegates could not enter the country; in 2015 in the U.S., similar problems were encountered. Two-thirds of Anabaptists live in the southern hemisphere, and the declining church in Europe and North America needs them, Friesen said.

MWC emphasizes worship, prayer, mission, and service; and he encouraged the strengthening of global relationships through 25 people from 10 churches attending the next general assembly (2021 in Indonesia) and by using worship materials for World Fellowship Sunday (held near Jan. 21), including an offering to help churches elsewhere.

Board of Missions

Brad Brandt, vice chair, said John 13:35 is a missions verse—that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love to one another. Little is more appealing to non-believers than a group of people who love each other.

The BOM has shifted medical insurance carriers for cross-cultural workers to gain more stable costs and better coverage. The board welcomes input on how to increase missions awareness among churches, Beth Koehler is assisting in a prayer focus, more workers are needed, Ascend’s internship program needs promotion, and a new field is being sought. With a strategy to exit Paraguay five to seven years from now, the BOM wants to have a new field by then.

Len Barkman, BOM secretary, outlined the current missionary support model: some workers get full support; associate workers get partial support; and others operate with a hybrid (workers under AIMM and in Bolivia receive a base support, but can raise funds).

The board is looking at changing the support process for workers getting full support, he said. The reasons: current funding levels affect recruitment and new fields and there is a need to build stronger connections between church and missionaries.

There are three basic models of support, he said: a centralized model of conference support, workers raise their full support, or a blended funding model where the agency provides partial support and missionaries raise the rest. Other agencies have been checked with and counsel sought. The discussion continues.

Caroline and Henry Krahn reported on their work in Bolivia. Credit: Andrew Walker

Henry and Caroline Krahn said that tensions on a colony in Bolivia resulted in people moving to land bought near San Jose. School and church buildings were moved.

Ken Zacharias, foreign secretary, said that churches are assisted with missions conferences. Prayer teams are being planned: Paraguay (March 6-19), Guadalajara (Feb. 6-13), and Bolivia (tentatively in Oct. or Nov.). Hurricane Nate has hurt Nicaragua. Its government is responding and so is MCC. The BOM is giving $10,000 to assist through MCC.

Board of Trustees

Gordon Reimer, chair, said that there is a need to look at a sustainable model for EMC funding. The EMC pension plan is reviewed regularly. The national office’s phone system has been upgraded, thanks to Project Builders, in a manner that exceeded hopes while reducing costs. The EMC building grant, now managed by Abundance Canada, is to be more generous to churches; about $1.3M is available.

For budget 2017, $418,734 is needed by year’s end. For 2018, the budget has been reduced 2.6% to $1,899,000 from $1,950,000. Most boards have reduced their budgets, the BOT excepted because of salaries.

Comment: Concerned about a decrease for missions and church planting, the major reason for the conference. Some funds are being raised on the side. The budget does not reflect actual spending. (The full expenditures of all boards are provided in a recently published bulletin insert. The comment is a useful reminder to reconsider how reporting on budgeting is done.)

Comment: The budget was well-prepared. Glad to see decrease. Can support it. This church will give the same in 2018 as in 2017.

The motion to approve the budget was carried. Gord Reimer said that the board calls each church.

Board of Leadership and Outreach

Richard Klassen, BLO chair: It cares for the EMC ministerial. Credit: Andrew Walker

Richard Klassen, chair, said the BLO cares for the EMC ministerial. Irma Janzen is a new member. The Ministerial Examination Committee continues. The Church Planting Task Force is exploring becoming its own entity.

Layton Friesen, conference pastor, said he has been impressed by the EMC’s hospitality, the leadership of pastors and deacons, and unity in the conference. This is to be celebrated and thanks given.

He walked delegates through the conference’s website, looking at resources available to ministers and churches: a counseling benefit, pastoral search committee materials, material on pastor and congregational evaluations, a pastoral salary guidelines worksheet, policies on sabbatical and severance, and information on conference supported benefits. These documents reflect our theology, he said.

Ordination is the way we make pastors, Layton said. It’s proposed that the EMC move from an examination to a process of ministry formation. Further discussion will happen.

Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, called on Abe Bueckert to report about the Gospel Light Fellowship. Abe said the church meets in Medicine Hat, Alta., and will be moving into a larger rental space in the same building. Abe Penner is taking on more responsibilities in leadership. There is some local resistance to the church; some people desire to stay with what they’ve learned. Yet a young man was converted and another man asked why Abe had not come 20 years ago.

Charles Koop asked if we are willing to take risks, to give our best people so that churches are built. There is a need to move beyond building our local church to building the Kingdom of God. The relationship with C2C is under review because of the benefits received and the money required. Koop said that in planting churches, we need workers more than money. The money is there, he said. A moment of prayer was held for more workers (Luke 10:2).

The Dauphin work is not sustainable, he said, so Oscar and Mirna Hernandez’s formal involvement ends in December, though they will stay in the community till June. They seek a future place of service. Pray for church plants. Not all are going well. There is some mystery why some are not growing.

In Alberta, efforts continue in Airdrie and Two Hills; in Saskatchewan, Pastor Frankie Kim and Simon Hyounjin Yoon engage in Indigenous ministry; in Manitoba, Aberdeen (Winnipeg) has a Spanish work and Logos (Winnipeg) has Pastor Jabez Lee in training.

The communities of Manning (Alberta) and Ste. Agathe (Manitoba) are possible future sites. Take courage, Koop said. God is at work in our conference. To him be the glory!

Q: What long-range plans and resources are in place for church planters? (When we hear of a possible lead, we follow-up. Luke 10:2. Bible colleges have not been adequately approached. C2C says one of the best ways leaders are identified is when they approach you.)

Mennonite Central Committee Canada

Rick Cober Bauman, its new executive director, was grateful for the warm welcome and the partnership between the EMC and MCC. MCC seeks to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. He highlighted the suffering in Uganda: a mass grave for victims of war; concern about climate change affecting growing patterns; and a woman holding an old MCC meat can, a reminder of food delivered in a time of drought. MCC takes seriously the need, in Christ’s name, for relief, development and peace. He is grateful for time, materials, money, and prayers.

Steinbach Bible College

President Rob Reimer was grateful for the EMC: its giving, prayers, and an increasing number of its students. While a high percentage of graduates do not become pastors or missionaries, most serve in the church. Mission Exposure is key to SBC: Inner City, Winnipeg (first year), Northern Canada (second year), and International (third year). SBC now offers a BA in Ministry Studies fully online; a Marketplace Ministry BA, Pursuit Experiential Leadership (a four-month discipleship training school), and the Activate Discipleship School (for people employed outside church circles).

Board of Church Ministries

Heidi Dirks, BCM member, said that a new Mental Health Initiative seeks to help EMC churches in the areas of mental health, especially with youth. Articles will appear in The Messenger throughout 2018 and workshops will be held. Joel Jolly, worship committee member, said that the worship committee is developing; he highlighted local efforts in matters of worship.

Terry M. Smith

Kevin Wiebe, BCM and education committee member, said that a sequel to Living in God’s Kingdom is being developed by the EMC, EMMC, and CMC for 2018. Topics include the Bible and authority, Bible and interpretation, vocation, culture, leadership, devotional life, conflict, worship, local church, stewardship, evangelism, continuing to believe, and pilgrimage.

Andrew Walker, assistant editor, requested that churches encourage more people to sign on to The Messenger’s various formats (website, PDF, print). Feedback is welcomed. Print continues to be valued.

The moderator closed the day in prayer and blessing.


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