When we read the Bible, we come to the Scriptures with predetermined lenses. What we discern to be foundational truths are based on how we read Scripture. In other words, how we come to know Jesus Christ and how we live out the truths of his life in our own lives is a process of receiving truth and thinking about what it means. Continue reading The Place of Experience in the Theological Process→
Discussion dominates, $526,242 needed before year’s end
WINNIPEG, Man.—Conference council delegates on Nov. 24, 2018, voted to explore encouraging attendance at MWC’s Assembly in Indonesia by not holding an EMC convention in 2021, approved a blended support model for fully-administered missionaries, supported a $19,000 budget increase for 2019, and heard an update on the Inspiring Partnership in Ministry project.
Welcome and Devotional
Moderator Barry Plett welcomed delegates. Ralph Unger, interim pastor at host Braeside EMC, drew from 1 Kings 7, early Anabaptist history, and early EMC missions history to focus on being risk-takers. Are we passionate about reaching others? Our mandate is not over, he said. The moderator led in prayer.
The moderator said a Sustainable Funding Committee will research EMC giving patterns, ways to generate funds, new budgeting models, and improve communication and connections with EMC donors. It will operate through 2019 and report at council in summer 2020.
The board sought permission to explore not holding convention in 2021 in order to encourage EMCers to attend MWC’s general assembly in Indonesia. Conference council and ministerial meetings could still be held, and one possibility is to shift convention’s time to avoid a conflict with MWC’s event. Exploring means options will be looked at and the board will return to council with a recommendation. The motion carried.
Tim Dyck, executive director, said staff affirmed that the national office exists to “nurture the shared confession, mission, and covenant of the EMC.” A healthy organization requires a cohesive leadership team and organizational clarity. There is a need for trust, for conflict to be healthy, and to be held accountable for results. The staff met for three days to answer six questions, and has spent a few months on improving team dynamics, he said.
Mennonite Central Committee
Mark Epp, program director, said in a video that there is no hope for peace in the Middle East without restorative justice, and efforts toward peace are being made around the globe. There are more physically hungry people in the world today; one factor is conflict, a lack of peace.
Mennonite World Conference
MWC brings together various Anabaptist bodies, said North America representative Gerald Hildebrand. Connections can be strengthened through MWC’s general assembly (Indonesia), its info by e-mail, and its prayer network. Funding is split between donations by churches and individuals. Our well-being is tied to the well-being of others; we need the help of our brothers and sisters to follow Jesus, he said.
Board of Church Ministries
Kim Muehling, chair, said the past year was one of fruitful work. Bill Rambo introduced Holy Wanderings: A Guide to Deeper Discipleship, a recently published three-year project of the EMMC, CMC, and EMC. He listed 13 lessons ranging from how to study Scripture, church life, leadership, conflict, defending the faith, and pilgrimage. May the Lord use it to assist us to become more like Jesus with each other and to share the good news that the world needs, he said.
In a promotion causing much laughter, Russell Doerksen said the Education Committee’s next publishing project will excite people to rush to purchase copies for Christmas stockings in 2019. Conference pastor Layton Friesen’s Master of Theology thesis is “the rare volume on Anabaptist theology and history that is both academic but also very readable” and will help shape sermons, Sunday School lessons, and more.
Layton Friesen replied, “Wow! Now I can only disappoint you,” which caused more laughter. He was raised to think that Anabaptism was the “culmination” of the Reformation, but wondered why, then, Anabaptists were the most hated people in Europe. Suspecting there was more to the story, he said he explored the threat they posed. He asked, why did believer’s baptism threaten the government and a common purse among believers the economy? Why did people who thought they lived near “the end of the world . . .send chills down the spine of a king” or the adoption of pacifism cause others to fear they would live in an Islamic region?
Cyndy Warkentin, BCM member reporting for Heidi Dirks, said that the Mental Health Initiative is completing its year-long task. It has contributed articles to The Messenger, held workshops at MacGregor EMC and at the EMC’s convention, hopes that churches have been helped, and remains open to helping further.
Kim Muehling told the fictional story of two Baptists who agreed on much, but came to a stunning parting after disagreeing. Sparked by the Hearing from God controversy and the discussion that followed in MacGregor, the BCM will focus through 2019 and probably beyond to assist churches in how to think, disagree, and decide in a healthy way. Its efforts do not replace the EMC’s Harmony Document, but will seek to provide practical help through articles in The Messenger and Theodidaktos.
Will there be a further response to MCC’s lifestyle policy? [Nothing planned, but the topic will come up at CCAL, a gathering of Anabaptist conference leaders.]
Which book by Patrick Lencioni helped the national office’s organizational clarity? [The Advantage.]
What cost will there be to investigate the MWC option? [Minimal.]
Be careful not to make a conservative response that would separate from MCC.
What happens if MCC does not follow through on its hiring policy? [Human rights appeals with a more “onorous” solution.]
When is it disagreement and when it is compromise?
Board of Missions
Sandra Plett (Ridgewood) reported on her ministry in Guadalajara, Mexico, with the Matthew Training Centre, which has a vision of well-trained workers serving among the nations. Ken Zacharias, director of Global Outreach, introduced new missionaries: Benny and Ester Fehr (Mount Salem) who will serve in Bolivia in radio ministry, Alex Reimer (Prairie Grove) with Greater Europe Mission, and James and Maria Wahl (St. Vital) who will serve in El Salvador. Joanne Martens, formerly of Germany and Paraguay, has retired in southwestern Manitoba. Ken led in prayer.
Brad Brandt, chair, highlighted the board’s proposed change to the missionary support model: workers in Bolivia, Mexico, and Paraguay will raise, in a phased-in process, 40% of their support by 2022. Giving to EMC missions is down while giving to projects is up; the number of workers on fully-administered fields might not be sustainable yet the number of associate workers is increasing.
Funding affects recruitment. The question is not whether change will happen, but what model is best amid giving realities in the EMC. The positives are the BOM still provides 60%, a more engaged support base for workers, and a higher awareness of missions, he said.
What if the worker can’t raise support? [No clear answer. Some training provided. Some temporary support.]
Not all are gifted at fundraising. What are the ethics of changing the process while people are on the field?
What’s the cost in staff time? [BOM is looking at sustainable funding, trying to strike a balance. Not excited by change, but by some possibilities.]
Fundraising is not easy, but EMCers have enough money to pay for the budget.
Benefits of missions promotion at home reveal model is a great idea.
Don’t need to change model to increase missions awareness. [Advocacy teams are going ahead whether model does or not.]
Churches used to want a weekend of ministry about missions; now they want 10 minutes on Sunday morning. Reluctantly, but with faith, supports model.
Model might dissuade some workers from going. [The number of associate workers, where fundraising is needed, is growing.]
Applicant was angry to be told there was “no room in budget” for new recruits.
Whether or not favouring the 40%, don’t make it hard for workers to get it. They deserve our support.
The BOM requested a vote by ballot with at least two-thirds in favour for the proposal to be approved. The vote was held and the proposal was approved.
Mennonite Foundation of Canada
Harold Penner, stewardship consultant, shared a video with stories of how people were helped in how they give. He then spoke of people, their generosity, plans, and charities.
Inspiring Partners in Ministry
Co-chairs Darren Plett (Pleasant Valley) and Erica Fehr (Kleefeld) outlined the process to date. The formal discussion of women in ministry had been set aside for years, more recently because of the Statement of Faith review. A recent survey determined that telling stories of women in service was a key need.
Flo Friesen then shared the story of Cathy Thiessen, a career missionary in Mexico, whose service included preaching and teaching. For seven years within a much longer career, Cathy travelled from Chihuahua city to serve as pastor in four smaller churches. She was a pioneer, an apostle, Flo said, who trained and mentored young men and served with no opposition from people in the churches, the field team, or the BOM. They were, Flo said, the best years of Cathy’s life where she could do that for which she was divinely gifted: to lead, preach, and teach.
Gerald Reimer, now the EMC’s director of youth and discipleship and earlier a youth worker in Mexico, spoke of having served with and under the direction of Cathy. She was both a mentor and a colleague. He valued her input and that of Alvira Friesen, another worker in Mexico. He did not sense any personal agenda being forced on others; they served out of a call of Christ in their context. They still have his respect and influenced him in ways for which he praises the Lord.
The question was raised: how can we support and encourage women like Cathy in their church leadership at home and abroad?
There are two separate questions here. [Fair comment.]
Has a married woman led a team on the field? [None come to mind.]
The question has an answer in it—whether it is possible to be different in different cultures without being right or wrong. Clapping.
Follow the gifts God has given. Too much focus on gender. Clapping.
When is it a cultural difference or a personal preference? There is a need to be intentional in our churches.
In Bolivia it would be a stumbling block for a woman to take the lead.
Steinbach Bible College
Gord Penner, a professor and an EMC minister, said SBC seeks to have multicultural graduates in meaningful vocations who make disciples. SBC is more multicultural than delegates might think. Its Leadership Conference is on March 14-16 with Dr. Gus Konkel speaking on a biblical view of suffering. (He said, in an aside, that a Young Adult Retreat will be held on March 8-10 at Camp Cedarwood with Layton Friesen speaking on a faith worth dying for.)
Board of Leadership and Outreach
Richard Klassen, chair, said the counseling benefit for clergy has been changed to provide up to $500 per year with greater freedom on counselors used. The minister’s manual is being revised; a committee is being formed.
Charles Koop, director of church planting, says the Church Planting Task Force is active and needs one more member. There are church plants happening, others being considered, and new churches that plant other churches excite him. Much of the outreach is to newcomers to Canada. Richard Klassen said that Charlie Koop has indicated he will retire at the end of 2019. Charlie received a round of applause for his work.
Layton Friesen, conference pastor, said part of his job is to “drink obscene amounts of coffee across Canada.” Churches have suffered the loss of pastors; all have interim pastors. A dozen pastors will be needed in 2019, but God will bring leaders from various places inside and out of the EMC.
He’s engaging with emerging young pastors in an online study group that deals with spiritual formation, self-care, emotional and cultural intelligence, marriage and family, and leadership and management skills. (Later he said pastors can decide if they are young enough.) He encouraged board chairs to provide oversight of pastors, including asking about their prayer life. Pastors need the freedom to spend time in prayer, which is part of their work. The board is involved in a vigorous discussion about strengthening and lengthening the ordination process.
Board of Trustees
Gord Reimer, chair, said the EMC budget needs $526,242 by year’s end, which is $100,000 more than is usually received in December. He wanted delegates and pastors to report the need to their churches. There is a need for a big push in December. The board has been involved with a Sustainable Funding Strategy and an upgrade to the conference benefits plan.
The BOT had proposed a 2019 budget of $1,899,000, the same as in 2018. However, boards sought an increase of $19,000. The BOT decided to present three options to delegates: leave the budget unbalanced, approve an increase in giving, or request boards trim the budget by $19,000, he said.
Delegates discussed the options and voted in favour of increasing the proposed budget. A budget of $1,918,000 was then approved by a separate vote.
Editor’s note: There was more discussion during the day than can be reflected.
I must have appeared perplexed as I was sitting in my easy chair when my wife Emily walked in the room. “What’s wrong?” she inquired. I replied slowly and honestly, “Someone is wrong on the Internet.” She laughed hysterically.
In retrospect, my humorous response to my wife betrays my arrogance and perhaps even self-righteousness. There is, and always will be, the distinct possibility that my understanding of things is faulty; and humility in such matters is an important thing that we all too often leave behind.
It seemed that I had once again gotten myself into some discussion online, and I felt like a sheep among wolves in the discussion about the value (or supposed lack thereof) of peaceful conflict resolution. Though this debate will continue to rage on, it has become my perspective that Christians should seek peaceful solutions to conflict, rather than seeking to justifying a so-called “right” to use violence to solve problems.
As is often the case in such discussions, a hypothetical situation was mentioned: a fictitious evil thief comes to break in and steal, and how it is not only a right, but a duty to destroy all who might infringe on our territory.
I understand that social media cannot do justice to such widely contested and nuanced topics such as this, and I do not bring it up to continue the debate. Rather, I mention it because it revealed in myself an inconsistency that I had never thought about.
Fallacy of False Dichotomies
This hypothetical situation about the thief is one that I had never been able to answer properly. What would I do? I’m not sure, since it has never happened to me; and realistically it is something that most of us will never have to face.
But the responses we often prepare ourselves for are almost always ones that involve violence against the offender or to allow the violence of the offender to go unchallenged. Neither of these options is truly redemptive to all the people in the situation—both the victims and the perpetrator.
But were these the only options? Perhaps there are other options.
In philosophical terms, when trying to reason through such discussions there is in logic the fallacy of false dichotomies. This fallacy is committed when a limited number of solutions are offered, but where, in fact, there are more possibilities.
Yearning for a Third Way
In this case, the options presented are not the only options available. There is another way. In the hypothetical situation of the thief, it is assumed that the only options are to destroy or be destroyed.
But for the first time when I thought of this fictional scenario, I yearned for a solution that protected myself while also restoring what was broken in the life of the thief. I longed for a third way.
This is That
As if a lightbulb came on, suddenly what I thought was a discussion about violence and peace became a lesson to me about about something totally different: preparedness. For what am I preparing myself? Am I preparing myself to do violence, or am I preparing myself to defend the dignity of all persons, both my own and that of a burglar, in a creative and peaceful way?
Jesus tells us in Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
This verse was incredibly convicting to me. Hypothetical situations aside, I had not been storing up good in my heart in many areas of life. And how often is this the case for so many of us?
We prepare ourselves and posture ourselves to defend ourselves against so many potential dangers. We store up in ourselves self-interest. We store up in ourselves answers to questions so that we can hit others over the head with our vast knowledge. We store up for ourselves money and power to use against those who might be different from us.
But how often do we think about how we might be a blessing to others? How often do we store up in our hearts different ways of showing Christ’s unconditional love to others? How often in discussions have I prepared harsh words to make someone look unintelligent instead of preparing words of love and kindness?
Take, for example, a scene in Les Misérables. A thief, Jean Valjean, steals from bishop Myriel, and when he is dragged back to the church by the authorities, they tell the bishop that the thief claimed the goods were a gift. The bishop immediately responds by saying that they were a gift—though, in fact, they were stolen.
That, however, is not the end. The bishop tells the thief that he forgot the most valuable gift behind and hands him a pair of expensive candlesticks. Moved by this act of grace, the thief changes his ways. Though a fictional story, this is a great example of a man who was prepared to act in creative and peaceful ways that allow yet another opportunity for redemption.
A Toolbox in the Trunk
I like to keep a small toolbox in the back of my car. I keep some basic tools inside in case something breaks down or I need to fix something when away from home. These tools each have a different function, and I hand-selected each one with a purpose to deal with a variety of situations. These tools have been incredibly helpful for me in many situations, and interestingly, I use them to help others more often than I use them to help myself.
I prepared myself with some tools that help to fix things. As situations have arisen, I have found that those tools are what I have to use to help myself or others. The same is true with the first-aid kit I keep in the car, or the Band-Aid that I keep in my wallet. In those moments of crisis, the only tools at my disposal are those I have prepared.
Prepared For What?
In the same way as a toolbox in my car, we can prepare our hearts and train ourselves to respond in certain ways. We can store up in our hearts words and actions that build up, or we can store up for ourselves weapons that tear down—and what we store up in our hearts will also spill over into our lives and to those around us.
In each of our lives we will experience different forms of conflict and crisis. This is part of the human experience. When we do experience it, however, what have we prepared in our hearts? Is it tools to help mend the brokenhearted? Or weapons that have no function outside of self-interest? It does not take much effort to respond selfishly or defensively.
The challenge—and the goal—is to respond in a redemptive manner that seeks not to condemn, but to bring life.
Kevin Wiebe is the pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship (Stevenson, Ont.) and a member of the EMC Board of Church Ministries. He has a BA (Communications and Media) from Providence University College. His six-lesson video study on Povology (poverty, theology, Church, and you) is available for free download and use by EMC churches.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference