There is a body of thought in the national church that Mennonite Brethren “distinctives” no longer apply, that they need not concern us when we train new MB pastors. There is also a body of thought that defends our distinctives with vigour. It argues that our mix of Anabaptist and evangelical approaches to faith is absolutely unique.
Some debates do have significance, and this was one of them. Its outcome will affect future seminary training for MB leaders in Canada.
The occasion for debates was a series of regional summits held under seminary commission auspices to report on thinking done to date, and to ask for reaction from pastors, educators, and church leaders. The first session was held at Abbotsford, B.C.’s Columbia Bible College Dec. 16. The process was repeated in Winnipeg, Jan. 5, and in Kitchener, Ont., Jan. 6.
At issue is devising the best possible training system to meet future MB needs in Canada now that the combined Canada-U.S. structure in MBBS has changed.
“We have a window of opportunity to reshape the way we ‘do seminary’ in Canada,” says commission chair John Unger, “and the seminary commission wanted to hear from our owners before we launch any new initiatives.”
The Canadian Seminary Commission considered input from the series at a special meeting in Abbotsford Jan. 13–15. The broad range of Canadian issues presented to the three gatherings fostered creative, lively, and sometimes passionate discussions.
The issues are immense. (See sidebar.)
There seemed to be consensus that the seminary should provide regional hubs and multiple delivery points for training, that there be a cross-Canada cohort of faculty, that distance education technology be utilized, and that graduate training be ongoing, before and after pastors are credentialed.
In all, 96 people participated in the consultation. “That so many would give up a day for conversation about this issue is remarkable to me,” says Unger. “You will expect action sooner, rather than later. When you see it rolling out, I trust you will still give it your support. We want to keep listening and to be in dialogue with the Canadian executive board.”
“Keep us in your prayers.”
• What are the training needs?
• Should we be thinking of a broader training program than graduate education for pastors?
• How do we teach skills – but also transfer MB values?
• Should we build in a system of continuing education for leaders?
• To whom should the seminary be accountable and what should the nature of Canadian conference oversight be?
• How do we foster centres of excellence when our small numbers are spread so far?
• How do we make training accessible to those who want it?
• Accreditation is important for advanced degree work, so how do we account for “outside” training?
• And oh, yes – who pays?