Letters March/April 2017

Reaching the lost  

We always liked to read what Willy Reimer had to say including the recent column (“Giving and the father heart of God,” Executive Director, November/December 2016). Evangelism and missions are a high priority. We notice in this last issue there is a lot of information about Canada, but we missed the emphasis on evangelism and mission. We trust that our denomination will be soul winning and reaching out to the lost in many ways.

Henry and Lydia Dyck
Steinbach, Man.

What got us here?  

Since Gathering 2016, much has taken place in CCMBC. The Executive Board has convened several times to respond. My response has been to go back and reread the documents, minutes and notes of the last two decades of CCMBC AGMs to understand how we have come to this place. It was instructive.

There have been a number of pivotal moments. One was 2004, when major structural changes were made. Another was 2012, when the Executive Board presented Terry Mochar’s National Office Review. The NOR identified a series of “burning platforms” in CCMBC (“Hearing from the Lord at Gathering 2012,” Features, September 2012).

I reacted then to Mochar’s directives and prophetic language, but rereading the “General Observations” was disturbing. It was disturbing because the very things Mochar had noted as serious problems – misunderstanding the Deposit Fund, declining support from churches and ROI [return on investment for donors] – have grown worse.

The NOR set CCMBC on the course of the past five years. We did not arrive where we are by accident, and we will not put ourselves on a healthy course without sober reflection and analysis. At the very least, we need to carefully review what launched us on this course.

James Toews
Nanaimo, B.C.

 

Need to restore confidence

Like many others, I am saddened by the major challenges now facing the Canadian MB conference.

We, the Mennonite Brethren stakeholders in our conference, need to ask some basic questions. Why has general interest in the Canadian conference declined? Why is conference financial support so weak? Why is attendance at national conventions so low? How can we get more churches to take ownership of decisions made at the national conventions?

As someone who was for three decades active in Canadian conference boards and leadership and a columnist in the MB Herald for almost 40 years, I have drafted some ideas about the current malaise.

The financial problem is not one of inadequate financial resources. Never before have Canadian Mennonite Brethren, on balance, had greater financial assets and higher income than they do now. Even as contributions to the Canadian conference are lagging, local church budgets have never been higher than they are now.

The conference restructuring which took place in 2004 has, in my view, not been successful. Following a common business model, all authority was assigned to an Executive Board and, most importantly, all responsibility for implementing decisions and managing the conference was assigned to an executive director who was to be both national business manager and national conference minister. Even the apostle Paul could not have done that!

Restructuring the conference as a corporate business was theologically inappropriate and functionally unwise.

It will not be easy to restore confidence, to regenerate strong financial support and to rebuild a sense of ownership in the Canadian MB community. But it can be done. Some suggestions can be found in my longer observations (see here). It is not a matter of trying to recreate the past, but of learning from the past.

John Redekop
Abbotsford, B.C.

Mennonite Brethren Herald welcomes your letters of 150–200 words on issues relevant to the Mennonite Brethren church, especially in response to material published in the Herald. Please include name, address and phone number, and keep your letters courteous and about one subject only. We will edit letters for length and clarity. We will not publish letters sent anonymously, although we may withhold names from publication at the request of the letter writer and at our discretion. Publication is subject to space limitations. Letters also appear online. Because the Letters column is a free forum for discussion, it should be understood that letters represent the position of the letter writer, not necessarily the position of the Herald or the Mennonite Brethren church. Send letters to mbherald@mbchurches.ca.

2 Comments on “Letters March/April 2017

  1. The following is An OPEN LETTER to the CCMBC Board of Faith and Life and the CCMBC Executive Board (regarding the issues raised in the Letters column above). It was sent directly to the board on March 3, 2017 and we, the undersigned, post it here as a means of opening up the dialogue to the national MB constituency.

    As a national family, it is clear we are living in a time of transition and challenge. Naming the issues that lie before us as a CCMBC will allow us to collaboratively work together in preserving the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3).

    We value that the Executive Board has taken steps to respond to the motion approved at Gathering 2016 to significantly reduce 2017 ministry spending. This is not an easy mandate to implement but we esteem the follow-through and responsiveness to the voices of member churches speaking into the financial health of the CCMBC that this demonstrates. We also appreciate that the Executive Board has taken steps to increase communication with the constituency. Greater information, transparency and responsiveness to feedback are helpful.

    There are three specific challenges that lie before us which we wish to highlight and to request action on.

    1. Financial Transparency – We repeat the call for CCMBC leadership to provide greater transparency and greater clarity with regard to the denomination’s current fiscal health. Incomplete information in financial updates that makes it impossible to project year-end results in both the church ministries division as well as in Legacy Corp. are frustrating. The absence of clear reports that show the relationship between actual expenditures and budget approved amounts is troubling, particularly when there is a multi-year track record of financial deterioration. Owner congregations have a right to expect regular, accurate, complete reporting on the last decade of CCMBC finances including the evolution of Stewardship Ministries into the Legacy Fund, ongoing budgeting priorities and existing and potential funding models. Despite repeated assurances of movement toward regulatory fiscal compliance, Legacy has yet to be registered as an official entity. What are the outstanding issues that are holding up this application and what is the timeline for addressing them? Clarity on financial matters is especially essential when hiring an Executive Director as well as discerning the potential merger of MB Mission and C2C in November of 2017.

    Action Requested: We formally request the Executive Board to publish and disseminate the 2016 CCMBC consolidated financial statements, the 2017 budget adjustments (in response to the motion approved at Gathering 2016) and to host another finance update conference call before April 30 to answer any questions.

    Driven By: It is our conviction that the publication of up-to-date, detailed statements will build relational equity and confidence between owner congregations, the Executive Board and the CCMBC finance team.

    2. Defining our Theology of Leadership – We were all saddened when existing leadership dynamics within the national office resulted in the need for dismissal of then Executive Director Willy Reimer. We were reminded of the difficult nature of the Executive Board’s responsibilities. Prior to, then, and subsequently, the Executive Board has publically disclosed the need for evaluation and change. We believe as member churches we have a responsibility to speak into both the preferred structure and desired style of leadership.

    Across the nation there is clear evidence of a shared sense of frustration among pastors and ministry leaders about a lack of transparency, poor communication, leadership styles that are controlling and manipulative. With diminishing platforms of conversation and dialogue supplied within our Conference structures, the need for robust dialogue and the exchange of a wide variety of viewpoints on key issues subsequently found alternative expression through private conservations, regional gatherings, phone calls, texts and email threads. While this has been helpful for a few people, it has had limited benefit to the whole family.

    Action Requested: We formally request the BFL to create a family dialogue event prior to November 2017 which will allow a space and place to discuss the theological foundations of our leadership structures and styles, including the criteria required to discern the choice of our new Executive Director. To be clear, we are not submitting that a new E.D. be in place prior to the November 2017 AGM: only that member churches be offered the opportunity to be heard regarding the criteria required for discernment of this important position.

    Driven By: It is our sense that restricted conversational platforms allow assumptions and mistaken information to sometimes hold sway. We are in favour of face-to-face interaction when and wherever possible in addition to any electronic or virtual platforms such as provided through the MB Herald and, or, video conferencing in the future.

    3. Potential Merger of MB Mission and C2C – We wish to express concern around how this proposal is being processed. As reported at the CCMBC family meeting in Vancouver on February 9, 2017, the EB is bringing forward a motion proposing that MB Mission take responsibility for C2C which is to be voted on by delegates at our Nov 2017 AGM. While the appointed taskforce has no doubt been working hard at discerning the rationale for this merger, any public documentation of their efforts has to date been heavy on vision and light on specifics. Member churches and the owner congregations have been supplied no substantial data, no levels of discernment, no financial or operational audit of either C2C or MB Mission, no indication of any critical assessment detailing whether there would be in terms of relational capital, a gain or loss with a merger, no report supplying us the short and long-term effect upon international and domestic ministries, no report of how this potential merger might affect ICOMB and ICOMB-member national conferences.

    The Executive Board is requesting the delegation at our November 2017 AGM to possibly make one of the most critical decisions in decades without honouring owner congregations with information upon which to make such a decision or any substantial platform of conversation upon which to dialogue together over information. More detailed documentation is needed in order to help discern the legitimacy, need, or opportunity such a decision may have upon our long-term welfare. Provincial conventions are not the place to do CCMBC business and the task force and/or the Executive Board, not the organizations themselves should be reporting on their assigned mandate to the constituency who empowered them with it.

    Action Requested: We formally request the Task Force and the Executive Board disseminate a detailed report at least two months in advance of our Nov AGM outlining the organizational, financial and theological rationales that have been considered in formulating their formal recommendation to the constituency.

    Driven By: It is our belief that such a critical decision be entered into with as much prudence as possible and that Conference leadership owes a responsibility to honour member churches/owner congregations with the necessary information upon which to make such a decision so that the delegation can return to our churches with the appropriate information necessary to inform delegates to the November 2017 AGM.

    We acknowledge this to be a season of “heavy lifting” and so we want to be part of the solution. As fellow servants and leaders, we desire to support and assist the Executive Board and the Board of Faith and Life. Know that we are in prayer for you, your families, as well as the ministries that you serve in and oversee.

    With sincere respect and deep love,

    Brad Sumner (Jericho Ridge Church, Langley, BC)
    Ken Peters (Saanich Community Church, Saanich BC)
    Bruce Guenther (Bakerview MB Church, Abbotsford, BC)
    J Janzen (Highland Church, Abbotsford, BC)
    James Toews (Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, BC)
    Dan Unrau (Fraserview Church, Richmond, BC)
    David Chow (Killarney Park Church, Vancouver, BC)
    Arthur Block (Fraserview Church, Richmond, BC)
    Kevin Snyder (Coast Hills Church, Surrey, BC)

    • Thanks for the above open letter. I appreciated both the tone and content. It’s nice to be in the loop on this conversation. Personally speaking, I would also throw in a few comments for us to consider:

      I understand that dialogue across a national denomination is cumbersome and difficult. That it seems like certain decisions need to be made efficiently, and that the work of garnering broader input is just that: hard work. I’ve appreciated the attempts of conference leadership and those with concerns and questions to reach out and dialogue with each other. The conference call late last year felt very healthy in that regard, and even a renewed interest in the pages of the Herald, letters sections, and comment threads is encouraging as well.

      I don’t know if it’s idealistic, but I’d still like us to go a little further down this road. This type of conversation is not an easy thing to manage, I understand that. We are not an easy group to lead, that’s for sure (I’m grateful for the willing few who take on that challenge!). But I guess it’s still hard to know the right avenues for raising concerns or questions, particularly if they go against the status quo. Private e-mails to certain leaders can be helpful, but it’s also good when those conversations happen “out loud” for all of us to hear. Also it’s sometimes hard to know which leader to talk to about what thing, and even to know what other people are saying. I often wonder if I am alone in my understanding on a certain issue, part of a dissenting minority, or part of an encouraged majority.

      That’s what I appreciate about our public gatherings once a year, and even the Herald itself. We are all in the loop, despite our differing perspectives, and we are figuring a way forward together.

      I also wonder if allowing MB Herald reporters more access to offer independent perspectives on what’s going on in the conference may be helpful. The interview with Bruce Enns after Willy’s departure was insightful, I’d like to see more of that type of correspondence/communication. I like when the Herald shares a perspective on events (and even smaller meetings of leaders) that is independent from the “official” perspective of those in charge, though still working in concert with them, and yet supports the overall work of the conference.

      As far as the open letter above, I would welcome some clarity regarding the concerns raised as well, and look forward to the response from the our leadership. I’ve had some thoughts/concerns about the C2C-MB Mission merger, and the process around selecting a new executive director, but am unsure of the best avenue for pursuing those. I trust our leadership group, but also have my own ideas that may (or may not) be helpful. I don’t always know the best way to be heard.

      That’s a lot to take in, I know. But it seems to me that we’re moving forward together, even in the face of disagreement, and this is a good thing. It’s hard work, I can tell, but I appreciate the efforts of all involved. We are at our best as a denomination when we are learning how to dialogue with each other in this way.

      Thank-you!

      Kevin Koop
      Lead Pastor
      Crestwood MB Church
      Medicine Hat, AB

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