I was on my first fraternal visit to the Mennonite Brethren conference in Bavaria (VMBB). After good interaction around stories from ICOMB, the pastor hosting us stood up. He announced that his church, and a daughter church, were planning to leave the VMBB. And they did about 18 months later.
As the Bavarians shared underlying stories behind this event, an important detail emerged. When this church was planted 30 years ago, our MB confession was not seriously taught. This lack of attention to identity opened a door to associate with another evangelical faith tradition that pulled them away.
Parents know that attachment is a critical development factor for newborn children. Attachment disorders occur when children aren’t secure in relation to their parent(s). They may too freely attach to strangers, often to their own harm. Well-attached kids move into the world confidently, with healthy boundaries.
The Bavaria churches that split seemed to be affected by attachment disorder.
A leader from Brazil recently said, “ICOMB grew out of a cry for a mother.” He valued MB Mission’s church planting, but when missionaries move on, the new association is looking to establish its identity and needs a community-family. Ideally, missionaries help new churches to know their family, and to embrace their confession of faith. ICOMB provides that family with that DNA for new MB churches.
North American missionaries carry the gospel from a highly individualistic context. The individual is so central to our theology that a mission worker may not be sure how to build a community (church) around the gospel – nor even convinced that it’s valuable.
This agnosticism can be found in the Bavaria story.
Similarly, Colombian leaders once told me that years ago, the MB missionary invited the church he’d planted to join any denomination they wanted. ICOMB didn’t exist yet; it might have helped the “adolescent” church find a family to belong to.
Is ICOMB our “mother?” ICOMB members say “yes” – and they remind us it’s not MB Mission’s job: the mission agency of North American MB churches only functions as the nursery.
This fact will be important as the Canadian conference restructures, especially with the new C2C/MB Mission agency. Mennonite Brethren DNA and family attachment don’t reside in one agency but in the international community of Mennonite Brethren. Strong identity and community are critical to sustainable mission. So, spiritual and financial investment in the success of ICOMB is an investment in our own health and survival as Mennonite Brethren in North America.
If we’re agnostic about that, we risk becoming a Bavaria conference on a bigger scale – disconnected and estranged from our international theological family.
[David Wiebe served as ICOMB executive director since 2011. He retired at the end of June 2018. He says: “This assignment has given me incredible joy and satisfaction. Best job in the world! Our global MB church movement is full of passionate disciples of Jesus with leaders that value our International Confession of Faith, believe in our community, and boldly evangelize, and plant churches – despite opposition, poverty, neglect by their country’s government, and a hundred other challenges. I’ve been inspired countless times in my visits with our global church.”
[Thanks to Alvaro/Gabriel, Theo, Dario, Emerson, Mario, Diego, Ricardo, Carlos, Heinrich, Walter, Andreas, Reinhard, Arturas, José, Gerard, Jean-Claude, Arnold, Phone Keo, Yoshifumi, Don/Ed, and of course Steve. God bless these ICOMB leaders].