The annual convention of the B.C. Mennonite Brethren Conference was not long underway before moderator Ron Van Akker laid out what he saw as the challenge facing the B.C. churches. “I fear that we forget the collective call God has put on us,” he told the 350-some delegates who had gathered on the campus of Columbia Bible College, April 29–30. “Will we truly commit to each other?”
“Last year we committed to a budget we did not live up to,” he continued. “Let’s not say Yes to things we don’t believe in.”
His passionate words were not meant as chastisement, van Akker said, but as a challenge. “Do we want to partner or not?”
Passing the proposed 2006 budget of $1,291,00 near the end of the convention was the delegates’ formal Yes to the question. Even before that, however, affirmation was given through an offering of more than $6,200 for church planting, through delegate encouragements for the five new churches accepted into conference membership, and in a general spirit of both joy and yearning that marked this year’s convention.
Five new churches
Today’s church is shifting away from “large campus-based program-driven gatherings,” Geoff Neufeld, director of B.C.’s Board of Church Extension, said in his report. The board has been working with a number of models of church planting – a diversity reflected in the five new churches:
Together with the Canadian Conference, B.C. has adopted Vancouver as Key City Initiative #4. Board of Church Extension chair Gord Fleming reminded delegates of the “overwhelming task,” especially the financial challenge because of the high cost of living in Vancouver. Several church plants for this initiative are already underway, with further possibilities being considered. Fleming also reported that additional churches have committed to becoming “reproducing” churches, that seven new church planters have been assessed and approved, and that the Board wants to conduct a church planter residency program, in which new church workers can gain experience by working alongside another leader.
The convention also heard stories from two established churches. Pastor Terry Kaethler of Mountain Park Community Church, Abbotsford, shared a story of God’s presence and provision as their congregation faced seemingly insurmountable debt (see “Aligning with God’s deep work,” page 10). Mark Danyluk told how Boundary Community Church in Midway (with 85 people, the “megachurch” in the region of some 3800 people) has sent three groups of people on short-term missions and built a new home for a local man whose house burnt down. “We are learning we’re called to leave our comfort zones,” he said.
Vision and commitments
B.C.’s new conference minister, Steve Berg, had already been affirmed in a series of regional Council of Church Leaders’ meetings last fall, but was formally recommended and received into the role at this convention. In his report to the convention, Berg stated that his vision is “to build a conference of diverse churches who demonstrate that we are the body of Christ by working together and serving each other to strengthen the effectiveness of each individual church in transforming communities, reaching lost people to follow Christ, and multiplying our leaders and ministry.”
Of a list of commitments in his written report, Berg highlighted three for the delegation.
Riding the wave
The B.C. Conference sponsors four camps, and all four reported with enthusiasm. “What a privilege,” said Barry Falk, director of Campfire Ministries (Camp Bob) near Black Creek, “that it’s culturally acceptable to send kids to Christian camp.”
Gene Krahn of Pines Bible Camp, where 48 percent of campers come from unchurched homes, agreed. “We need to be riding the wave,” he said. “Camp ministry is one of the waves right now.”
Board of Camp Ministries chair Glenn Janzen summed up the message of the reports. “Twelve years ago we were asking you to pray for children to fill our camps,” he said. “Now we need prayer for room to take all who want to come.”
When the budget was discussed at the end of the convention, John Redekop, chair of the board of the largest camp, Stillwood Camp and Retreat Centre, said, “I would urge increasing the camp ministry line to more than 4 percent in the future, especially for the smaller camps.” His suggestion was met with applause.
Each of the conference’s seven boards (camping, church extension, church ministries, management, pastoral ministries, executive, Columbia Bible College) reported to the convention, but delegates also had two opportunities to attend board-sponsored workshops to hear of the ministries in greater detail.
The Executive Council presented a notice of motion to change the annual convention date from May to fall, likely October. Several delegates responded to the idea, saying that fall is a busier time for churches than spring and that extra travel expenses may result in pastors choosing either the convention or the pastors’ retreat (currently they are back-to-back events.) Moderator van Akker said this feedback would help the Council think further about the motion. The executive committee consists of moderator Ron van Akker, assistant moderator Arnie Peters and secretary Ron Redekop, who replaces Reg Toews.
The Board of Church Ministries provides resources to B.C. churches in five areas (adult, youth, children, family, worship). Chair John Thoutenhoofd said he is challenging himself and the team to have “70 stories” by the end of next year, by helping at least that many individuals take advantage of something that will refresh and grow them in ministry.
The Board of Pastoral Ministries, which interviewed and licensed 18 individuals for pastoral ministry this year, drew large numbers to their workshop on same-sex marriage, in which Bruce Guenther of MB Biblical Seminary, Langley campus, offered a series of observations on the issue. The MB position on homosexuality is not at issue, he said, but there is less agreement how to respond politically because this involves “other complex issues like church–state relations,” the relationship of Parliament and courts, and partisan politics.
The Board of Management reported that it wants to revisit the issue of the Society Act and possible restructuring of the Conference, motivated by the issue of legal liability. As an interim step, the board has been preparing a book on risk management. Restructuring and also the funding formula for Conference support will be considered in the coming year.
Columbia Bible College (CBC), which recently graduated 110 students, has been through a year of “change and adjustment.” Several circumstances converged to form what president Paul Wartman called “ ‘perfect storm’ financially speaking,” Recently, however, a fundraising banquet raised more than $100,000 for operating costs. The school is embarking with excitement on a partnership with Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University, as well as a School of Leadership in partnership with Whistler Community Church slated for fall 2006.
Yearning: out of pain and silence
CBC’s president also presented the messages of the convention, on the convention theme, “Yearning for God.” Using the parable of the prodigal son, Paul Wartman reflected on the parable of the prodigal son to consider our yearning for God (“born out of pain” as seen in the young brother) and our yearning for community (“born out of silence” as observed in the older brother.) At his request, the convention’s worship band, led by Nelson Boschman, played U2’s “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” (U2 was performing in Vancouver the same evening.) Said Wartman after the song, “I believe God intends us to live with ache in our soul.”
The “scandalous thing” is that the father in the parable also yearns for his lost son, said Wartman. The father interrupts his son’s intended speech about paying off his debt by becoming a servant, telling him he can never pay it off but is family. This is “the gospel of heaven.”
Yearning for community, Wartman said in his second message, “is born out of silence.”
Church today is often covered with “a veneer of pleasantness,” he said. “The culture is disinterested in us, and we’re fatigued with trying to keep up appearances.” In the parable, the father pleaded with his older son to “join the party.” Wartman challenged his listeners to do the same thing.
| © 2008 Mennonite Brethren Herald
Masthead and usage information