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Discipled unto mission

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This is part three in a six-part dialogue on the subject of discipleship. We invite and encourage you to submit your thoughts and opinions by email at mbherald@mbchurches.ca.

As we continue to talk about discipleship from an MB theological and practical perspective, we move into the subject of mission. My observation is that in essence and practice, our view of discipleship leads the disciple towards tangible acts of mission. Discipleship for us is not simply “Jesus and me on the mountain top” but it is actually “Jesus and me leading others to know him and his kingdom principles.”

The MB story is one of mission. Not mission conducted only by professional clergy but mission initiated by laypeople. Our view of discipleship is not simply  “Grow,” but also “Go.” Like the New Testament Church, Mennonite Brethren s have been engaged in gospel proclamation everywhere they have migrated to. 

It is essential to note the MBs have a holistic approach to mission. It encompasses both gospel proclamation and incarnational acts of mercy and justice (I will explore more on this subject in the following article). To this end, we invest significantly in preparation, collaboration and activation for mission.

We prepare for mission

The MBs have been diligent over the years, establishing schools and programs that instruct and equip disciples for mission work. Bible colleges, university and Seminary, have been, and are still essential components of the strategic goals of this denomination. Informal mission-focused programs such as SOAR, TREK and ACTION are foundational to the MB discipleship ecosystem. Several of our larger churches have initiated and maintained unique equipping programs, and some provinces now invest in a grassroots program called Leaders Collective. The annual financial commitment from MB churches and individuals to support these programs is in the millions of dollars. The MB commitment to discipleship onto mission is great.

We collaborate towards mission

We display our high value for mission through active participation in joint venture programs. Our support, ownership, and participation in collaborative organizations such as Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), and Mennonite World Conference (MWC) are reflective of our convicted heart for mission. Add to that several other mission-related relationships are carried by individual churches, making the list of ventures is too long to transcribe. Another critical collaboration between churches and provincial conferences is the investment in local camps. Our MB camps are settings where both equipping for mission and mission outreach happen. Here again, our convictions are reflected not just in the millions of dollars spent on funding, but also in the thousands of volunteer hours that are invested annually.

We are activated for mission

We prepare and collaborate, but we also send. The diligent investment of the Canadian MB church in the global work of Multiply is significant. We not only support it financially but with missionaries, support staff and temporary workers. The call to “Go” continues to be trumpeted by our family’s mission agency. We are also active participants in the work of ICOMB. Our international community represents a membership of 23 nations. Another 30 plus countries await official membership status. This substantial growth is in part the result of activation towards mission. We go and join others in support as they go. 

Nationally and provincially, the MBs have expressed their desire to see the establishment of new communities of faith. Our investment in this area has been significant over the years. Although we have encountered bumps along the road as it relates to church planting, our belief remains that Christ continues to call for the expansion of his kingdom, locally, nationally and globally.  Mennonite Brethren have always been and remain a people who disciple unto mission. 

How have your experiences shaped your understanding of MB discipleship? Please share your thoughts and opinions by emailing us at mbherald@mbchurches.ca.

Hover Box Element

Campers and staff at the week-long Christian day camps in Snow Lake, Manitoba, 1979.

Mennonite Brethren mission efforts in Canada during the 2nd half of the 20th century often involved week-long vacation Bible schools (VBS) or day camps staffed by college students during the summer break. Mission administrators scheduled these camps in communities where there was prospect of planting an MB church. Sometimes small group Bible studies emerged through the winter among the parents of those children that attended the summer VBS. Over time some developed into MB churches. Evidence of this missional strategy can be found in each province where MBs established themselves. 

Reader response to part two:

Respect required

Thanks, Elton. I consider differences between Mennonite Brethren and my experience in the United Church, where politics dominated. In my previous context, a common question might be: “How can we get this policy through or educate the conservatives out of their errors?”

 Discipleship in community implies respect for God speaking through the other, including the small and outlying churches and not just me or us (the small group). We academics typically know a lot about a focused field, but our students think that we are general experts. We can go two ways: pretend to be experts in all and make a mess or remind students that we need to learn from other experts and the students’ questions and comments.

Denominations and congregations of superstar pastors are precarious. I had not thought of the colony background to facilitate listening and working together. Still, I observe the outcome among MBs even generations away from communal living. Humble but confident (in the Lord) leadership is very appealing.

Richard Lougheed,

Community Discernment

I find myself wishing these ideas were the reality in the MB churches I know. In particular, the idea of a true plurality of leadership, without the hierarchy inherent to the title of pastor reserved for the very few, would be wonderful to experience. 

About community accountability, I have this observation from growing up at an MB church. Twice from my teen years, I remember the public acknowledgment of unwed pregnancy. Meanwhile, it was widely known that an elder in another MB church had declared his business bankrupt while hiding assets with family members. His loans were with the local credit union, meaning that he was defrauding local people, many of who were members of our churches. That man was never even privately held accountable, let alone dealt with publicly. 

My point is that we must have greater community discernment and decision-making to effectively bring about accountability that moves past cultural definitions of what grieves God’s heart.

Robert Thiessen,
Oaxaca, Mexico

A commitment to learning

Thank you, Elton, for highlighting the integral part community plays in discipleship. We see it clearly in our master’s calling and mentoring his disciples, the early church (which you referenced), and in the life of the apostle Paul. Discerning together and determining a path forward in community is crucial, but it does not come without its challenges. In our very recent history, we have seen an example (MB Mission & C2C = Multiply) where we believed we had discerned together what was best yet to find out we might have missed the mark. But we certainly have learned, and I believe, have taken steps to help us better discern as a community what the Spirit is saying? Our commitment should be to keep on learning and growing in this interesting dance of good planning with Spirit direction.

With “Great Expectations,” I look forward to seeing how we approach discipleship in this season and the ones to come.

Willard Hasmatali, Pastor
Riverhurst Community Church,

Longing for a spirit-led community

In this discussion, I hear that we deeply believe that we need each other to be able to follow Jesus. Our ancestors (ethnically/spiritually) shared much in common — including many difficult experiences. Perhaps that made community discipleship both necessary and natural for them. It seems like discerning God’s Word/Spirit together was also both necessary and natural. When we take time to study the Word, pray, share, learn, and discern together, does this not also give the Spirit space to work? Without the Spirit, could any people group even come to a unified confession? When space is given for a diversity of voices to be heard (and listened to ), does this not also naturally lead to greater mutual accountability? Our culture around us doesn’t seem to make community discipleship seem natural or necessary. We no longer share the common experiences of our ancestors (persecution, forced migration, etc.)

I admit community is not always an easy choice for me, in part because of my own story and personality.  The pressure for leaders to discern on behalf of the community seems strong. As does the desire to leave the decisions to the superstar leader — both give the Spirit less space to guide all members in the community into further obedience to the Word. 

Community can be good; a Spirit-led community is what I think we all long for. I think most people desire community, but will our communities choose shared experiences (even the difficult/messy ones) that lead us collectively to follow Jesus in the ways of our ancestors?

Jacqueline Block,

The Individual identity issue

Elton, I love these conversation primers on discipleship! I couldn’t agree more with you as you shared your thoughts on discipleship within the community for the sake of community. Here in the West, individualism leaves its fingerprints on the church and distorts our understanding of discipleship. Your call back to communal discipleship is timely and needed! 

As I read your article, I couldn’t help but think about our need to see the local church as the family of God that we are a part of (1 Tim 3:15). When we become Christians, we like to focus on the individualistic aspect of what Jesus has done for us. We tend to forget the other important reality that God the Father adopts us into his family. This family manifested in the local church is what God uses to play a profound role in our formation as disciples of Jesus. 

How would discipleship change within our churches if people within the local church saw themselves as spiritual mothers and fathers and committed themselves to younger believers? How would discipleship in our churches change if we as a family became concerned about each other’s spiritual growth, just as much as our growth? 

To move forward in our understanding of discipleship, we need to look back. We need to re-embrace the idea of community and the role of community in forming disciples in the household of God. 

Luke Etelamaki, lead pastor,
The Compass West,

1 comment

Rick Block April 23, 2021 - 13:17

Greetings to the MB community – I appreciate this dialogue that digs deeper into understanding our identity and ways of being and doing, for the purpose of further growth and maturation of us, as a body. I have been thinking about this current conversation begun a few months ago. In relation to Anabaptist (and Mennonite) culture and thought, I often think of the “in the world but not of the world” construct. That’s a constant tension for sure, and even our descriptions of what constitutes “the world” and being “in” or not are not fixed over time. As MB’s we have been fairly open to certain changes, and resistant to others – indeed looking back is always more clear than looking forward, but it can be be useful to help guide our way (as discerned through by the community). In my perspective (I offer this as one of many voices), I see a lot of influence in our churches’ ‘being and doing’ that stem from a business/industry mindset. Its not the inherent elements of business/industry are contrary to Christian community, but rather the proportionate weight with which we utilize a business mindset in defining our questions and making decisions. Being efficient and productive (especially in tangible ways) can occupy a disproportionate weight in our decision-making, as well as defining “who” ought to be the decision makers. In scenarios where this approach is strongly valued, the tendency seems to favour fewer individuals pouring in much energy to cast vision and weekly/annual direction while being supported by the larger, involved-yet-less-engaged group. In the short term (perhaps referring to 20 years or less), this may seem attractive, but I believe it has a significant, hidden longer-term costs – that of prolonged dormancy in relation to the exercising of spiritual gifts of the community, the risk of losing the continuity from one generation to the next the values and practices of being true ‘stakeholders’ in one’s community of faith. Leadership (esp as it relates to identity and vision) has such an important role – my reference to leadership here is not only defined as per the official positions, but moreso in the culture and practice of how leadership is exercised and shared within the whole group. Robert Thiessen’s lament for true plurality of leadership comes into play here. I do believe we could emphasize the importance of astute group facilitation (along with understanding the dynamics of power and voice in a group setting) as a core competence to effectively collaborate and grow as Christ’s body. Our position of being “in the world but not of the world’ is written neat and tidy, but in reality it gets messy quickly – and having the fortitude to name and engage with these messy issues within the larger group conversation is necessary for any stakeholder over the longer term. I pray this conversation continues…not only here but in our congregations, with those who are eager to engage, and with those who have become dormant for lack of invitation or lack of awareness of the opportunity. Blessings to each one as we follow Christ together.


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