“You are trying to pass the MB Conference on to the next generation, and that is very nice-but maybe we don’t want it!” That attitude, expressed many times and in many ways, was a notable feature of the 1995 General MB Conference convention in Fresno, Calif. It was a convention characterized by delegates “‘paid’ to be there”, “angry young male clergy” and calls for ‘‘‘real issues’ to be debated on the conference floor instead of behind the scenes” (MB Herald, Aug. 11, 1995).
One year later, at a follow-up meeting of conference leaders, Dan Unrau stated, “The young leaders I work with are not willing to accept a passed baton. They will only pick up a dropped baton.” (MB Herald, Nov. 8, 1996).
So where is the MB conference seven years later?
In spite of the fact that many churches are thriving, there are disturbing signs that ownership in the MB conference is rapidly eroding at almost every level. The mood at the convention in 1995 was cavalier, and there was even some exuberance at the idea of thinking “outside the box” and shaking up archaic structures. The most notable by-product of that convention is the dissolution of the General MB Conference, which will be completed at its final convention this year in Abbotsford, B.C.
The closing off of specific structures is part of life, but this may be the time to reflect a little more thoughtfully about the state of the larger MB conference. It may be time to let the whole thing die, but it certainly will be a tragedy if it dies simply because of neglect and ignorance. It is time for the next generation of leaders to put off glib cliches and decide what we are going to do.
We modern MBs are the beneficiaries of an enormous investment by previous generations. We have colleges, a seminary, camps, missions organizations, relief organizations, periodicals, management structures and more.
For the most part, the benefits of these are simply taken for granted-much as children accept the provisions of the family home. But these structures will not maintain themselves. As a generation, we have been very impatient with the mundane routines required to keep healthy organizations functioning, but now there is no choice-we must either take on these tasks or let the whole enterprise decay due to neglect.
This is not a task which we can simply delegate to those leaders still valiantly bailing water out of a sinking ship. This is a task for which a whole generation of potential leaders is accountable. Do we want what is being passed on or not? We thought we were clever in 1995, but that question will need to be answered-and we will answer to the next generation for what we decide.
If indeed we do want to pick up what is passed on, there is much to seriously examine.
Exactly what are we being given? What are the things of hidden but very real value that need protection and care? And – at a very practical level – what must we do to pass on a healthy legacy to the next generation? But none of these questions has any meaning if we don’t want what has been bequeathed to us.
It is with some chagrin that I write this. I, too, have been very content to remain a sideline critic. It was not until the reality hit home that the heart of the MB conference could be irreparably damaged that I seriously re-examined the role of the conference in my life and that of my church.
I suspect that for many among the next generation of leaders the assumption remains that the conference will always be there in those areas that we need it.
I suspect that if it were established that the conference was in its death throes, a great hidden support would rise up.
I also suspect that unless we wake up soon to the declining state of conference health, much of what we take for granted will be unnecessarily lost.
Do we want the MB conference or not? This is a question only we can answer.
—James Toews is senior pastor of Neighbourhood Church in Nanaimo, B.C.