U.S. Mennonite Brethren pass million-dollar national conference budget

Delegates approve five recommendations, hear reports, enjoy evening programs

Delegates to the USMB biennial delegate convention, July 27–28 in Omaha, Neb., unanimously passed an historic $1 million budget that increases the national conference’s investment in church planting, national staff, and promotion and marketing. The 2012–13 budget will also help cover expenses of a board of faith and life study conference to be held in January 2013.

This marks the first time delegates have approved a million-dollar budget. A dozen years ago, delegates to the 2000 convention approved a budget approaching $1 million and the following year the board of church ministries (the executive empowered to serve as the decision-making body between regular conventions) approved a 2001–02 budget of $1,087,245. This represented a vision for ministry that included an increase in church planting and the addition of a full-time national executive director and a team of part-time regional fundraisers. When the decentralized fundraising strategy did not work as hoped, the budget was reduced and USMB ministries were downsized.

As was the case a decade ago, the prospect of seeing lives transformed by God as new U.S. Mennonite Brethren churches are planted likely contributed to the delegates’ decision to approve the proposed budget of $1,018,524, an increase of 20 percent over the previous year. Conection 2012 delegates were inspired by stories from USMB church planters, a fervent sermon from USMB executive director Ed Boschman and optimistic reports from national staff members and ministry partners.

Boschman set the tone in his passionate Friday morning address. “I want you to know that we have a vision,” he said. “We are asking God for a whatever-it-takes commitment to getting it done.”

Don Morris, director of the national church planting and renewal ministry Mission USA reminded delegates of that vision in his Saturday report: “To have an integral part in planting six new MB churches each year over the next 10 years and for the resources to get it done.”

Conection 2012 delegates and guests regularly burst into applause and “Amens” as church planters told stories of God at work through Mission USA projects in Littleton, Colo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Denver, Colo.; La Grulla, Texas; Boone, NC; and Clovis, Calif. As the report ended, attendees surrounded Morris and church planters for prayer.

Delegates also approved a proportional funding model for financial support of USMB ministries by constituency churches. Conference leaders hope the new strategy will increase the number of churches contributing to the budget – currently at 30 percent – and the total amount contributed, currently budgeted at $420,000.

Under the new plan, each USMB congregation is asked to forward to the national conference 2.5 percent of their annual income, defined as tithes and offerings received by the congregation to support its general budget. The current funding model bases congregational contributions to national ministries on church membership.

Delegates also approved revised bylaws, the slate of board nominees and a new Memorandum of Understanding that allows the Canadian Conference of MB Churches and USMB to independently form their own Confessions of Faith and outlines how the leadership of the two national bodies will relate to one another.

In other business, conferees heard from board of faith and life chair Larry Nikkel, who set a positive tone for the upcoming study conference, planned for Jan. 24–26, 2013. The study conference will address USMB Confession of Faith articles 12 (Society and State) and 13 (Love and Nonresistance). Nikkel said that fair representation, listening, and prayer will mark the conference.

Fresno Pacific University, the Mennonite Brethren-owned institution located in Fresno, Calif., had the unique opportunity to mark a presidential transition at this national gathering. Retiring president D. Merrill Ewert literally passed the baton to incoming president Pete Menjares during the university’s Saturday morning report.

USMB staff members Aleks Borisov, Slavic ministries director; Connie Faber, editor of Christian Leader; and Myra Holmes, CL assistant editor and USMB social media coordinator, gave updates on their ministries. Representatives from the National MB Youth Conference, Ministry Quest, MB Mission, MB Foundation, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Kindred Productions, Historical Commission and Tabor College also reported.

Evening sessions were intended to be both inspirational and entertaining. Friday evening, comedian Kenn Kington had the audience laughing so hard they cried. Saturday night, Alex Kendrick, actor, writer, and director for Sherwood Pictures, told the story of his congregation’s decision to begin making movies that include Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.

Evening sessions included dinner music provided y Iglesia Agua Viva, a USMB Hispanic congregation from Omaha, and by jazz saxophone player and Omaha church planter and pastor Chad Stoner. Local jazz musicians joined Stoner for a concert featuring the group’s unique form of smooth jazz.

Afternoon activities began with workshops on a variety of topics and two opportunities for delegates and guests to serve and explore Omaha. Stephen Stout, director of Omaha’s Good Neighbor Ministries and a member of Faith Bible Church, organized a variety of service projects Friday afternoon. Delegates and guests interested in learning more about Omaha’s history and the five USMB churches in greater Omaha could enjoy a guided motor coach tour of the city.

The USMB national pastor’s conference was held Wednesday through Thursday evenings prior to the delegate convention. James Nicodem, pastor of Christ Community Church, Illinois, and author of “Prayer Coach,” was the keynote speaker for the pastor’s event that focused on prayer.

Musicians from The Bridge Bible Church of Bakersfield, Calif., served as the worship band for the week.

—Connie Faber and Myra Holmes, Christian Leader

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