B.C. convention promotes multiethnic flair, common vision

Annual meeting of the B.C. Conference of MB Churches, Apr. 30–May 1, 2010

Two churches – who meet at a unique, shared site – hosted this year’s annual convention of the B.C. Conference of MB (BCMB) Churches. Richmond Bethel and Richmond Chinese MB’s co-host pastors told delegates that each church has its normal congregational life in the same building, but they do some things jointly or cooperatively. Pastors Peter Mau and Scott Tolhurst said those joint things must be intentional – they don’t “just happen.”

It was a word that spoke directly to one of the major issues under discussion at this year’s gathering – communication, sharing, intentionality, and common vision.

Conference minister encourages deeper relationships

At Friday evening’s opening session, held in the Bethel sanctuary, conference minister Steve Berg referenced the afternoon’s pre-convention meeting (see page 22), in which many MB pastors and leaders took part. Berg told delegates that everyone needs a spiritual friend –  a soul friend – to shape them.

“Our conviction in BCMB is that we’ll be formed in Christ-like character in friendships. We must also operate in a way that enables us to have the relationships to do that,” he said.

“Marriage and the church are both concerned with covenant intimacy. The more we know each other, the more we are living in a conscience other than our own. We talked this afternoon about identifying issues and about talking to each other. There was at least an opportunity to begin meaningful conversation, part of it about our confession of faith, our theology.”

The theme for this year’s convention was Deep-Spirited Friends, a phrase taken from Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Philippians 2:2 in The Message. Berg said, “I think we need to have a kind of rediscovery of what we would call ‘the brethren.’”

“Covenant relationship of spiritual friendship will only be discovered through the Spirit,” he said. “We are centred in Christ. We are dedicated to the authority of Scripture. We are passionate about announcing the good news. We do exude love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your redemptive work among us! And may it continue to be.”

Celebrating new churches
Following Berg’s address, the convention admitted five new churches into the conference, all recent church plants. Gord Fleming, director of Church Planting BC, said other denominations still think of Mennonite Brethren as church planters, “people with a culture that wants to see lost people come to Christ.”
Among the five was The Rock in Squamish, which was ministering just in time for the Winter Olympics. It’s now concentrating on a storefront drop-in and worship centre. A new venture in Kelowna, called The Abbey, is operating in partnership with Willow Park Church. And three new churches are located in Metro Vancouver: Artisan, in the city centre; Emmaus in South Surrey; and Pacific Grace Mandarin (PGMC) in Surrey, which seeks to minister to Chinese immigrants who are flocking to Surrey due to rapid development and relatively affordable housing. PGMC is the third Pacific Grace plant since the mother church started just 12 years ago.
“The church doesn’t do mission – the church is mission,” said pastor Norm Funk of Vancouver’s Westside Church. Church planting requires prayer, he said. It also needs money, people to go and be part of a plant, and existing churches who are willing to partner with a new plant.

“We need to respond to that call,” replied Berg.

Gord Fleming also reported that, in the past year, Church Planting BC brought on Mark Burch, former pastor of Willow Park Church, in the role of associate director of church planting. With a focus on urban strategies, Mark works closely with planters in Vancouver, and has now moved with his wife Karolyn into the downtown core in order to better facilitate the work in the city.

Status quo budget

Delegates approved a conference ministry budget unchanged from last year – $1.6-million. Director of administration Marilyn Hiebert said that, as of the end of April, the conference is about $144,000 short of its needed income. Part of that figure is seasonally normal. However, about $50,000 of the sum is less than a typical April brings in, so Hiebert suggested delegates take news of the need back to their churches. She said that if each B.C. conference church provided 5 percent of its budget for the work of the larger church in B.C. (a policy adopted at a previous convention), the conference would see annual ministry revenue of about $4-million.

Meanwhile, MB Mission and Service International (MBMSI) spokesperson John Best happily noted that 85 percent of the active financial support for MBMSI’s long-term missionaries comes from B.C. supporters.

BCMB camp ministries, like Church Planting BC, continues to raise funds for special projects and some operating costs, in addition to its ministry grant from the regular conference budget.  Camp ministries raised $1.3-million last year. There were 5,668 campers in the conference’s system of five camps, and more than 1,200 made a significant decision for Christ, according to B.C. camp ministries director Merv Boschman.

A new face in leadership training

Ron Toews joined BCMB’s executive staff last summer as director of leadership development. The appointment fulfills the conference’s desire to recruit and support healthy leaders within healthy churches. Toews’ position provides for “alongside” collaboration and informal work with churches and leaders, as well as systematic training. Toews is already offering training in how to make conflict constructive.

He has also developed a program called In Service, to “address the lifelong learning interests and needs of pastors and lay leaders.” The format, like the conflict series, will vary according to a group’s time availability and size. Sometimes the material will be presented by webinar, bridging distances through the internet. Topics may include working relationships between senior and associate pastors, church structures, how to equip lay leaders, and general soul health.

Other business

  • Delegates formally approved a request from Chilliwack’s Promontory Church to form a separate society. The church currently has no property to transfer, but is looking to acquire lands and buildings in the future.
  • Four churches were released from B.C. conference membership after ceasing operations in the past year: Hillside (Aldergrove), H.O.P.E. (Nelson), Kal Lake (Vernon), and Vintage 242 (Abbotsford). Both Vintage 242 and Kal Lake were church plants. “The task forces and leadership team of Church Planting BC gave their best effort in supporting these plants, but due to circumstances, the planters chose to close the churches,” said Gord Fleming. “It reminds me of a great quote from J. Oswald Sanders: ‘A great deal more failure is the result of an excess of caution than of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.’”
  • Canadian conference executive director David Wiebe reported that with the changes at MBBS-Fresno proceeding, a Canadian commission will meet this summer to redesign a new seminary structure for Canada, and will include B.C. leadership development director Ron Toews on the committee.

—Barrie McMaster

 Overheard

“The majority of British Columbians may live in the Lower Mainland, but there are many kids who need to know Christ in B.C.’s interior. Always remember, geographically, there are kids and families beyond Hope!”Gene Krahn, Pines Bible Camp executive director

“This denomination prays and this denomination gives.”—Gary Swabey, newcomer to MB ministry and pastor at The Abbey, Kelowna

“I come with the goal of preparing and repairing people for local church ministry.”—Ron Toews, director of leadership development

“All our church planters are called by God. We don’t initiate this ministry by tapping someone on the shoulder.”Gord Fleming, Church Planting BC director

“Columbia Bible College is increasing the ‘learning by doing’ part of our curriculum. Think of us as a farm team.”—Ron Penner, CBC president

“Oscar Peterson said it – it’s the group sound that’s most important, even when you’re playing solo.”—Nelson Boschman, pastor at Artisan, Vancouver

“45% of our Canadian population lives in just six cities – Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa/Gatineau, and Montreal.”—Mark Burch, Church Planting BC associate director

“It’s like we tell couples about healthy marriages. A good argument today keeps the devil away.”—Dan Unrau, pastor at Fraserview MB Church, Richmond

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