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The congregational challenge

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I’ve had a lot of questions since Gathering about how congregations should respond to the Board of Faith and Life (BFL) resolution on women in ministry leadership. I’d like to reflect on some of them.

Is BFL going to resource congregations?

Yes. There are already a number of items on the conference website (www.mbconf.ca/believe/wiml/index. en.html), which can form the basis of a discussion. The BFL is preparing a guide booklet that will explain issues related to this matter at a lay readership level. Further, the video curriculum “Interpreting the Bible” (www. kindredproductions.com) provides teaching on studying the Scripture holistically. Someone suggested that the plenary session in Calgary was itself a workshop on conducting a discussion of this subject.

Why did BFL resolve to ask congregations to carry out the decision-making task?

The national conference cannot speak specifically to the mission of Pacific Grace Chinese in B.C., Terre- bonne in Quebec, Sunwest in Alberta, or any other church. Each has a specific history, membership, and mission context. One church may be free to provide equal opportunity for women and men to serve as sen- ior pastor; another may restrict women’s opportunity to associate pastors. Some may sense a need to change.

Won’t this lead to each church “doing what is right in its own eyes?”

The issue is not one just of interpretation but of the kind of people we are: a people who can remember the past and yet know how to go on in a changing world. We start with the authority of the Bible found in its inherent truthfulness and the story of our confessional commitment. We then move to our mission and con- sider the local context. Congregational engagement reflects an Anabaptist core value: that God reveals his will through an invitational process involving the Spirit-led people of the body.

Won’t it divide congregations?

This may happen if a church is out of practice engag- ing issues corporately. However, I believe the approach BFL took in study, symposia, drafting a resolution, get- ting feedback, revising the resolution, and finally vot- ing on it, is a model for churches. As in the conference, people in every congregation have differing opinions on this matter. Difference carries the seeds of conflict, which could divide. But engaging each other in love and

mutual understanding carries the potential of new paths in truth and witness. Churches may discover something otherwise unavailable to them: a story and calling no other person or process can create for them.

What if this is a “non-issue” for our congregation?

The real “issue” is about releasing the gifts available to us. Our discussions should lead us to ask: What is our context? What is our mission? What gifts are available to achieve our mission? Does our leadership model reflect the biblical expectation of a range of gifts required to bring the church to maturity (e.g., Ephe- sians 4). When we say “non-issue,” it should mean that the gifting issue has already been processed; it should not be an excuse to avoid the discussion.

Are there other dangers in this approach?

Yes. A church may be in conflict and it might be inap- propriate to add this to the burden. A church may dis- cuss the placement of women in ministry leadership assuming it’s about equal rights. This is a product of worldly thinking, not kingdom thinking, and will skew the spiritual character of the body or loosen its grip on the authority of Scripture.

Is BFL pushing every church to adopt women as senior pastors?

No. The resolution does push us, however, to consider the possibility within the framework of our theology and mission. Every congregation’s objective is to ask, “What would God have us do in releasing the gifts of both men and women for kingdom work?”

Where will this lead us as a conference?

I hope it will lead to the development of godly character in members and congregations (as our vision statement says). I hope it will foster theological training, discipleship of adults, and practice in conflict/controversy management. I hope it will cause churches to refocus their mission. I hope it will lead to the discovery of “Danielle Stricklands” who will extend God’s kingdom anew in our world.

David Wiebe is executive director of the Canadian Con- ference of MB Churches.

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