The 89th convention of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches
In a city filled with joie de vivre, more than 330 delegates and guests met to celebrate, reconnect, and hear a vision that would launch the Mennonite Brethren denomination into a new decade of ministry.
Under the theme “Living God’s Call Together,” Montreal was host to Gathering 2008, July 10–12.
At the Thursday evening celebration service, keynote speaker Bruxy Cavey set the tone for the entire event. “A spiritual family is a tremendous gift,” he said. “But it’s also a danger – it can become our spiritual ghetto.”
As he spoke on Matthew 9:37-38, Cavey explained that we shouldn’t be praying for the harvest, but for willing workers to go into the field.
“Maybe we don’t have eyes to see that the harvest is already ripe. We should be praying that we get off our butts and get into the field!” he said.
In the same spirit, the Canadian conference executive board presented its main recommendation, an initiative called Regenerate 21-01. Described as “a prayer and process for change,” the program aims to see 21st century churches reflect a first century dynamic – to be more mission-minded and passionate in reaching their neighbours.
“People in Canada are bypassing our existing churches, so this new initiative will help people encounter Christ,” said executive director David Wiebe. “Will there be challenges? Sure. Will there be blessings? Absolutely!”
Regenerate 21-01 will distribute $4 million over five years in three key areas: church health, developing leaders, and reaching out. Local churches will be able to access programs in each of these areas in order to stay healthy, mobilize leaders, and reach their communities.
The money for the programs will come from Stewardship reserve funds, grants, individual donations, and participant fees. Per-member norms for individual churches will not increase.
Regenerate 21-01 represents a new level of national-provincial collaboration, cooperation between the conference and its agencies (such as MB Biblical Seminary and MBMS International), and a renewed vision for local church-driven ministry.
The shift to locally based ministry will be most evident in the area of reaching out. As the Key Cities Initiative (a nationally driven church planting strategy) draws to a close, Regenerate 21-01 will provide resources and subsidies for individual congregations to plant daughter churches and start new ministries.
This is a major shift from the pioneer-style church planting of the past, where very few formal connections existed with other local congregations. Now, healthy, reproducing churches will be encouraged to develop parent-church networks with other congregations and offer church planter apprenticeships.
“Over the past year, the B.C. conference has placed its potential church planters in church-based internships before launching a new plant – it’s a great example of how successful these internships can be,” said David Wiebe. “God is working!”
In the area of leadership development, a wide range of resources will be available, such as the Entering Leadership Initiative for new pastors and cohort learning for seasoned pastors.
In the area of church health, tools such as ReFocusing, Natural Church Development, and stewardship training will be provided for individual congregations on a broader basis than in the past. Dave Jackson, director of church health for the Canadian conference, will be joined by other staff to help congregations clarify their vision and mission.
“We want to make ReFocusing available to all our 250 churches,” said Wiebe.
A huge financial commitment
The executive board presented Regenerate 21-01 with some trepidation. “We’re releasing a significant amount of money into a national program,” explained Wiebe, “so we’re open to course correctives.”
Executive board member Jack Falk assured delegates that there would be a high level of accountability surrounding the initiative. “Staff will have shorter term contracts and we will monitor church participation.”
“We want to live God’s call together from a financial perspective,” said moderator Jascha Boge. “God has blessed us with our Stewardship fund. Through prudent management of the fund, our two talents have now become four. It’s up to us to use [the surplus] wisely.”
During an open-microphone time on Friday morning, delegates raised concerns about Regenerate 21-01.
“Strong biblical research and theology is needed,” said David Eagle of Saanich (B.C.) Community Church. “Strategies and programs won’t suffice to help the Canadian church reach into the culture and reach people for Christ.”
Dora Dueck of Jubilee Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, agreed. “I don’t see money being directed into Board of Faith and Life (BFL) initiatives, such as pamphlets or Christian Education resources.”
“We need a more careful reflection on the past 10 years – some assessment about how we’ve done regarding church health and the Key Cities Initiative. How many churches did we try to plant [through KCI] and how many are still surviving?” asked John Unger of Fort Garry MB Church, Winnipeg.
David Wiebe assured delegates that a formal assessment of the KCI program would be forthcoming, and that consultation meetings regarding Regenerate 21-01 would take place in every province.
Overall, the delegate response to Regenerate 21-01 was positive. “I’m leaning in,” said Ted Klassen of Culloden Church, Vancouver.
“Winnipeg is working collaboratively – I’m enthusiastic,” said Vidya Narimalla of Kitchener (Ont.) MB Church. “We’re raising up leaders – I’m enthusiastic. We’re reaching out to the lost – I’m enthusiastic!”
The nearly unanimous vote on Saturday morning confirmed delegates’ affirmation of the recommendation, which included a sub-project called Horizon Quebec.
A taste of Quebec
To launch Horizon Quebec, provincial hosts treated delegates to a colourful introduction of francophone culture. Worship was conducted in English and French, led by Dan Loewen and a team of musicians from various Montreal churches. Plenary sessions were translated into both languages.
And Experience Montreal, a bus tour through one of Canada’s most beautiful cities, proved to be a highlight for many. (See story, page 11.)
Montreal’s beauty, however, was overshadowed by the city’s deep spiritual hunger. “The Quebecois are a very spiritual people, but they’re searching,” said Patrice Nagant, evangelism and church planting director for the Quebec MB conference. “What would happen if we had the resources for more missionaries committed to the kingdom of God in Quebec?
“Horizon Quebec is an invitation to dream with us. Imagine adopting Quebec as a mission field in Canada. We’re ready to see Quebec shine for Jesus, but we need your help,” said Nagant.
This vision prompted several delegates to consider relocating and joining the ministry. “Even though, as an executive board member, I knew there would be an announcement about Horizon Quebec, I was quite unprepared for the way God seemed to wrap his hands around my heart and fondly tug, saying, ‘It’s time to come home to Quebec,’” said Kristen Corrigan of B.C.
Delegates approved a $4.2 million budget for 2008–2009. The $800,000 increase from last year is a reflection of monies earmarked for Regenerate 21-01 programs and staff.
The MB Biblical Seminary (MBBS) norm was increased from $15 to $17 per member for 2008–2009, and will increase incrementally to $19 in 2010 and $22 in 2012 until the Canadian conference norm is on par with the U.S. conference norm. In order to stay fresh and relevant, MBBS announced it would add more online and module courses, and begin offering seminary courses to churches.
Delegates approved new bylaws for MBMS International, as the agency continues to undergo transitions following the dissolution of the MB General Conference.
Mennonite World Conference (MWC) will host its next Assembly in Asunción, Paraguay, July 2009. “We may not be able to speak each other’s languages, but we can sing each others’ songs,” said Ray Brubacher, MWC’s associate secretary for events and administration, who encouraged MB delegates to attend the event.
The Board of Faith and Life (BFL) announced it will hire a full-time staff member to be “the ongoing voice of theological reflection” in the Winnipeg office. BFL chair Ken Peters was also optimistic about what the denomination will learn from Horizon Quebec. “Quebec is postured to interface with a secular society. They’re going to end up teaching the rest of us,” he said.
Moderator Jascha Boge announced that Gathering 2010 will be held in Vancouver, in conjunction with the U.S. conference and the 150-year celebration of the MB denomination, sponsored by the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB).
Delegates left Montreal inspired and challenged. Time will tell if MBs across Canada will take up the challenge to enter the harvest field with first-century passion and unity.