A Mistake to Assume, Rather than Seek to Understand
By Jen Isaac, Morweena, Man.
I recognize the frustration of those who feel held back by EMC policies in regards to women in pastoral roles. However, I am saddened and disappointed by how quickly we assume the worst of our brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with us.
I have heard it said that in the discussion of women in leadership we need to keep two things in mind. Egalitarians don’t have their beliefs because they are throwing out Scripture, and complementarians don’t have their beliefs because they want to “keep women down.”
If you believe women shouldn’t be pastors because you believe the Scriptures say this, that is not sexism. You just interpret Scripture differently than egalitarians. If you have this belief because you feel women are inferior, that is sexism. It’s about the heart. We damage the church when we attack each other instead of trying to understand each other’s hearts. Continue reading Letters September 2021→
On November 26 and 27, 2020, the EMC Ministerial gathered to talk about sex. The irony was not lost on us that a discussion about our bodies was held entirely on Zoom. But though this was not what we first planned, the format allowed people across the world to join in on an equal standing. It was a rich and thought-provoking time together. Continue reading Same-Sex Attraction, Pastoring and the Church→
WORLD—The EMC’s ministerial on June 26, 2020, held its national meeting by Zoom, spending an afternoon where it listened to opening thoughts by the BLO chair and learned of coming events, heard five challenges based on Acts 2, met in small groups for discussion and prayer, and shared thoughts as an entire group.
Thank you to Terry Smith for his reporting on this year’s EMC Ministerial Day [July]. I am, however, concerned about the content presented on this day. I am concerned about the gender stereotypes apparently presented as fact, and how these stereotypes limit both men and women. I am also concerned that a supposed “feminization” of the church is blamed for declining attendance for men. Most churches have a group of women who have faithfully served God for many years, often in roles behind the scenes. Some women have felt called to leadership positions but were limited in their service due to their gender. It is not helpful to blame women currently in the church for the men who do not attend, or to measure “success” by male/female ratios. Churches should be places where all people feel welcome and can hear the good news of Jesus, and where they can serve God with the gifts He has given them.
TABER, Alta.—The EMC’s ministerial on July 5, 2019, considered how to respond to people questioning their faith, adopted a new process for preparing for ordination, heard the General Board briefly update on the matter of women in leadership, and prayed for the needs of ministerial members and congregations. Continue reading Ministerial Looks at ‘Questioning Faith’→
LORETTE, Man.—The EMC’s ministerial on Nov. 23, 2018, was led briefly by Brian Reimer, discussed ordination within Scripture, heard stories of “the joy and burden of ordination,” learned of a new process proposed for ordination, and ended with a sharing of ministry joys and concerns. And, in a day devoted to a discussion of ordination, a continuing issue raised was how this related to women.
Richard Klassen, BLO chair, welcomed ministerial members. Pastor Brian Reimer, of the host Prairie Grove congregation, read Scriptures from both Testaments interspersed with congregational singing. He highlighted those serving in music ministry on this morning because they were young people who persevered through a tough period in the congregation’s history. Richard Klassen said that there was no better music than when a group of church leaders join in song.
Ordination in the Bible
Ward Parkinson (Rosenort EMC) said ordination is practiced among denominations of different views. Within the EMC ordination is both an act of the local church and the conference; the conference also practices commissioning for a definite period and task. Affirmation in service is needed by the BLO or the BOM.
In AD 235 Fabian was elected bishop when a dove sat on his head; today, if we were to take off the roofs of churches and let the Lord do his work, Layton Friesen would have the best shot, he said.
There is no prescriptive designation of ordination in Scripture, and so some people set it aside, Ward said, but Scripture has descriptions of it, obedience requires ordination, and Scripture lists requirements. In a survey of Scripture, Ward listed the ordination of Aaron (Ex. 29:9), the Levites (Num. 8), and the 70 elders (Num. 11); the transfer of priestly authority from Aaron to Eleazar (Num. 20:25-27); and the commissioning of Joshua (Num. 27:18-20).
In the New Testament Jesus is the High Priest, our Mediator, who has opened a new and living way. All are priests, yet leadership is needed. The Twelve chose Matthias by lot (Acts 1), had authority, but there’s mention of them appointing successors. The seven are appointed (Acts 6) with no mention of them being deacons; the ministries of Stephen and Philip seem more apostolic. Barnabas and Saul are set apart to serve as missionaries (Acts 13), and they appointed elders in each church (Acts 14).
A companion is chosen to accompany Titus (2 Cor. 8:19). Gifts are given for church’s edification (Eph. 4:11). The Pastoral letters have more on appointing or ordaining leaders: there is the laying of hands and perhaps prophecy. The effect is binding, not casual, with no room for carelessness. The church is not to ordain without testing (1 Tim. 5:22). In Timothy’s ordination, Paul laid hands on him and a divine gift is mentioned that Timothy is to keep burning (2 Tim. 1:6). Paul left Titus to appoint elders in Crete (Titus 1:5); and the lists of qualities in an elder (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Tim. 3:1-7) combine the needs of good character and sound doctrine. There is a need to entrust the teaching of the gospel to reliable men (2 Tim. 2:2).
In NT times there was little distinction between an elder (respected, perhaps older person) and a bishop, but Cyprian in the third century AD saw bishops as the successors of the apostles and the hierarchy became entrenched. The Reformation saw a priestly role rejected in favour of the pastoral, with education and doctrine having priorities.
Ordination is more than a human rite; it is an equipping through the laying of hands and a role that is a gift of God, Ward said. Leaders are selected by congregation or appointment with neither less biblical. There is to be testing of study, doctrine, reputation and character. The setting apart is a life-long process. Eugene Petersen says we are “lashed to the mast”; not that you have it, but that He has you. The laying on of hands is common and confers something, though the meaning is unclear.
Stories of the Joy and Burden of Ordination
Four ministers shared their thoughts on being ordained.
When Frank D. Reimer resigned at Prairie Rose and an expected successor withdrew, he became the next logical candidate who was elected before he, too, resigned. Edwin served for decades. Was he called? Moses resisted until God told him to “Shut up,” pack his bags, and go to Egypt. He was set apart as spiritual leader with a responsibility to preach the Word, which he accepted. He learned that his time had to be flexible, had to adjust from moving from being teacher to a pastor (and living on a pastor’s salary), and accepted counsel not to neglect his family. He will never forgot how he was installed as pastor in the morning and officiated at his first funeral in the afternoon.
He has served 20 years in the EMC (Stony Brook) amid a sense of inadequacy that has kept him reliant on the Lord. His journey has taken him through an EMB church plant, training, and a call to a Baptist church; a mentor helped him prepare for ordination. He didn’t feel worthy, but if God was in this, he was prepared to carry on. There is not a lot of biblical support for ordination, for “pomp and ceremonies” and “diplomas.” He doesn’t know the significance of ordination and doesn’t use “Reverend” except when writing to a court where it makes a difference. Being ordained has helped him in difficult times to be reminded that pastoral ministry is more than a job; it’s a calling in which he was set apart. The authority of a pastor doesn’t come with the position, but is a voluntary submission.
Vern (Riverton) was in grade nine when God laid it on his heart to be a pastor. Influential in his connecting with the EMC were his wife Lana’s Pelly link and conference pastor David Thiessen. Crestview wanted an ordained person, but he asked it to hold off on ordination for a year or so. Ordination later happened. It reminds him that he is part of something bigger, and the sense of calling holds him in tough times so he don’t leave when it gets hot.
He is concerned about training—too little and, on the other hand, burnout from too many demands. Jude 20-23 is a key passage for his ministry, summing up pastoral work as gritty, but with a huge amount of blessing. He loves that the Lord has called him to this and at times he “would give it away for a nickel.”
Now a church planter for the EMC in Ste. Agathe, Man., Dick said he had been commissioned at Rosenort EMC as a youth pastor where it was suggested that he pursue ordination at some time. When he looked at the paperwork involved, he didn’t see it really affecting what he was doing in ministry. It’s been a four-year process of working through the required reading; the point, short answer, and essay questions; and other portions. He has struggled to pursue ordination because he has been waiting for the church to call or select him.
Ordination means to set apart for a particular responsibility for leading and serving Christ’s bride, the Church. It signifies a formal recognition of someone who’s following the Lord in an example that others should imitate. What difference would ordination make for him? It represents the affirmation of the church and helps develop a deepening sense of responsibility for the Church. How can the church take on more responsibility for ordination?
Looking at How We Ordain People
Layton Friesen said that the BLO heard calls from the church to strengthen and enhance ordination within the EMC. A proposal was sent, discussion will occur, changes might happen, and a decision will be made in July 2019. Verbally and in a written document the proposed process was outlined.
Rather than a “pass the exam” process, there will be a seven-month (Oct.-April) ordination course where ordinands become a cohort (a unit) of leaders who will meet together (online or in person) during this period.
A required set of readings and written reflections will relate to skills, theology, history, spirituality and character. A pastor in the region will serve as a mentor and the conference pastor and church planting director will host periodic forums online with the cohort. The candidate and mentor will spend months preparing a theological questionnaire. Only those affirmed by the mentor will proceed to ordination. The cohort will be examined together in a retreat in May where the examination committee can respond to each candidate with an unqualified assent, qualified assent, or dissent.
The BLO feels that it should no longer exam or ordain deacons because their role has changed in most churches. Teaching scripture and doctrine is no longer a central to it, and most churches have moved to terms from life callings.
Instead, EMC orientation evenings for deacons should be held. Deacons would not form part of the EMC ministerial (unless they have already been ordained and then their role would continue). All deacons would be welcome at the ministerial retreat. If a church wants a deacon to teach and discern about doctrine, it can seek their ordination and the new cohort process would apply to such candidates as well.
There are some positions (parachurch, college professors, or chaplains) where ordination can be pursued without the place of service being directly in a local church. If a minister no longer serves an EMC congregation, their ordination would become inactive after one year; they are not “defrocked” and their ordination can be reactivated at the request of an EMC church.
There was considerable discussion throughout the day. On the proposed new process of ordination, here is some of the feedback.
If the mentor doesn’t approve a candidate, what recourse does the candidate have if they disagree? [Unclear.]
The current ordination process seemed strangely isolating and lonely. A cohort is better.
Uncomfortable with the key push being theological. [How do we test for character and integrity? Mentor and congregation will help.]
Is there room for an ordinand to have input on the selection of a mentor? [Yes.]
Include the church in the process more; the pastor should be the mentor. [The pastor will be a mentor, but an outside mentor is also needed.]
Lots of people fall between the cracks because the local church fails to initiate. Nudge the BLO to work with the church. [Needs to be a both/and.]
What is the educational requirement to be ordained? [None yet. What should be the requirement?]
Needs to be more “bite” on the process or transfer of ordination. Those who resist it need it the most.
Some modification is needed for churches who already have a preaching team and minister-in-training process already in place. [Agreed.]
Like the process. Big part of leadership development is relationship. Another mentor pouring in is great.
Sharing of Ministry Joys and Concerns
There was a time for sharing of joys and concerns and prayer together.
LONDON, Ont.—The EMC’s ministerial on July 6, 2018, heard a devotional by Jacob Enns, learned of Layton Friesen’s first year as conference pastor, and considered The Mission of the Church.
Richard Klassen, Board of Leadership and Outreach chair, welcomed ministerial members, noting that he had previously spent nine years in the region. Pastor Jacob Enns (Leamington) provided the devotional, telling delegates that they must go beyond interpreting Anabaptist history as when the Church got it right and that Jesus is lucky to have us. Rather, despite obstacles the Church has succeeded miraculously well because the message of the cross was central. The story continues. Let’s continue as disciples, the ones who are fortunate.
Layton Friesen, conference pastor, began serving about a year ago with “ignorant bliss,” has encountered major challenges among churches, and looks forward to the future. He has learned of the “heroic ministry” that occurs across the EMC.
He had several observations. First, the EMC lives by friendships, not a bureaucracy. Second, there is a need to walk with churches that suffer and ex-pastors need care. Third, pastoring in the EMC is the art of achieving a “glorious, widespread” mediocrity—the ability to do many things adequately without being a genius in any. Fourth, he needs to better deal with stress. Fifth, there is a need to remain faithful to Scripture amid society—including “the Benedict Option” and to be more intentional about spiritual formation.
Relatedly, the EMC needs to re-examine how we make pastors, and the November meeting will explore a move from a “challenge the exam” model to a six- to eight-month program for ordinands, he said.
Missions and Church Planting
Much of the day was spent on The Mission of the Church—actually limited to foreign missions and Canadian church planting. Fred Buhler, Board of Missions chair, said its guiding principles include that we are more effective working together; he’s concerned by a lack of vision when a local church says it only has enough funds for local needs. Staff members want to be invited by local churches to assist people to be involved, and he assumes that BOM materials are distributed and used.
The BOM is evaluating the work in Guadalajara, dealing with changes in giving patterns, and is involved in missionary member care. Its role is to plant churches in other cultures and help them form local associations.
A Missionary’s Role
A cross-cultural worker, whose identity is hidden for security reasons, addressed the home church and the missionary. Local churches need more than to be directed or passive about missions. They need to teach missions, be aware of movements in the Global South and East, consider appointing a missions pastor, and seek how to identify people to serve despite our individualistic western culture. In the tensions between people and process, he warned against going it alone or affirming “lone ranger” outfits who “swoop in” for people and money.
The missionary needs to be involved in the local church, to esteem others, to guard against a sense of entitlement and being critical, to welcome accountability, communicate clearly, and report creatively. Donors are to be seen as partners, and the missions committee is to care for its members.
A Pastor’s Role
Ward Parkinson (Rosenort EMC) serves in a church involved in missions for generations. There is blessing in the involvement; the dangers are that the church will rest on its laurels, forget young people who grapple with a sense of call, and see missions as only far away.
A pastor’s role in supporting missions involves five opportunities and three tensions. Two opportunities are to regularly mention missions in preaching and to pray (bulletin notes, EMC Day of Prayer, prayer teams). Third, when inviting missionaries to your church, give them lots of time. Fourth, invest in young people and discipleship related to missions. Fifth, connect regularly with missionary (even by a video chat).
There are three tensions. First, how EMC Missions is to be promoted. Short-term trips are useful for a young person, but help them to understand how they might fit into EMC missions. Don’t assume; help them to make connections. Second, let people go, especially if they are “the best.” Rosenort has freed Scott and Debbie Dick to go to Ste. Agathe. This isn’t subtracting; it’s multiplying. Third, your support as a pastor is important. Make it personal.
Ken Zacharias, director of global missions, said that fully administered fields and associate missions are both arms of EMC Missions. He spoke on member care and the need to debrief missionaries. He referred to 16 questions from Dr. Laurie Gardner, Wycliffe member care, with two key questions being, “How are you doing?” and “What is hard right now?” It might be children, culture, immediate family, finances, languages, or physical health. National staff members are willing to assist local churches in debriefing, he said.
Trisha Reimer, a BOM member, spoke of Missionary Advocacy Teams. There is a need to be more effective as people prepare to enter missions service, are on the field, and after. Missionaries look for team support. Within the local church’s support team, specialists are needed in encouragement, logistics, finances, prayer, communication, and re-entry support. There is a need for team building and training.
A discussion time centred on a proposed change to missionary funding for fully-administered fields (Paraguay, Mexico, Bolivia) where, in future, missionaries might raise 40 percent of their support. Some people responded negatively to the proposal.
Fred Buhler replied that people give to a cause or a person they know, not a pool of funds. Phil Hamm, a BOM member, said that reduced giving is driving this agenda; the EMC can’t borrow money, doesn’t want to recall workers, and wants to send more workers.
People wondered if the amount to be raised could be reduced or if a root cause analysis of giving patterns had been done. Tim Dyck said the EMC is generous in its support, but needs to learn from what other denominations are experiencing.
Ken Zacharias said that workers are sent by all of the churches, yet a few workers aren’t getting support because the EMC can’t afford it. One pastor said that missionaries aren’t getting into our churches, and another said the EMC is grieving over changes.
Called to Church Planting
Charles Koop, director of church planting, said starting new congregations is stepping out, not knowing about resources. Several church planters then shared their stories.
Jacob Enns (formerly New Life) described church planting as “glorious and messy.” He didn’t anticipate the opposition and attacks he would face. The highs were hope amid anticipating new life. The lows were when people came with wrong motives, seeking to run the church through the pastoral couple; or when people came with great promise and potential, but did not stay.
What would he do differently? He would try to display greater patience, be a better judge of people’s motives, work on being a team leader, better discern people’s abilities, and not be alarmed when people walk away.
Antonio Pitta (Iglesia Emanuel) said one challenge is cultural because Latinos are passionate, quickly angered, and make it personal; they escalate beyond what is right and wrong. An episcopal system works in the southern hemisphere, and he wondered if the EMC should encourage some churches to be episcopal to fit within the culture.
Another challenge is economics. Immigrants often accept low-paying jobs because their credentials are not recognized, or they are to put family first rather than study. People find it hard to accept that a pastor has a salary or a sabbatical. Few families tithe and preaching on giving helps little, so it’s difficult for a church to be self-supporting.
People who work two or three jobs don’t have much time for church activities, so he is concerned how to make good use of the time. The second generation has education and money; the church does not want to lose them spiritually.
His joy is in the Church of Christ, being with other mature believers. What would he do differently? There is a need to plant a church as a team with other mature Christians, so work is more joyful.
Randy Fehr (Grace Community Church) said the past while has felt like “sucking slough water.” He was helped by seeing children serve communion, through community, and by remembering Hagar with her “wild child” who knew God as “the one who sees me.”
Challenges come through “dissidents” from other churches, and attitudes toward immigrants and people with mental illnesses. When the church outgrew its rental facility, it shifted its location and service time. Most people left, and the church returned to its former location with lower numbers.
What would he do differently? Some people might have stayed if a building program was started, but GCC values renting. He drew upon 1 Kings 13 for a “crazy story” of a prophet who searched for an easier message when he should have stayed the course.
Troy Selley (Oak Bluff), chair of the Church Planting Task Force, said the most important activity to spur revival in a church is to plant a new church. Speak to an established church to send out good people and resources. Most churches have a solo pastor, an administrative assistant, a tight budget, a board, the need to balance local growth and international mission, and volunteers—yet revival stems from new churches.
Leaders need to create a personal passion for church planting. Invest time in studying church planting, train church planters in your church, create real-life opportunities, and start with “Wow!” (Andy Stanley), not how. Don’t be a dream killer.
Prayer was said for a church planter.
There is a need for flexible funding models. [There is flexibility.]
C2C Network is a good organization. God is at work in a broader context.
When a community becomes multi-cultural, use retired missionaries.
ROSENORT, Man.—The EMC’s ministerial voted on Nov. 26, 2016, in strong support of the revised draft Statement of Faith; heard reflections in suffering by David Funk; and ended with a time of prayer.
Ministerial members were welcomed by host pastor Brian McGuffin (RFC), who led in a devotional based on Psalm 27:1-4. Our response to fear is to place our hope in someone who is not fleeting, Jesus Christ, he said. We need to keep our core identity in Christ and serve him whatever happens.
Outline of History
Alvin Plett, vice chair of the Board of Leadership and Outreach (BLO), outlined the lengthy process of consulting churches that led to this moment: churches studied the 1996 Statement of Faith and responded with revisions; in early 2016 a first draft of a revised edition was sent to churches and they studied it; in July 2016 comments were recorded and a second draft was later sent to churches.
Churches were invited to read their responses to the second draft, and the committee was to respond to clarify matters. On who could vote, the constitution’s wording was somewhat ambiguous, Plett said, but to restrict it to processed leaders would not allow some churches to vote. The BLO decided that churches should decide who could vote on their behalf.
If an article in the proposed statement received support of 80 percent or more, it is finished, he said; if less than that, further revision was needed. The desire is that the statement will be written in such a way to work together.
Fourteen churches provided written responses. Depending on their length, responses by up to three churches were read at one time.
The themes that emerged were an appreciation for the committee’s work, support for the revised statement, and suggestions on changes. Dr. Darryl Klassen (Kleefeld), chair of the Statement of Faith Review Committee, and committee members Ward Parkinson (Rosenort EMC) and Henry Friesen (ConneXion) listened to responses and provided clarifications.
When one church, Steinbach EFC, responded with lengthy suggestions, these were considered useful, but better to have been received earlier and difficult to incorporate at this stage.
One minister asked, is this the final vote? If an article receives 80 percent support, it is, the vice chair responded; beyond that, options exist. Tim Dyck, General Secretary, clarified that because the Statement of Faith is part of the EMC’s constitution, the conference council oversees any change to the constitution. The Constitution requires a gap of time between churches being notified of a proposed constitutional change and the vote for change. The revised Statement of Faith likely will not be approved till Nov. 2017, he said.
There was a time of prayer before voting. The ministerial was then asked to vote on each individual article and, additionally, on whether footwashing should be moved to the Church Practices section.
While the votes were being counted, Alvin Plett introduced Ralph Unger as the EMC’s interim part-time conference pastor. With 40 years of experience in pastoral ministry in and beyond the EMC, and service as EMC moderator, Unger brings a rich background. The search continues for a conference pastor, Plett said.
Ken Zacharias, EMC Foreign Secretary, reported that he and Fred Buhler spent two and a half weeks visiting churches and leaders in Paraguay. Zacharias oversees EMC Missions’ work in Bolivia, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Buhler is the EMC Board of Missions chair, and has served as a missionary in Paraguay.
Prayer was requested for Judy and Dave Schmidt; Judy has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Ken said that ministries in Paraguay carry on, though they look a bit different after responsibilities were transferred to national workers.
Zacharias said that evangelicals form a small part of Paraguay’s population (five to seven percent), but he anticipates much growth in the next decade. One church has six outreach points, he said. Pray for the missions staff in Paraguay, who are doing well and are encouraged.
Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, said that God is working overseas and in Canada. Why are we a conference? he asked. It is so more people become part of the Kingdom of God. The EMC is interested in urban church planting and has become a partner with the urban church-planting resource C2C.
He outlined some recent activities: a Chinese church is connected with Fort Garry EMC; an outreach is happening in Ste. Agathe, Man.; Living Faith Fellowship in Two Hills, Alta., has a pastoral couple; and the presence of immigrants is an opportunity for believers.
The Church Planting Task Force has two problems: the need for money and people to start a ministry. Kingdom building is what it’s all about. We hope to get in on what God is doing, Koop said.
The results of voting showed strong support for the proposed Statement of Faith. Only one article, on God the Spirit, received less than 80 percent; and 75 percent voted to move Footwashing to the Church Practices section. These two matters will be addressed. On the God the Spirit section, concerns had been expressed that it moved away from “He” language and did not explicitly mention gifts and fruits.
Belief Amid Suffering
David Funk (Fort Garry) was asked to present “A Theology of Suffering,” but he said that implies he has it figured out, which he doesn’t; but he could talk of Christian belief in the midst of suffering.
He and his wife Kendra have four children—Ethan, Abigail, Rachel, and Elijah—but only two are alive.
Rachel Amariah, when about 14 months old, died from congenital problems in 2011. What is it like to carry a baby that you know will die? Only a mother who has done so knows, he said. They decided to have another child. A few days after his birth in 2014, Elijah Cohen suffered mini-strokes; life supports were removed shortly afterward.
David has a deep respect for his wife Kendra. They have struggled with grief, trauma, guilt, and spiritual crisis. David said that the prayers of lament in Scripture allow his faith to survive.
Only through the Cross do we come to know God. The lament psalms are intended for public use, and teach us that the path to doxology is through the truth of what life is like. To exile lament is to exile those who suffer, he said.
In walking with those who suffer, be a humble learner. Their church’s absorbing some of the cost of their grief has allowed them to survive spiritually, emotionally, in marriage, and as a family. “Compassionate presence” allows a hurting person to be honest about their pain and to hurt our hearts too—beyond detached caring, he said.
The ministerial then gathered in the basement, discussing in small groups how to walk in suffering and with those who suffer.
A time of prayer followed. Among the items shared were for the interim conference
pastor, the church in Brandon, a former conference pastor now older and in ill health, for the congregation at Two Hills, and for the ministries of Fort Garry and Rosenort EMC.About 4 p.m. Barry Plett (Blumenort) led in a prayer of blessing as the meeting ended.
Statement of Faith voting results
Percentage of 68 votes
God the Father
God the Son
God the Spirit
The Dignity of Human Beings
The Fall of the Human Race
The Life of Peace
Believer’s Water Baptism
The Lord’s Supper
The Return and Final Triumph of Christ
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference