MBH: The conference has undergone some major changes in the time you’ve been in leadership. How do you guide a conference through such changes?
DW: Number one, you pray a lot. I try to take one retreat day a month to pull back, see where things are going, think things through. [On the Women In Ministry Leadership (WIML) resolution], I came out of a prayer day saying, if it’s God’s will, then we’re going to press forward with this thing and bring it to the conference for a vote. Prayer really was key for me about that issue.
The second thing is relying on the team, a broad set of people who work through change because they believe in it and keep driving through.
Thirdly, I’ve tried to stay open to what people think and want to express. My email box is open, my phone line is open. Keep relationships really strong, and that’s how you can work your way through change without jerking everybody around. Beyond that, if you have your ear to the ground and are listening to people, you’ll build something that is actually palatable to most people.
And maybe that’s a fourth thing – trying to be a calm centre.
MBH: As a leader, how do you make decisions about when to push through and hope the constituents come along, and when do you wait for them to be ready?
DW: There were some items which seemed to really set well in terms of timing and others seemed to be just a little bit ahead of the pace of understanding and the pace of acceptance. [At] the back end, you have to be serious about taking the comments, feedback, suggestions, ideas – not being defensive about critique.
Case in point: Regenerate 21-01 in Montreal in 2008. We knew we were pushing the limits so we proposed response cards. I took those very seriously, worked through all of them a number of times. The fact we have a measures committee right now is the direct result of reading some of those comments.
MBH: What has been your greatest challenge as executive director?
DW: Early on, finding my voice; not really knowing how much of a voice I had in the conference and needing to earn it. Secondly, building our staff team after the governance model was introduced. Third, WIML: having people understand that our mission needs to drive our decision about readiness for women in leadership in the local church. It’s not about the egalitarian-complementarian argument; it’s more about what mission our church is on, what’s our context, [then] let’s figure out what’s best in this scenario.
MBH: Greatest success?
DW: WIML – the fact that we actually put that resolution forward and there’s been some response. I think that God is preparing us for better, more effective, and more varied leadership in our churches, and more effective outreach in our country.
Validating the international body; ICOMB is starting to get some traction among us [and] I feel that’s a product of my enthusiasticinvolvement.
I’d love to say Regenerate 21-01, but I can’t yet. I’m glad we started it, it has a lot of potential, but it’s way too early.
MBH: Biggest disappointment?
DW: We’re too homogenously white/Caucasian – in our leadership in the conference, in our
staffing, [in our] boards, who attends our conferences, everything.
MBH: What are our strengths, and where is the Canadian MB church headed?
DW: We’ve grabbed hold of Christian service, peace and justice issues, as part of our witness, which is great. There are churches that have food banks or participate in something like that, where they serve their communities.
The other trend I’ve seen [is that] we’ve validated short-term mission experiences as a tool for discipleship. I really appreciate what Randy Friesen’s brought into play with MBMSI. I keep hearing stories of churches [who] send young people and adults on mission and how it affects the dynamic of discipleship within their own community. For 150 years, we’ve been about mission. That will continue.
Another is our entrepreneurial spirit – we’ve always been very inventive, and that’s the key to the future. If we give churches/people/individuals freedom to exercise their entrepreneurial spirit for the sake of the kingdom – it’d be brilliant. Of course, a lot messier.
We’ve graduated from having pretty thick borders that separated us from our world to being more evangelistically oriented, more capable of including the outsider; from facing inward to facing outward. We’ve now moved much more toward organic church-based multiplication, and there’s stuff bubbling up that’s quite different yet.
MBH: Among the myriad evangelical and Anabaptist denominations worldwide, what do the Mennonite Brethren have to offer?
DW: The evangelical-Anabaptist blend. The identity piece in the Herald written by Doug Heidebrecht (“Centred on Jesus”), that really outlines it. All components are typical to evangelicals, but it’s the interrelationship between the components that I think the Mennonite Brethren offer. That’s where we chart a path that’s a little different than pure evangelical or pure Mennonite. Our evangelicalism kicks in beyond the classic Mennonite position [in that] we emphasize conversion and new life components.
MBH: What have you learned from your interaction with the international church?
DW: Peace and justice witness is seamless with evangelism. Churches grow because they’re involved in addressing social needs as much as their proclamation of Christ. I think church planting is a core value of many of our conferences. In Paraguay, Oscar Peralta (of the Spanish MB conference) was telling me they have 50 churches in their conference and they expect that every one of them is going to plant another in the next 5 years. The church in other parts of the world really “gets it” regarding outreach, evangelism, church multiplication.
MBH: It’s a historic time for the MB church (150th anniversary). Why step down now?
DW: Some of it is personal, partly because I’ve been travelling for the conference for 20 years. Yes, there’s a certain sense of personal tiredness, looking for something that might be a little more “contained,” in terms of a job, but I also need to open this up for the next generation to step into leadership. We’ve got Regenerate 21-01 on the go, and I think [we need] a leader with a different spiritual sensibility, another kind of leadership, and more recent experience in the church.
MBH: APEX is a consultation designed to help mid- to late-career leaders identify roles and methods to finish well. What role did it play in your decision to resign at this point?
DW: [ReFocusing and APEX founder] Terry Walling guided me through exercises to look at my major role: irrespective of my assignment, who am I and what have I got to offer? Once you get a handle on that, you say “can I live into my current assignment with that?” It was a very insightful and eye-opening experience for me.
MBH: What advice would you offer to other leaders in the last years of their careers/ministry?
DW: In those back end years, it’s possible to be fairly cynical. Number one, don’t give up on the possibilities. Second, if you don’t know what you have to offer, take some time out to figure that out. That’ll help you finish your last major contribution well, so you’re thinking, “God has a purpose for me, here’s what he’s built into me; how I can I honour God by living that out?”