MB convention at West Portal Church affirms long-term vision
On a prairie sky far in the distance, the sober rumblings of change can be seen but not yet heard, inciting careful preparation for action.
Saskatchewan is a world leader in uranium and potash, and a growing producer of diamonds. Small towns are booming throughout the province. Stories of Catholic, United, and evangelical churches partnering together are less rare, as congregations brace for survival in “a secular age.”
The provincial MB conference turned a corner March 14 and 15 at their 62nd annual convention, when they voted in a new board that will overhaul church planting strategy. The Harvest Saskatchewan team hopes their study of the missional church “DNA” will encourage churches to support one another to accomplish their goals, rather than act independently. The new board is a transition from the conference-led Key Cities Initiative.
Strategy clear, but open-ended
Last year Dwayne Barkman, the steady voice behind the initiative and pastor of West Portal Church, spurred a mission mindset among members and led the work of strategic long-term thinking. Initially Barkman’s vision had been to develop a new generation of pastoral leaders. When the nationl conference suggested Saskatchewan become part of Key Cities, Barkman’s vision grew into a Saskatchewan-wide move towards “making missional disciples, raising missional leaders, and shaping missional churches.” Already six churches have been given $7,000 to expand their influence in the community, and there’s another $80,000 budgeted for the coming year.
“We don’t want to see ourselves as a cookie cutter board,” said Barkman. “We want to say – what is God’s Spirit saying to you?”
The strategy includes inter-church prayer trips and learning visits to “best practice locations” in order to equip and inspire. Small groups of people who struggle with similar questions but who are from different churches are encouraged to meet in “pods” to brainstorm questions like “What is a house church?”
“You’re ahead of the curve about what’s going to be presented at the national conference in Montreal,” said Ewald Unruh, Canadian conference staff member whose role includes fostering church plants. “We’re rekindling something about the early church and going back to Anabaptist roots. Each member was a missionary in 1525.”
A spirit of outward-looking partnership is already evident in various communities. Beechy reports a 10-week partnership with Anglican, United, and Catholic churches to watch the DVD “Living Water,” popular with young people, and powerful in breaking down old prejudices. A Wynyard Evangelical Mennonite Missions Conference (EMMC) church, where 10 denominations are represented out of a group of 30 people, recently took on MB leadership.
Stories of reinvigorated mission were given – Gerald Epp of Blaine Lake, who has served a monumental 24 years in one location, reports a successful dinner club and cookbook publication, along with a building expansion for the youth group (see page 6). Crossdenominational openness has increased, he said.A lso, involvement in Love Saskatoon took a twist when five churches approached the Saskatoon mayor and asked, “What would you do if we brought you 1,000 people to help you?”
Barkman, who served in pastoral ministry for 19 years, announced his “positive” resignation a week prior to the conference. He will continue at West Portal until July, after which he has no definite commitments.
“There may be some concern that leadership is saying ‘We really don’t know where we’re going, but we do know that we’re on the right highway,’” said moderator Ron Dyck. He assured they were “listening very hard” for decisions about timing and resources. Another concern was raised by Rob Kroeker, from Waldheim. “We’ve been here for 100 years – where are our First Nations churches?” A grassroots approach, he said, is good for reaching those in our milieu, but how can the church reach boom towns and the migrant worker context without old-style top-down conference initiatives?
“The challenge today is to not just go out and plant churches. We need to build the church on discipleship,” said Barkman, who says the missional attitude is not a move away from conventional church, but an awakening of its original vision.
Keynote speaker Trever Godard focused on discipleship the opening Friday. His own experience discipling a motley crew of young Colombian men shaped his ministry. “How can we be sure where God is working and distinguish between those who are willing to pay the price, and those who aren’t?” He noted that true faith is seldom found in crowds, promises of commitment, or people who are unwilling to be interrupted in their work. To gain disciples, “there should be no other way to explain our lives than the supernatural,” said Godard.
On Saturday, conference minister Ralph Gliege had members light their own flames from candles set up in various “regions” throughout the sanctuary, representing the churches. “With just the church candles lit, the sanctuary is still dark, but when each member lights their candle, the room is full of light.”
- Clarence Peters of Waldheim MB resigned after 17 years of ministry, effective July 31.
- Provincial BFL board member Menno Martens presented a book on the history of the Saskatchewan MB church, once the largest conference in Canada. Rooting the Faith: A Saskatchewan Mennonite Brethren Story of Losses and Gains was written by Harold and Neoma Jantz (see Notes, Crosscurrents).
- Doug Heidebrecht, instructor of biblical and theological studies at Bethany College, resigned and was named director of the Centre for MB Studies in Winnipeg. He and his wife’s strong presence will be missed by many (see News, People and events).
- Bethany reports a small surplus due to generous donors.
- MCC Saskatchewan director Bruno Baerg announced his resignation. He was key in facilitating discussion between the many coloured organization and evangelical churches.