There has been a lot of discussion following the Executive Board’s announcement that Willy Reimer would be leaving his position as executive director. Moderator Bruce Enns provides his personal perspective after reflecting on a difficult time.
It’s been a week since the announcement that Willy was leaving. What have you been thinking about during that time?
My mind has gone to Lamentations 3 since I think it applies in various ways. It acknowledges our need for grieving while giving us a perspective of courage and hope.
“I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
These verses have been a great comfort to me. I have also been encouraged and very thankful for the many expressions of prayer, interest and concern for our conference, and especially for Willy and Gwen.
Why didn’t the board announcement give more context given the magnitude of the decision?
The meetings last week presented a huge challenge for me and all of the members on the executive board. Not only did we have to face a heartrending decision about Willy, but we had to deal with other pressing board business, while trying to appropriately communicate a very difficult decision. I knew the official announcement would be inadequate and raise many questions since communication in the midst of rapidly moving events is typically a challenge. I hope the responses I provide today will provide some insight.
What was the main reason Willy had to leave?
It is my belief that many things accumulated over time to develop mistrust between board and staff – and it went in both directions. There was no one weakness or incident related to Willy that led us to the final decision. There were complicated, layered issues, some smaller and some bigger. Some are Willy’s to own and some need to be owned by the board. But by either not recognizing them, or by not being willing to see them or deal with them, they grew larger with more implications, creating more mistrust. Again, it goes in both directions.
Willy is a strong point leader who has taken our conference a long way with passion and faith, which made this decision so challenging. Many have responded well to Willy’s leadership while some have had challenges with his style and approach.
Without the confidence of the board, any executive director is not going to be able to successfully lead, especially in challenging times. It was evident that this level of confidence was not there. At the same time, Willy didn’t have confidence in the board’s mode of operating. After taking everything into account, the board decided that Willy should not continue in his role.
This has been an extremely difficult decision to make given that Willy is a godly man whom we love and respect deeply.
What do you mean by “the board has issues to own”?
My personal observation is that the current, and previous boards of the past few years, have to take their fair share of responsibility for where we’ve landed today. We have not implemented or lived out our governance model the way it was intended. Our current structures and relationships are complex and very challenging to lead. Our current representative board, with a high turnover rate, is not working well.
This left Willy in a vulnerable position that would be difficult for anyone to lead. The broken parts of the system further exposed points of conflict. All these things together led to a breakdown in relationship between Willy and the board.
How is Willy dealing with the situation?
I can say that he has walked with much grace through this painful process. The senior leadership team has done the same and we appreciate how they have conducted themselves in these difficult days.
I remain in contact with Willy and will continue to support him in any way I can. We have known each other for a long time and our relationship is important to me.
Who is going to fill the executive director position?
Ron Toews is now the interim executive director for the immediate short-term and we’re working on plans from there.
The board appointed Michael Dick as assistant moderator.
The board has indicated their desire for each of the senior leadership team to continue their work. We have a gifted and passionate staff throughout the conference who are committed to the mission before us and we will stand behind them.
There are some incredible ministries happening across the country through our MB family as a whole and also in the ministries of CCMBC such as L2L and C2C. Transformation continues to happen; God is at work among us.
What challenges do you see ahead for the conference?
Our big challenge is that we are not aligned well for truly being on one mission together as we’ve been talking about lately in our MB family, and I see this as a critical moment for us. We need to first decide if our entire MB family desires to be together on one mission that is local, national and global. Then, we will have to figure out how to collaborate as we work together toward this goal. Lastly, we need to set up better support structures that allow for the best way forward.
I think our structures will need to look radically different. This seems to be an appropriate time for reviewing where we are and then making the necessary changes.
One of the structural changes is in process. Our Legacy Fund is well on its way to being established and I come away from these meetings confident of our financial stability in this area. There will be an opportunity to ask more questions during a moderated conference call Dec. 13, 2016. (Details forthcoming.)
Another challenge is to develop more effective two-way communication strategies across a large nation in 2017. I commit to work diligently with the board, staff and our MB family to address the issues in front of us; to listen well and communicate as transparently and effectively as possible. But people have also wisely commented that we need to refrain from the urge to move and change and strategize quickly. Although there’s much to do, we need to pause and listen to the Spirit of God, trying to gain a better sense of what God doing in our midst right now?. I know I need more of that in my life right now.
We need a season of Advent – of waiting, of longing for Jesus – of hope in the Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
How has this process affected you?
I have had a whole range of emotions from disappointment, to deep sadness, to the anticipation of change and wondering what Christ is doing through all this in our MB family. I have also had anger – not at any person, but at the one true enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy our trust, unity and convictions around our mission (John 10:10). Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
Throughout this time, I have known what it is to be upheld by many faithful prayer warriors. I am grateful and humbled.
I remain excited for what God is doing in our churches. I know there is a strong commitment to our mission of multiplying Christ-centred churches to see Canada transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. God is still on the throne and we trust he will lead us by his Spirit through this.
May God give us wisdom, humility and courage as we continue to walk in faith.
Do you have anything else to add?
Please pray for Willy and Gwen – they are dear people who are loved deeply.
“What was the main reason Willy had to leave?”
No answer. This, in itself, is part of the problem with the church. Questions that concern church unity and division are cloaked in political correctness. It sounds accountable, with no accountability to the body of Christ.
Warren, you raise an important issue about accountability. As a leader in the conference, I want to be accountable to the body of Christ. At the same time I want to be accountable to Willy and his family. There is a tension there. What can I say to help people understand some of the thinking behind the decision which would not cause further pain to Willy? What information would be helpful to a larger audience in the long term?
I am striving to provide a broader perspective on the reasons for Willy leaving which includes the important point that there was no one weakness or incident related to Willy that led us to the final decision. It is my judgement that to get into specifics would not be helpful. I am fully aware that the answers I am providing will not satisfy everyone but I will continue to keep striving to find the right balance.
Thanks for your understanding
Part of the problem of not identifying the problem is the following:
People can`t pray for the issues specifically.
People often assume it is something that it is not which leads to gossip and false assumptions.
eg: A pastor once noted that his associate had to step down. He said, “I`ll tell you what it is not.” This left an ambiguous list of what it may have been causing unnecessary gossip that was false because the leadership could not be accountable to the issue. It`s the typical method that caters to admission, not confession.
It`s too bad really. Bad mark on the church in my opinion. No accountability. It`s no different than the world.
I agree with Warren. The things that grow in darkness are generally unpleasant. Bring the situation to light. Now we wonder is it: conflict of vision and purpose; a doctrinal disagreement; insubordination; incompetence; a moral lapse; personality conflict; etc. etc. ? Where do you think this will end? Why not go there now? Where does the Moderator’s resignation fit with all of this?
I am not trying to sound partisan in my opinion. However, I always believed that the Mennonite faith was the one that set the Christian standard for open accountability, confession, reconciliation and repentance.
It all seems to be buried now in the politics of church government, which in turn, lacks the transformative testimony that represents the incarnate Christ to the moral relativism of the modern world.